Lake Purgatory, Colorado, USA
Also known as: Columbine Lake, Purgatory Lake
Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Lake Purgatory.
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Lake Purgatory visitor and community guide
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.
Custom Lake Purgatory house decor
Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.
Things to do at Lake Purgatory
- Vacation Rentals
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Horseback Riding
- Wildlife Viewing
- National Park
- National Forest
Fish species found at Lake Purgatory
- Brook Trout
- Brown Trout
- Cutthroat Trout
- Rainbow Trout
Best hotels and vacation rentals at Lake Purgatory
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Lake Purgatory photo gallery
New photos coming soon!
Lake Purgatory statistics & helpful links
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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