McPhee Reservoir, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Southwest -

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
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • National Park

Fish species found at McPhee Reservoir

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Yellow Perch

McPhee Reservoir Photo Gallery

McPhee Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

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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

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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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