Spanish for “Little Valley”, Vallecito Lake is one of Colorado’s biggest bodies of water. It’s situated in Bayfield, about 20 minutes north of the small town, or 30 minutes northeast from Durango.
It’s also one of the highest mountain lakes of its size anywhere, elevated at 8,000 feet above sea level. It was the ancestral home to the Ute Indians, long revered as a southwest treasure.
Vallecito Lake is located 18 miles from Durango, and is one of the town’s most loved recreation spots. With camping, cabins, and a few year round restaurants here, it makes a cool base for Four Corners exploration.
Vallecito Lake is home to a community of about 2,000 summer residents and 400-500 year round locals. It’s located beside the San Juan National Forest. To the east of Vallecito Lake is its smaller sister lake, Lemon Reservoir. It’s also managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The lake is open to a range of boats, from kayaks to power boats. You can bring your own and lunch from the boat ramp, or rent one seasonally at the marina.
Vallecito Marina – You can rent quality pontoon and fishing boats by the hour (2 hour minimum) at the marina. Pontoons are available in 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14 person sizes, and fishing boats are 16 feet in length. There are also kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards for rent hourly with no minimum duration. They also have tandem kayaks and canoes.
Vallecito Marina offers rentals from May 1st to mid August. You can also rent a slip or buoy by the day, week or month for boat storage. The Vallecito Marina Shop has everything you need for a fun day on the lake, including, snacks, beverages and fishing supplies.
Cabins & RV Parks
Year round Vallecito offers a slew of lodging accommodations. There are more than a dozen cabin rentals and three public RV Parks, also with cabin rentals.
There are numerous campgrounds at Vallecito Lake managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Some campsites are reservable through recreation.gov.
- Graham Creek Campground – Situated about 100 yards from the high water line on a hill, there are 25 campsites open during peak season, some with shade. 15 are reservable and 10 are non-reservable, and can accommodate large travel trailers. There is a small boat ramp at the campground open to hand-carried watercraft. Ammenities include potable water, trash, fire pits, picnic tables and pit toilets.
- Pine Point Campground – Open year round, however, no water, electricity, trash or restrooms between September and May. It’s situated on the east side of the lake about midway up the shore on Forest Rd. 603. Features 30 campsites with shade, large enough for RVs and pull-thrus, tables, fire pits, potable water and vault toilets. Half of the sites are first-come, first serve, the other 15 are reservable.
- Vallecito Campground – Another year round campground with no services from September to May. Large, busy campground situated on the west side of the lake on County Road 500. It has 80 campsites over four loops, most are shaded. Get there early for a spot near the creek. 33 sites are reservable, only 3 with electric hook-ups, the rest are first-come, first-serve. All have potable water. It sits beside the Weminuche Wilderness, which can be accessed via the Vallecito Creek Trail at the campground.
- Middle Mountain Campground – The northern end of the lake holds this campground on County Road 501. There are 24 south-facing campsites with quick access to the lake, potable water. Some can fit bigger RVs. Middle Mountain Road/Forest Road 724 take you into the Weminuche Wilderness, and eventually to the former mining town of Tuckerville, which has nothing left.
- Pine River Campground – Small primitive campground open year round with no services between September and May, or potable water at any time. It’s located at the end of Forest Rd. 602, 4 miles beyond Middle Mountain Campground. There are 6 campsites with lovely views of the Pine River Valley, hosting only small trailers and tents.
Read about the camping near Durango and Bayfield.
Even if your roughing it a campsite, you can still eat well at Vallecito Lake. There are a few restaurants open throughout the year, as well as liquor store to stock up on locally made craft beer.
Rainbow trout, brown trout, northern pike and other large fish are found in the lake. You can trout fish year round here, and pike fishing is especially good between mid May and mid June. There is an annual ice fishing tournament held in mid February.
Ten shaded picnic tables and a gravel boat ramp are found at the Old Timers Day Use Area. It’s a popular place for boating and fishing. The gate is open daily from 6am to 10pm.
You can also hike into the adjacent Weminuche Wilderness Area on the western side, and fish Vellicto Creek. It’s limited to Fishing to artificial flies and lures.
Hiking around the lake is a year round pleasure at Vellecito. In the winter snowshoeing is available. Some of the more popular trails include North Canyon Trail, East Creek Trail and Pine River Trail, as well as Vallecito Creek Trail, which accesses the Weminuche Wilderness. Most trails are open to horseback riders too.
Tour of Carvings
The Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002 burned 70,000 acres at a cost of 40.8 million dollars. The community helped heal through a set of 14 carvings from the fired trees. Each stand around 18 feet tall and weigh around 2,600 pounds per sculpture. They showcase the firefighters that helped saved the region. One of them is of Alan Wyatt, whom died fighting the fire.
You can view the carvings on the western and northern shores of Vellecito Lake. Fist pick up a Tour of Carvings brochure in Durango at the downtown tourism office to help located them all.
Dec – Christmas in Vallecito – In mid December the local community invites guests at for annual Xmas festivities. On Friday there is a ticket-event called the Festival of Trees Home Tour. Each stop includes drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Saturday features a pancake breakfast, kids party with Santa, Poker Run Saturday night, and the showcase attraction, an evening fireworks display over the lake. Sunday morning has another Pancake breakfast.
Address: Bayfield, CO 81433
Phone: 970-247-1573 (Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce)
Season: Year round
Cost: Yes, daily vehicle fee
Website: usbr.gov/projects/index.php?id=258 (Bureau of Reclamation)
Website: vallecitolakechamber.com (Vallecito Lake Chamber)