The 9,000-acre Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water entirely in Colorado and one of the state’s best beach spots. It’s in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which has 96 miles of shoreline for sunbathing and other outdoor activities.
Blue Mesa Dam is a 390 foot tall earthen fill dam on the Gunnison River. When the dam was built in 1965, it created the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The lake is the most well-known and impressive of the recreation area‘s three main reservoirs, although most tourists are unaware of the other two: Morrow Point and Crystal Point.
Activities at Blue Mesa Reservoir
In the latter half of summer, namely July and August, the water is just warm enough for water skiers to get some runs in. The Bay of Chickens and the Iola Basin next to the Lake City Bridge are two popular spots for windsurfers. Throughout most of the season, the water temperature is rather chilly, so wearing a wet suit is recommended for water activities.
Aside from boasting one of Colorado’s best beaches, there is a wealth of activities to do on and around the Blue Mesa. Horseback riding, numerous trails for hikers of all skill levels, bird watching, camping, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing are a few of the best ways to enjoy the area.
Boat launching ramps are available at Iola, Lake Fork, and Elk Creek. Permits are required for any watercraft operating on Blue Mesa Reservoir powered by motors and they also need to be registered with the state and pass an invasive aquatic species inspection.
There are a lot of beautiful hidden gems to explore on the lake. Many of the reservoir’s arms extend into remote valleys, providing boaters with a unique opportunity to see the area. When boating on Blue Mesa Reservoir, it’s essential to remember that the midday winds may become relatively high, and storms often follow them.
Keep an eye out for ominous-looking clumps of clouds. If you see that the winds are picking up, you should go to shore immediately.
There are two marinas at Blue Mesa Reservoir:
Elk Creek Marina – This is the primary complex at the lake. There is a restaurant, general store, gas, kayaks, fishing equipment, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, boat rentals, and a boat launch facility available at the marina.
Lake Fork Marina – At the western end of the lake, next to Blue Mesa Dam on Highway 92, you’ll find Lake Fork Marina. It is open seasonally from May 15 to September 20. The marina has spaces for boats, gas pumps, a store, a tackle shop, and a place to launch boats going in and out.
There are a lot of places to camp, ranging from sites run by the National Park Service on the reservoir’s shore to nearby RV campsites with a lot of helpful amenities. Due to the strong demand for camping in Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Curecanti National Recreation Area during the summer months, reservations should be made as far in advance as possible.
Blue Mesa Reservoir has ten campsites, but only Lake Fork, Stevens Creek, Elk Creek, and the two group campsites can be reserved ahead of time. First-come, first-served is the rule for all other camping spots, so arriving as early as possible is good.
Some lodging types in developed areas include RV spaces, adventure pods, cabins, a lodge, furnished trailers, and campgrounds with amenities like WiFi, a dog park, and a general store. The Blue Mesa Outpost, Sapinero Village Campground, and Oasis RV Resort & Cottages are a few of the most popular developed areas.
There are also a few USFS camping sites with no hookups or luxurious amenities, which are also on a first-come, first-served policy.
If you want to camp near Blue Mesa Reservoir, you could also try to find a free dispersed campground on nearby US Forest Service or BLM land. Great places to camp for free can be found all across this region of Colorado, thanks to the abundance of public lands. Soap Creek Road, Red Creek Road, and Hartman Rocks are just a few examples of great spots for dry camping.
No matter how you decide to enjoy your time by the water, spending a day or two on Colorado’s most prominent beach is sure to entertain everyone in your group.
Read about the camping near Gunnison and Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Some of the best fishing in Colorado is in Blue Mesa, including the streams and rivers stemming from the reservoir. Though kokanee salmon is the most popular catch, anglers may also find rainbow trout, brown trout, yellow perch, and lake trout in the reservoir.
The Orange Stimulator, Royal Wolfs, Pheasant Tails, and other Caddis are all effective all year round. Streamers are effective in most Curecanti waterways throughout the early spring and late autumn. Kokanee fishing with flies is most outstanding in the autumn, during the spawning season.
Hiking at Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in nature while getting some exercise. The reservoir boasts numerous trails of varying difficulty levels, each offering a unique experience.
For instance, the Dillon Pinnacles Trail provides captivating views of the reservoir and the surrounding mountains, as well as intriguing geological formations. On the other hand, the Rim Rock Trail is a more demanding hike that rewards you with breathtaking panoramic views of the reservoir and the Gunnison River.
Aside from its impressive natural features, Blue Mesa Reservoir is also home to various wildlife species. Hikers might come across deer, elk, and other creatures as they wander through the trails. Moreover, bird enthusiasts can enjoy sightings of bald eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons.
Horseback riding at the reservoir is a wonderful way to explore the area’s natural beauty. The scenic Dillon Pinnacles trail offers an up-close view of the water, the rugged mountains, and the surrounding wildlife. Riders can choose to embark on a 3 hour guided tour by Ferro’s Blue Mesa Ranch that caters to different levels of experience, ranging from beginners to advanced riders.
Whether you are a seasoned rider or a first-timer, horseback riding at Blue Mesa Reservoir is an unforgettable experience that offers a unique perspective of this gorgeous Colorado lake.
Swimming is allowed everywhere in the lake outside a 100-foot radius around marinas. Note that in Curecanti, jumping from heights of 15 feet or more (including cliffs, structures, bridges, and ledges) into the sea is prohibited.
A relaxing and delightful experience can be had by taking a dip in the reservoir’s cool water on a hot summer day, despite the lack of established swimming beaches. On the surface, the water temperature is around 65 ° F, and it gets cooler as it gets deeper, even in the middle of summer.
Finding a nice swimming site in the reservoir might be challenging due to its steep and rocky coastline. Dry Creek, Bay of Chickens, and the Old Highway 50 beach at the Elk Creek Campground are all great places to go since they have “no wake” zones. It’s popular to rent a boat at one of the marinas as a way to swim in parts of the lake.
Gunnison, a nearby town, is home to the Gunnison Pioneer Museum, which showcases the region’s history, including a collection of vintage vehicles, artifacts, and memorabilia. Visitors can also experience the art scene in Crested Butte, a picturesque town known for its vibrant arts community and stunning scenery.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the rest of Curecanti National Recreation Area offers endless opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking, and camping. Just a few miles away, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is another popular destination, where visitors can hike through towering cliffs and observe the breathtaking views of the canyon. A handful of hot springs are sprinkled in the area as well.
Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventure, cultural experiences, or simply a place to relax and unwind, the area surrounding Blue Mesa Reservoir has something for everyone.
To drive to Blue Mesa Reservoir from Denver, start by taking I-25 South for about 70 miles until you reach US-50 East towards Pueblo. Follow US-50 East for approximately 140 miles until you reach Gunnison. From there, take CO-135 South for about 25 miles until you arrive at the reservoir. The entire drive should take approximately 4 hours, depending on traffic and weather conditions.
Address: 19 miles west of Gunnison, CO
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