In one of the earliest major dam projects in Colorado, a 550 foot long, 111 feet high earthen and rock dam was built creating the Rio Grande Reservoir in Hinsdale County. It’s located between Lake City and Creede on Highway 149.
“Too thick to drink, too thin to plow,” was said of the Rio Grande by an early immigrant to the historic Texas River. The headwaters of this historically divisive river lies a few hundred miles north in the Colorado Rockies. The Rio Grande Reservoir lies 1 hour from Creede and 1.2 hours from Lake City.
The original intent for the reservoir created behind it was for agriculture in the San Luis Valley , but over the years the lake has grown in popularity for fishing and recreation. It was built from 1910 to 1914. Long and narrow, the Rio Grande Reservoir is the third-highest major reservoir in Colorado at an elevation of 9,400 feet and contains 51,110 acre-feet of water.
Activities at Rio Grande Reservoir
Boating and fishing are the primary activities, but a wide range of outdoor activities including mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, climbing, hunting, and hiking are available in the Rio Grande National Forest that surrounds the reservoir.
Boating – The reservoir is stocked each summer and motorized boats are allowed. There is a boat ramp cut into the bank half-way up the length of the lake, but it is not recommended for large boats or long trailers. There are boat ramps, toilets, drinking water, ample parking and no fees to use the Boating Site.
Nearby the Rio Grande Reservoir there is rafting on the Rio Grande River. May to September you can find commercial raft trips with varying degrees of difficulty. Late June is best for peak whitewater conditions.
Camping – There are four campgrounds located on the road back to the Rio Grande Reservoir from Highway 149. This is County Road 18 / FSR 520. Here they are in order from closest to Creede:
i. FREE – Road Canyon Campground
This campground at the head of Road Canyon Reservoir 1 is located in an open meadow beside the Royal Gorge River. There is no shade screen from the road. It’s the closest campground to Creede, at less than forty minutes, with proper campsites, a toilet, but no water. The Rio Grande Reservoir lies a few more miles west.
- Closest town: Creede (26mi)
- Specs: 6 sites, open mid May until weather closes road access
- Amenities: No water, trash service until labor day, table, fire ring and parking spur
- Reservations: No fee, first-come, first-serve
- Address: FSR 520, Creede, CO 81130 (Map)
- Directions: Take CO-149 North from Creede for 19 miles. Turn left onto Co Rd 18/FSR 520/Rio Grande Reservoir Road, follow west for 6 miles to campground.
This one lies nicely between the Road Canyon Reservoir 1 and Rio Grande Reservoir, its nature it either direction. It receives medium to heavy use so book your campsite up to 6 months in advance. Fishermen will love this Rio Grande riverside wooded campground. During peak season from mid June to mid August it tends to stay full.
- Closest town: Creede (29mi)
- Specs: 20 tent/camper sites, open Memorial Day weekend
- Amenities: Boat ramp, picnic tables, toilets, drinking water, parking, interpretive site
- Reservations: Yes, thru recreation.gov
- Address: FSR 520, Creede, CO 81130 (Map)
- Directions: Follow above directions then go left on Co Rd 18 for 9 miles to campground.
This campground located just before the eastern end of the Rio Grande Reservoir has water and trash service from Memorial Day thru Labor Day weekends. The campground is open the rest of the time without these amenities and no fee. There are several nature trails nearby leading into the Weminuche Wilderness. And an Amphitheater that has summer Campfire programs.
- Closest town: Creede (31mi)
- Specs: 35 sites, 9 are pull thru; water, trash, and toilets from late May-early Sept.
- Amenities: Picnic tables, Thirty Mile Trailhead
- Recreation: Boating, fishing, hiking
- Reservations: Yes, 4 days in advance, thru recreation.gov
- Address: Co Rd 18C, Pagosa Springs, CO (Map)
- Directions: …Go left on Co Rd 18 and follow for 11 miles to campground.
iv. FREE – Lost Trail Campground
You can reach this free campground by the Rio Grande Reservoir via 2WD in about an hour from Creede. It lies nearby the Rio Grande River and a short trek from the western side of the reservoir. There’s a lot of fun recreation nearby, including boating and fishing the reservoir, hiking a myriad of notable trails, and taking your OHV up and over Stony Pass, down into Silverton.
- Closest town: Creede (37mi)
- Specs: 7 sites, 3 are pull thru, 4 are dead end spurs, each has table, fire ring and parking spur;
- road is closed due to snow November through May 15th of each year, otherwise open
- Amenities: Vault toilets, trailheads, no water, no trash
- Recreation: Hiking, motor boating on reservoir, fishing, ATV
- Reservations: No fee, first-come first, serve
- Address: Creede, CO 81130 (Map)
- Directions: …Go left on Co Rd 18 and follow for 18 miles to campground.
Read about the camping near Creede.
Fishing – Many fishermen do well from shore or by wading in and fly fishing. The reservoir is open from May 1 to November 15 unless early or late snow blocks access. It is snowed in during the winter.
Hiking / Horseback Riding – The nearby Weminuche Wilderness offers a wonderful day trip or overnight backpacking adventure. You can access the trailheads for Rio Grande Pyramid and the Window off of the road nearby the reservoir.
Picnicking – There is a Picnic Site open all year, but it’s usually only accessible from June to October. There are a few picnic tables, which overlook the reservoir and surrounding wilderness. It’s free but there is no potable water here, try the boat ramp for drinking water. Access to the lake from here is steep and not recommended.
OHV – If you continue on Highway 520 it eventually crosses Stony Pas s and descends into Silverton . The first 6 miles after the reservoir is suitable for 2WD, then it turns into a 4WD, high-clearance drive for the rest of the way through Timber Hill and up and over Stony Pass.
Road Canyon Reservoir No. 1 and No. 2 are found just before the Rio Grande Reservoir. Part of the Road Canyon Reservoir SWA, public use requires a valid Colorado hunting or fishing license for adults 16+/
From Creede – 2WD is fine for this trip. To reach the Rio Grande Reservoir travel west from Creede, Colorado for 19 miles on Colorado Highway 149 ( Silver Thread Byway ). Turn left on Forest Service Road 520. After 13 miles on Highway 520, you’ll be at the midpoint of the reservoir. Turn onto the access road and you’ll find the boat ramp and shoreline in both directions.
From Lake City – You’ll travel south from Lake City for 30 miles on Highway 149. Then turn on FSR 520 and follow the above directions.
Season: May 1 to November 15, weather pending