Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Southwest -

Also known as:  Blue Mesa Lake

Beautiful mesas, deep canyons, and steep rocky cliffs surround Blue Mesa Reservoir, the second largest lake entirely in Colorado. The clear, blue, mountain water of the fjord-like lake draws anglers, nature lovers, and vacationers from all over.

Created in 1965 with the construction of the Blue Mesa Dam, Blue Mesa Reservoir, along with its sister lakes, Morrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir, impounds 40 miles of the Gunnison River. Together the three reservoirs make up the Wayne N. Aspinall Storage Unit, and were created primarily for water storage for the Upper Colorado River Basin. They store water for irrigation and use in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah. The dams and water levels are under the control of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, which draws down the water seasonally and as need demands.

The Curecanti National Recreation Area was established in 1965 to manage the land on and around the Aspinall Unit. Today, the Curecanti National Recreation Area is a fantastic place to enjoy the reservoirs and the surrounding wilderness. Of the three reservoirs in Curecanti, Blue Mesa is by far the largest. It is popular with boaters, offering water skiing, jet skiing, and sailing. For the adventurous, there is good windsurfing, especially in the Bay of Chickens, and kayakers and canoeists will find plenty of secluded canyons to explore. Boating on the other reservoirs is limited to hand-carried craft, and Blue Mesa is the only reservoir with full-service marinas which also rent pontoon and fishing boats.

Almost a million people fish Blue Mesa Reservoir every year, and it’s easy to see why. It is Colorado’s largest lake trout and Kokanee salmon fishery, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife stocks the reservoir with approximately 900,000 rainbow trout and over a million Kokanee salmon every year. The salmon fry are put into the Gunnison River and allowed to float down to the lake. When it’s time to spawn, they make their way back up the river. There are several types of trout in the reservoir including brown and rainbow trout. In 2007 an angler broke the record for lake trout by catching a monstrous fish weighing 50 pound 5 ounces. In addition to fishing from a boat, there is fly fishing on the creeks that feed into the reservoir and in winter, ice fishing. Regardless of their style, anglers will find plenty of fish to challenge them in this deep water lake.

The land around the reservoir, considered high altitude sagebrush steppe, is full of wildlife. There are prairie dogs, big horn sheep, deer and lots of birds including bald eagles and blue herons. Lucky birdwatchers may catch a glimpse of the fastest creature on earth, diving peregrine falcons, or the Gunnison Sage Grouse, recently recognized as a new species. Visitors can explore Curecanti on one of the many hiking trails, with trails for all skill levels, or extend their stay in the wild by back country camping. There is also horseback riding in specified areas with corrals at some campgrounds. The only overnight accommodations around Blue Mesa Reservoir are camping – either back country or at a campground reached by car or boat.

When the reservoir was created, it flooded three historical towns, Iola, Cebolla, and Sapinero. Old sections of Highway 50 were also flooded, and it’s possible to see where the highway goes into the lake. The rerouted Scenic US Highway 50, which follows the Gunnison River, is a great way to explore the reservoir and the area’s history. The highway follows the banks of Blue Mesa and crosses the reservoir on the Lake Fork Arm and at Middle Bridge. Visitors can stop to picnic and get their feet wet and then drive past Dillon Pinnacles, a strangely eroded geological reminder of the area’s volcanic past. Further down the road is the town of Cimarron, an old shipping and livestock hub and the place where the Denver and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad left the canyon. In addition to Highway 50, there are several other scenic drives around the reservoir.

Whether by car, boat, or on foot, Blue Mesa Reservoir and the surrounding Curecanti Recreation Area demand to be explored. With its sapphire blue water set against its rocky granite cliffs, the reservoir is one of Colorado’s treasures and it is meant to be enjoyed.

Things to do at Blue Mesa Reservoir

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish species found at Blue Mesa Reservoir

  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Trout

Blue Mesa Reservoir Photo Gallery

Blue Mesa Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Bureau of Reclaimation

Surface Area: 9,178 acres

Shoreline Length: 96 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 7,503 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 7,440 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 7,519 feet

Average Depth: 49 feet

Maximum Depth: 342 feet

Water Volume: 688,554 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1965

Water Residence Time: 0.6 years

Lake Area-Population: 5,409

Drainage Area: 3,434 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic – Upstream Oligotrophic – Downstream

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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