Horsetooth Reservoir, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Front Range -

Also known as:  Horsetooth Lake

On the high, arid ridges and plains of Colorado’s Front Range, Horsetooth Reservoir delights the visitor and refreshes the senses. Developed as a storage basin for that symbol of ingenious engineering – the Colorado-Big Thompson water reclamation project – Horsetooth Reservoir stores its millions of gallons of fresh water until they’re needed for irrigation or as a secondary water supply. The impoundment receives nearly all of its water from Western Slope water diversion. Four dams, including Spring Canyon Dam, Dixon Canyon Dam, Soldier Canyon Dam and Horsetooth Dam, contain the pool and allow for water drawdown to meet local needs. Some excess water is channeled north to the Poudre River.

Recreation may have been an afterthought when engineers designed the system to capture snow melt from high above the Colorado River headwaters on the western side of the Rockies and to transport it to the drier eastern slopes: six power generation stations along the series of channels, pipes and pumps assure that all possible value is eked from the water along the route. However, here at Horsetooth Lake, recreation is what the great reservoir is now usually noted for. Over a half a million visitors come each year to enjoy fishing, boating and swimming. Because of the multiple usage of the waters, several agencies are involved in water control and cooperatively assure that all needs are met. Larimer County, home to Fort Collins, holds the responsibility for making sure that recreational water activities are provided for.

Water levels see extreme fluctuation due to seasonal drawdown and drought, with the highest levels in the spring and lowest levels in September. In all but the driest years, several boat launching ramps are available to the public-some charge a fee. Small coves around Horsetooth Reservoir make for excellent swimming, kayaking, canoeing and picnicking, along with being favored fishing holes. These are no-wake areas but the majority of the reservoir is open to all sorts of power boating, jet skiing, sailing, pontooning and water skiing. Two State Parks, Horsetooth State Park and Lory State Park along the western shoreline, contain camping areas, hiking and bicycling trails, nature trails and many photographic opportunities with wonderful rock formations and scenic vistas. Boat-in camping is available in designated areas. Several spots along the shore are popular bouldering locations.

Fishermen target bluegill, carp, crappie, lake trout, largemouth bass, perch, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, splake, walleye and white bass in Horsetooth Reservoir. The lake is primarily a cool and cold-water fishery due to the extreme depths of the water. Lake monitors are carefully watching a mysterious mercury threat primarily among walleye; there is no known contamination point along the well-protected series of canals and pipes. As this occurs in several Colorado reservoirs simultaneously, more investigation may provide valuable insight into sources of contamination that science doesn’t usually consider.

Visitors to Horsetooth Reservoir can find other famed sightseeing points nearby. Many visitors take a day to drive the Poudre Canyon Scenic route across the Continental Divide. More adventurous visitors may want to try whitewater rafting on the Cache La Poudre Wild and Scenic River. There are many hiking and cross-country skiing trails in the Poudre Canyon area and the all-season road is safe to drive in all but the worst weather. Rocky Mountain National Park is only a sixty mile drive away for a day trip. Make sure to pack the camera.

Just five miles west of Lory State Park the Roosevelt National Forest lands begin. The area abounds with both motorized and hiking trails, fly-fishing sites and primitive camping locations. The visitor should be aware that many of the hiking trails are steep and somewhat challenging. Unexpected bad weather or getting lost could be extremely dangerous. All visitors are advised to obtain a detailed map of the area before embarking on an adventure into some of America’s most beautiful wilderness.

The lake’s 25 miles of shoreline have limited real estate and private development, but visitors can find many fine vacation rentals and condos with views of the water. Few locations are far from a public access site and there is a concession marina available on the west shore. Other lodgings are available in nearby Fort Collins and in Loveland 15 miles away. Horsetooth Reservoir was named for Horsetooth Rock – a nearby rock formation that also is depicted on the Fort Collins City Logo.

Although a visitor is unlikely to encounter a rainy day, even the most astute outdoorsmen may yearn for more citified activities on occasion. Historical Fort Collins is a great way to acclimate to the laid-back western culture or to take advantage of art galleries and museums in the town. The Fort Collins Museum and Science Discovery center is an eclectic mix of old and new under one roof — kids love the activities provided there. The Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society provides restored streetcar rides on week-end afternoons on a rebuilt historical rail line. Downtown Fort Collins offers concerts, including a very popular jazz concert series, festivals, shopping and fine dining. The golf enthusiast will have no trouble finding the perfect course both in the city and in surrounding suburbs.

A bit farther south of Horsetooth Reservoir, the City of Loveland promises all the services the visitor could desire. It is worth the trip simply to visit the Historical Society exhibits and explore the galleries. At various times during the year, Native American Art is featured in some venues. It’s the perfect time to pick up that unique piece of unusual art that will make you the envy of the neighborhood when you return home. For a big-city experience, both Boulder and Denver are about 75 miles south. For a change of pace, Cheyenne, WY is 60 miles north-and easy hour’s drive.

Horsetooth Reservoir was drawn down to 7% in 2002 for repairs and upgrades – the water level has now returned to near-full levels. It’s the perfect time to visit; the perfect time to stay awhile. Enjoy pleasant summer days and cool evenings overlooking beautiful Horsetooth Reservoir. Come and enjoy the coyotes howling their pleasure at the great reservoir in the evenings. You’ll never want to leave.

Things to do at Horsetooth Reservoir

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • State Park
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Horsetooth Reservoir

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Lake Trout
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Splake Trout
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Horsetooth Reservoir Photo Gallery

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Horsetooth Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 2,040 acres

Shoreline Length: 25 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,430 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 5,369 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 5,429 feet

Average Depth: 82 feet

Maximum Depth: 188 feet

Water Volume: 168,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1951

Water Residence Time: 1.5

Drainage Area: 17 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

Spread the word! Share our Horsetooth Reservoir article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.