Lake Purgatory, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Southwest -

Also known as:  Columbine Lake, Purgatory Lake

Set in the middle of a winter wonderland, Lake Purgatory is a private, alpine lake found in beautiful southwestern Colorado. Property owners and their guests enjoy canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing on this secluded lake where motorized boats are not permitted. Lake Purgatory is not open to the public.

During winter, snowshoeing, snowcat skiing, snowboarding, snow biking and cross country skiing are all within view of Lake Purgatory, but the fun doesn’t stop there. When spring arrives, ski trails turn to hiking trails and meadows bloom with wildflowers.

Surrounded by over two million acres of the San Juan National Forest, a sense of the old west remains where people of the Ute Nation once resided. Purgatory Lake and Purgatory Mountain are said to be named after a 1776 party of Spanish explorers who became lost among the Rockies’ slopes and doomed to purgatory having never being found. Thirty miles north of Lake Purgatory, the Silverton area legally opened its land to miners in the 1870s and remains a popular destination today. In 1965, a major ski resort opened on Purgatory Mountain and year-round recreational developments soon followed. At the forefront is Lake Purgatory where lakefront properties are in close proximity to winter sport parks, and spectacular mountain vistas provide an added attraction. Today, multiple subdivisions now provide seasonal and year-round residences either along the lakeshore or within view of Lake Purgatory’s sparkling water.

Also called Columbine Lake, Lake Purgatory sits on Little Cascade Creek drainage, two miles north of an off-stream reservoir named Electra Lake. A series of four diversion dams direct water from Cascade Creek, Little Cascade Creek and Elbert Creek into Electra Lake to power Xcel Energy’s Tacoma hydropower project. The original 1906 Terminal Dam, reconstructed in 1980 and 1981, directs water from Cascade Creek through a pipeline feeding Lake Purgatory on its way to Electra Lake. At some point a dam at Lake Purgatory was breeched changing Lake Purgatory to what the state now classifies as a natural lake. According to the Colorado Division of Water Resources, early records show the original dam height was 13 feet with the lake having a surface area of 40 acres. Lake Purgatory dimensions are estimated to be smaller now. State photographs indicate a surface area of approximately 17 acres and a depth not more than 8 feet.

Surrounded by aspen trees and Colorado blue spruce, the very private setting of Columbine Lake (not to be confused with Columbine Lake in Grand County) brings the outdoors to your back door. Mule deer, elk, black bear, mountain lions, Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, wild turkey and blue grouse are among the wildlife roaming the mountains around Purgatory Lake making wildlife watching, photography and hiking popular pastimes. Fishing along the banks of Lake Purgatory, or casting a line from your canoe or kayak, may bring in brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout or cutthroat trout found in the area.

While you are canoeing Lake Purgatory, don’t be surprised if you hear the distant sound of a steam locomotive. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad runs past Lake Purgatory on a scenic ride you will not want to miss. Originally built to bring silver and gold ore out of the mountains, this historic train has been in continuous operation since 1882. Today, the ride between Silverton and Durango is rated one of the world’s top ten train rides.

Once an old mining camp, the town of Silverton, located 30 minutes north of Purgatory Lake, is an excellent place to find a guide or outfitter and hit the trails on skis or snowmobiles. During summer months, nearby lakes and streams provide excellent trout fishing; chair lifts take mountain bikers to trails that will test the limit of biking skills and send your heart racing; jeeping, horseback riding and camping add to the thrilling adventures and exciting experiences found near Lake Purgatory.

Located in Colorado’s Southwest Tourism Region, the old mountain community of Durango is now a modern city with approximately 15,000 residents who lovingly care for their historic downtown. Located 26 miles south of Lake Purgatory, Durango offers a wide selection of restaurants with mouth-watering cuisine, unique shops offering everything from fine art to fishing gear, and entertainment for the kids at museums and the Durango Recreation Center.

The Animas River runs near Purgatory Lake and through the city of Durango. The Animas is a “gold medal” fishery known for the highest quality rainbow and brown trout. Some stretches of water are restricted to fly fishing only, but all stretches of water are open for fun and sports. For those who prefer to ride the waves, the Animas River provides Class I through Class III rafting depending on the season and river’s flow.

Historic Mesa Verde National Park lies 56 miles west of Durango. Over 4,000 archeological sites are preserved within this park, the first national park established to “preserve the works of man.” The remains of cliff dwellings, pithouses and masonry towers provide a glimpse into the lives of ancestral Puebloans who lived on the mesas for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300.

Found among the forests, mountains and waterways in north La Plata County, Lake Purgatory subdivisions were built with fun, beauty and convenience in mind. If you come to the San Juan Mountains for skiing, hiking and fishing, just put on your boots and walk out your back door. If you come to the mountains for the simplicity and beauty that bring relaxation and renewal, just walk out your front door and gaze upon the scenery. No matter the reason, distinctive vacation rentals and real estate properties found within Lake Purgatory’s subdivisions provide the perfect location to celebrate life and renew your spirit of adventure.

Things to do at Lake Purgatory

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowshoeing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Purgatory

  • Brook Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Lake Purgatory Photo Gallery

    Lake Purgatory Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

    Surface Area: 17 acres

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 8,825 feet

    Maximum Depth: 8 feet

    Water Volume: 50 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1906

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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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