With easy access from the front range, Cheesman Lake, also known as Cheesman Reservoir is a popular manmade body of water near Deckers, Colorado. It is found along the South Platte River in southwestern Jefferson County and is approximately a 1 hour and 30 minute drive southwest from Denver.
Although the road to reach the reservoir is unpaved, Cheesman Lake is relatively easy to access in any passenger vehicle with trails maintained by the Pike National Forest.
Cheesman Reservoir History
Cheesman Reservoir shares its namesake with Denver’s Cheesman Park. The sites are named for Walter S. Cheesman, who was a Denver resident and president of the Colorado Humane Society with strong stakes in the water, real estate, railroad, and finance industries.
In 1905, the Cheesman Dam was built at a towering 211 feet (64 meters). At the time, it was the largest dam of its kind in the entire world. In 1918, the dam was purchased by the Denver Water Board as the Cheesman Reservoir was used to supply water to the growing capital city. Fast forward to 1973, and the Cheesman Dam officially becomes a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Activities at Cheesman Reservoir
With its protected status, breathtaking views, and designated trails, Cheesman Reservoir and Dam have become a popular place to enjoy a number of outdoor activities. Of course, before you head out to explore the area, it is important to know that boating, camping, and swimming are prohibited.
Birding & Wildlife: The area around Cheesman Reservoir is home to a diverse range of birds, but is especially famous for spotting owls and a few different species of woodpecker. Due to a forest fire, there is not a ton of wildlife in the Cheesman Reservoir area, but the new growth presents opportunities for spotting deer, squirrels, fox, and other critters.
Fishing: More than anything, visitors flock to Cheesman Reservoir for a nice day of fishing. There are two spots to fish in the area: the Goose Creek Arm of the north side of the lake and the rushing waters of the South Platte River below the dam. Common fish caught in the area include rainbow, brown, and brook trout, smallmouth bass, kokanee salmon, yellow perch, and northern pike. Pike are limited to one fish per day at 34 inches or longer.
Hiking: From the main parking areas on the north side of the lake, there are two great hiking trails to enjoy with spectacular views of the Cheesman Reservoir and surrounding area. The Upper Cheesman Canyon trail climbs above the lake and down to below the dam where it meets the Gill Trail at the South Platte River. For an easier stroll, the Cheesman Reservoir Goose Arm Creek Trail offers a more relaxed walk along the lake’s shore.
Picnicking: There are picnic tables and bathrooms located at both trailhead parking lots on the north side of the lake. Additionally, picnic tables can be found among the trees along the Goose Arm Creek Trail.
Season: May 1st to September 30th (Closed Oct 1st to April 30th)
Hours: Day Use Only. The area is open 1/2 hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.