Navajo Lake, New Mexico & Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Southwest - New Mexico - Northwest - West - Colorado - Southeast -

Also known as:  Navajo Reservoir

Navajo Lake offers a surprising and welcome expanse of water in northwestern New Mexico. The 15,600-acre reservoir stretches north into southwest Colorado, offering recreational opportunities to a large number of visitors and local residents. Two large state parks grace its banks, one in each state. Yet the original purpose of the reservoir was not for recreation; the reservoir was created for water storage for the Colorado River and irrigation on the surrounding Navajo Reservation. The Colorado River Storage Project incorporated several dams and reservoirs along watercourses to conserve and strategically release badly needed water for the lower Colorado River. The Navajo Dam across the San Juan River helps to provide a reliable water source for downstream areas during times of drought. Although it was difficult for local tribes to agree to give up a part of their beloved homeland for the reservoir, the resulting irrigation water has provided a better life for native farmers and electric power to Farmington, New Mexico.

Because the dam was not completed until 1962, both Colorado and New Mexico had an opportunity to plan recreational facilities. New Mexico’s Navajo Lake State Park along the southern reaches of the lake near the dam provides seven campground units, two marinas, fishing docks, boat launch ramps, hiking trails, and restroom and shower facilities. Two Visitor Centers provide information on the ecology, geology and archeology treasures of the region. Navajo State Park on the north end in Colorado offers another Visitor Center, more trails, a third marina, 70+ campsites, cabins for rent, fishing licenses, and information on area attractions. With three marinas, guests can find seasonal and overnight rental slips, dry dock facilities, RV storage, pontoon and bass boat rentals, boat fuel, restaurants, boating and fishing supplies, snacks, repairs and even fishing guide service. The lake’s surface doesn’t freeze, so some marina facilities are open year-round, as are some campsites. A few rental cabins in the Colorado park are heated for winter use.

Fishing is ever-popular at Navajo Lake. The lake is deep, reaching nearly 400 feet in depth in some areas and allowing for such cold water species as kokanee salmon, brown trout and rainbow trout. The many incoming streams and the San Juan River offer plenty of spawning and feeding areas for a variety of fish. Northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, crappie and several kinds of sunfish can all be caught. Fishing tournaments are held here regularly. There is no reciprocal agreement for fishing across the state line, so those desiring to fish the entire lake must be sure to obtain both licenses.

The San Juan River downstream from the Navajo Dam is considered some of the finest trout fishing in the Southwest. Cold water released from the bottom of the dam keeps the water at an ideal temperature for the trout. New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish stocks rainbow trout in the river, with brown trout reproducing naturally. Both grow to large size, providing exciting fly fishing. Because there are no private lodgings on Navajo Lake, it is on the San Juan River where visitors will find luxurious resort camps offering everything from fishing to fine dining. Most of the fishing guides from these lodges also offer guided fishing on Navajo Lake. A favorite, but unusual, game fish some guides offer as prey is fly fishing for huge carp on Navajo Lake.

All type of boating are welcome here. The length of the lake makes it ideal for sailing and wind-surfing. Pontooning is a favorite, and many houseboats ply the arms and coves of the reservoir for weeks at a time. Water skiing, jet skiing, tubing, power boating and just plain cruising the waterway is a favored activity on warm summer days. Some swimming is available, with posted rules, although there are no designated swimming beaches.

The surrounding area is a high desert environment, surrounded by pines, cactus, cottonwood and willow trees. Day-use areas contain picnic areas, and marked walking trails allow nature lovers to observe deer, elk, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, water fowl, sea gulls, bald eagles and mountain goats. A great many birds are attracted to the water, making the surrounding pinion growth ideal for bird watching. Migrating waterfowl stop at Navajo Lake on their trip north or south every year, allowing for the rare glimpse of non-native ducks and white pelicans. Hot summer days in New Mexico and southwestern Colorado make camping along the shoreline of the large reservoir most inviting for a cool weekend of lake breezes. Only 40 miles from Farmington, many visitors are local, but more visitors are arriving from a distance each year.

Owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam was built with the assistance of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The hydroelectric generation project is owned and operated by the City of Farmington. Most vacationers who arrive at Navajo Lake make the reservoir a part of a larger exploration of the area. The Four Corners Area is famous for the many ruins of the ancient Anasazi who left behind numerous pueblo complexes made from the native sandstone. Both northern New Mexico and southern Colorado are rich in archeological treasures, many of which are open to visitors. Within a hundred mile radius of Navajo Lake, curious visitors can explore multiple villages of these mysterious people who built in the most inaccessible places and disappeared silently in a short time, leaving little clue as to where they went. It is thought that a period of drought drove them from the areas where they grew their crops and worshiped their gods.

Remnants of a similar cultural building style can be seen in the older Hopi pueblos, a second tribe that shares this region. Visitors must be culturally sensitive to the locals’ desire for privacy; this is their home and they claim many of the ruins as those of their ancestors. Guided tours are usually the best way to visit the more picturesque areas without the danger of trespassing. Many are extremely delicate, and others have already been damaged by illegal pot-hunters.

The north end of Navajo Lake in Colorado is near several famed ski resorts and still more ruins. Several small towns provide supplies, activities and festivals to amuse visitors and encourage their return. Allison and Arboles are very small communities near Navajo State Park, while Pagosa Springs and Durango are between a half hour and an hour away. Both of the latter are well-known tourism centers with much to offer visitors in the way of lodgings, guest ranches, spas and nearby ski resorts. There is no shortage of rental cabins, small motels and larger chain hotels in these larger communities. Real estate is more likely available on the Colorado side of the reservoir as there is more area that is neither public land nor Reservation. There is something for everyone at Navajo Lake, whether it is fishing, boating, house-boating or exploring the ancient past.

Things to do at Navajo Lake NM

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wind Surfing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Ruins

Fish species found at Navajo Lake NM

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Brown Trout
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Navajo Lake NM Photo Gallery

Navajo Lake NM Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Not Known

Water Level Control: Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 15,610 acres

Shoreline Length: 159 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 6,085 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 6,030 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 6,106 feet

Average Depth: 109 feet

Maximum Depth: 396 feet

Water Volume: 1,036,100 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1963

Drainage Area: 3,190 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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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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