Spanish for “Little Valley”, Vallecito Lake is one of Colorado’s biggest bodies of water. Situated in Bayfield, Vallecito is one of the highest mountain lakes of its size anywhere, at 8,000 feet above sea level, and 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 and is to the east of Lemon Reservoir. It’s also managed by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Boating & Fishing
The lake is open to a range of boats, from kayaks to powerboats. You can bring your own and launch from the boat ramp, or rent one seasonally at the marina. Rainbow trout, brown trout, northern pike, and other large fish are found in the lake. You can trout fish year-round and pike are plentiful between mid-May and mid-June. There is an annual ice fishing tournament held in mid-February.
Vallecito Marina – You can rent a quality pontoon or fishing boat 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. Furthermore, kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards can be rented by the hour with no minimum duration. They also have tandem kayaks and canoes.
Vallecito Marina offers rentals from May 1st to mid-August. You can 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.
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 with the gates open daily from 6 am to 10 pm. You can also hike into the adjacent Weminuche Wilderness Area on the western side, and fish in Vellicto Creek, which is limited to artificial flies and lures.
Camping, Cabins & RV Parks
Year-round, Vallecito offers a slew of overnight lodging accommodations. There are more than a dozen cabin rentals, three public RV Parks, and numerous campgrounds managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
- Graham Creek Campground – About 100 yards from the high water line on a hill, there are 25 campsites open during peak season. 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 as well as potable water, trash cans, fire pits, picnic tables, and pit toilets.
- Pine Point Campground – Open year-round and situated on the east side of the lake, midway up the shore on Forest Rd. 603, there is no water, electricity, trash, or restrooms between September and May. Featuring 30 campsites large enough for RVs, tables, fire pits, potable water, and vault toilets are on-site. 15 sites are reservable while the rest are first-come, first-served.
- Vallecito Campground – Situated on the west side of the lake on County Road 500, beside the Weminuche Wilderness, and open year-round, this campground has no services from September to May. Boasting 80 campsites, all with potable water, over four loops, 33 sites are reservable, 3 have electric hook-ups, and the rest are first-come, first-serve.
- Middle Mountain Campground – On the northern end of the lake, on County Road 501, there are 24 south-facing campsites, some of which can fit bigger RVs, with quick access to the lake and potable water.
- Pine River Campground – This small, primitive campground is open year-round with no services between September and May. It’s located at the end of Forest Rd. 602, 4 miles beyond Middle Mountain Campground, and has no potable water. There are 6 campsites with lovely views of the Pine River Valley, hosting only small trailers and tents.
Even if you’re roughing it at a campsite, you can still eat well at Vallecito Lake. There are a few restaurants open throughout the year, as well as a liquor store to stock up on locally made craft beer.
- Read about the camping near Durango and Bayfield.
- Read about the best hotels in Bayfield and Vallecito Lake.
- Read about the best hotels in Durango.
Hiking & Tour of Carvings
Hiking around the lake is a year-round pleasure at Vallecito. 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 and, in the winter, snowshoeing is available.
The Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002 burned 70,000 acres at a cost of 40.8 million dollars. The community helped heal by creating a set of 14 carvings from the burnt trees. Each stands around 18 feet tall and weighs around 2,600 pounds per sculpture. They showcase the firefighters that helped saved the region, with one honoring Alan Wyatt, who died fighting the fire.
You can view the carvings on the western and northern shores of Vallecito Lake. Make sure to pick up a Tour of Carvings brochure in Durango at the downtown tourism office to help locate them all.
Christmas in Vallecito – In mid-December, the local community invites guests to join them for the annual Xmas festivities.
- Friday – Festival of Trees Home Tour (includes drinks/hors d’oeuvres at each stop and tickets are required)
- Saturday – Pancake breakfast, kids’ party with Santa, Poker Run, and the fireworks display over the lake
- Sunday – Pancake breakfast
Address: Bayfield, CO 81433
Phone: 970-247-1573 (Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce)
Fees: Vehicle (daily)