McPhee Reservoir, Colorado, USA
In 1776 Spanish priests traveling through the Dolores Valley imagined a project that would bring water to the thirsty crops of the Montezuma Valley. By the mid 1800’s, tunnels had been cut to carry the water; over 200 years later, the priests’ dreams became reality with the creation of the McPhee Reservoir in Southwest Colorado. This western treasure is a beautiful place to boat, fish, and relax, and a great addition to any “4 corners” getaway.
One of the largest bodies of water in Colorado, the McPhee Reservoir is an impoundment of the Dolores River and fills the lower end of the Dolores Valley. Created in 1985 with the completion of the McPhee Dam across the Dolores Canyon, the reservoir provides water for irrigation for Montezuma and Dolores Counties as well as the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. The reservoir is under the control of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation which regulates the water levels. In addition to irrigation, the water is also used by industries and for hydroelectric power, flood control, and recreation.
Visitors to McPhee Reservoir will find plenty of recreation opportunities. The reservoir is stocked with both warm and cold water species of fish. Anglers can fish for bluegill, catfish, kokanee salmon, yellow perch, and large and small mouth bass. There are also rainbow trout and a special species of trout called the McConaughy. The best fishing on the reservoir is done from a boat, but there are many side canyons for still water fishing. Below the dam, there is a catch and release trout fishery to further challenge anglers.
The reservoir has boat ramps and a full service marina to provide anything boaters may need. Canoeing, sailing, and sail boarding are popular activities on the reservoir and it is also a great place to water-ski. For outdoor enthusiasts that want to stay overnight, there are several recreation areas around the reservoir including the McPhee Recreation Area which operated by the US Forest Service. With its Pinon and Juniper trees, it is a beautiful place to camp.
For the less adventurous visitor, the town of Cortez is just ten miles north of the reservoir. The San Juan Skyway, known as “America’s Most Beautiful Drive” is a one day drive over the San Juan Mountains that passes through Cortez and the historic mining towns of Telluride, Durango, and Silverton names that are sure to be familiar to skiers. There is also a Narrow-Gauge Railroad that runs from Silverton to Durango.
Visitors to the McPhee Reservoir only need to travel twenty minutes to explore the area’s rich history. Mesa Verde National Park preserves the cliff dwellings of the pueblo people that lived in the area for over 700 years from AD 600 to AD 1300. Spend the day climbing through the cliff dwellings, then leave the majestic mineral marked canyons and take a short drive southwest to the Navaho Nation’s 4 Corners Monument. It is the only spot where it is possible to stand in four states at one time.
Anglers, boaters, or just those looking for a western adventure will all find something to love at beautiful McPhee Reservoir.
Things to do at McPhee Reservoir
- Vacation Rentals
- Water Skiing
- National Park
Fish species found at McPhee Reservoir
- Kokanee Salmon
- Rainbow Trout
- Smallmouth Bass
- Yellow Perch
McPhee Reservoir Photo Gallery
McPhee Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed
Water Level Control: Bureau of Reclamation
Surface Area: 4,470 acres
Shoreline Length: 50 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,906 feet
Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 6,855 feet
Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 6,924 feet
Average Depth: 45 feet
Maximum Depth: 270 feet
Water Volume: 309,563 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1985
Lake Area-Population: 899
Drainage Area: 809 sq. miles
Spread the word! Share our McPhee Reservoir article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!