Above the Sugar Loaf Dam west of Leadville, Colorado the Turquoise Lake is a man-made reservoir that sits around 10,000 feet of elevation in Lake County. Surrounding the reservoir, Turquoise Lake Road provides motorists with ample opportunity to reach the many popular recreational facilities controlled by the San Isabel National Forest.
In the area, visitors can find over 300 tree-lined campsites with easy access to enjoy the reservoir in cool, mountain conditions.
Turquoise Lake History
Although the name Turquoise Lake may have visitors expecting to see pristine pale blue/green waters, the reservoir actually derives its name from nearby turquoise mines. The lake is said to have naturally occurred, but was damned as early as the 19th century to help provide water for all of the mining activity in the area.
As front range populations continued to grow even after the mining boom, today’s Sugar Loaf Dam was completed in 1968. Together, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Forest Service quickly established facilities for the flocks of tourists arriving from Leadville.
Activities at Turquoise Lake
Biking: For road cyclists, Route 9, 4 & 9C create a stunning 15 mile paved loop around Turquoise Lake that climbs to a handful of impressive vistas. The route is also groomed in the winter as a part of Leadville winter trails system. For single track mountain bikers, there is also the 14 mile out-and-back Turquoise Lake Trail beginning at the dam.
Birding: Due to its recreational popularity, birding is limited near Turquoise Lake. However, the alpine lake setting welcomes aquatic species like ducks, loons, and grebes as well as high-elevation birds such as raptors and hawks.
Boating: Both motorized and non-motorized boats are permitted on Turquoise Lake. The Matchless Boating Site is the most popular launch point for motorized boats, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, canoes, and sailboats. There is also a launch site on the north side of the lake near the Tabor Campground, however the Forest Service has indicated that it may be closed.
Camping: There is no dispersed camping available near Turquoise Lake, however the Forest Service operates a large number of developed campsites with fire rings, picnic tables, drop toilets, and potable water. Campground use is extremely popular, especially on summer weekends, and reservations can be made five days in advance. The majority of the campgrounds can be found on the east end of the lake, with the isolated May Queen Campground on the western shore.
Read about the Camping near Leadville and Twin Lakes.
Fishing: Anglers can be seen all year round at Turquoise Lake, because it is a popular destination for both summer trips and winter ice fishing. The lake is stocked with kokanee and rainbow trout and also features brown, cutthroat, mackinaw, and brook trout. Fishing can be accomplished by boat, or at popular shorelines such as the Abe Lee Fishing Site.
Hiking: The north shore’s Turquoise Lake Trail is an extremely popular, undemanding walkway for hikers, bikers, and runners alike. The trail encompasses about 6 miles of relatively flat and easy terrain, making it suitable for families. For those looking to explore a bit more of the wilderness, the Timberline Lake Trail is located at the western end of the reservoir and extends for 2.2 miles into the Holy Cross Wilderness.
Horseback Riding: Leadville’s own Halfmoon Packing & Outfitting offers visitors the chance to take in breathtaking views of Turquoise Lake on horseback. The company offers one hour, half day, and full day horseback rides through the area’s alpine wilderness.
Hunting: Hunting is prohibited in the area surrounding Turquoise Lake. However, there are hunting opportunities available in the greater San Isabel National Forest.
Picnicking: There are a number of picnic areas, maintained by the National Forest Service that can be found all along the reservoir’s shoreline in designated, feed day-use areas. Among them, popular spots include the Lady of the Lake Picnic Area and the Maid of Erin Picnic Area.
Swimming: Swimming is permitted in Turquoise Lake, however the bone-chilling alpine conditions rarely make the water desirable for visitors. With that said, a bit of bravery or a wetsuit can create the right moment for a refreshing dip in the reservoir.
Address: Turquoise Lake Road, Leadville, CO 80461
Phone: (719) 486-0749
Season: Summer (June to September)
Hours: 24/7, Day Use Area Closes at 10:00 PM
Fees: Day Use, Boat Launch and Campground Fees
- Baby Doe Campground
- Belle of Colorado Campground (First Come, First Served)
- Father Dyer Campground
- May Queen Campground
- Molly Brown Campground
- Printer Boy Campground
- Silver Dollar Campground
- Sugar Loafin’ Campground (Non-Forest Service, Independent Campground)
- Tabor Campground (First Come, First Served)