Pearl Lake, Colorado, USA
Also known as: Lester Creek Reservoir
Capturing a scene from America’s West, Pearl Lake reflects pine-covered hills, rocky peaks and expansive blue skies typical of northwestern Colorado. The names and places surrounding Pearl Lake speak of Colorado’s history – hunting grounds, gold mines and sprawling ranch land. Now a peaceful haven for campers, hikers and fishermen, Pearl Lake is the center of recreation for Pearl Lake State Park. Located 21 miles north of Steamboat Springs and 20 miles south of the Wyoming border, Pearl Lake is a peaceful corner of Colorado’s Northwest Tourism Region.
For generations, mountain meadows and sparkling streams of the Rocky Mountains provided a summer home for the Ute people while forested land provided good hunting grounds. By the early 1800s trappers and mountain men opened the west to settlers who discovered wealth in sheep and cattle ranching. John K. Hartt was just such a rancher. His sizeable sheep ranch spanned the Colorado border into Wyoming where it is said he weathered the “range war” between cattle and sheep ranchers. By the early 1900s John Hartt, his wife M. Pearl Hartt and their family settled on the land that would become Pearl Lake.
Around 1963 an earthen dam was built within Routt National Forest to impound the snow melt flowing from Farwell Mountain into Lester Creek. The resulting reservoir now has an average depth of 30 feet and maximum depth of 75 feet. Managed by Colorado State Parks and Colorado Division of Wildlife, Pearl Lake, also known as Lester Creek Reservoir, is used exclusively for recreation and fisheries. The outflow from Pearl Lake, named for M. Pearl Hartt, exits the bottom of the dam at the southwest corner of Pearl Lake. The water then flows about a mile to Willow Creek and down the Elk River where ranch land continues to flourish.
Today, 167-acre Pearl Lake is one of Colorado’s finest cold water fisheries. Lester Creek inlet, at the north end of the lake, is reported to be an excellent spot for catching “gold medal” cutthroat trout. Grayling may also be found in Pearl Lake which has been stocked with non-native rainbow and brook trout. The state restricts fishing to flies and artificial lures with a two-fish, over 18 inches bag limit. In a land where winters can be harsh, mid-to-late May and fall are the more promising fishing seasons.
Anglers and boaters will find a public ramp along Pearl Lake’s western shore. In an effort to retain the peaceful solitude of Pearl Lake, only wakeless gas or electric powered boats are permitted. Picnic areas with tables, grills or fire rings are also found along the western shore where visitors can relax and enjoy the beauty of Farwell Mountain reflecting on Pearl Lake. For visitors needing assistance, a handicap accessible picnic area is located near the boat ramp. Swimming is not permitted in the chilly water of Lester Creek Reservoir but a lovely swimming beach is available at Steamboat Lake State Park just a few miles west of Pearl Lake.
Surrounded by 166 acres of pristine countryside, Pearl Lake is the perfect location for wildlife watching and bird watching. Mule deer, porcupine, red fox, pine squirrel and beaver are listed among the wildlife that may be seen from the observation deck at the southwestern end of Pearl Lake. Paddle a canoe or kayak along Pearl Lake’s three-mile shore and you may capture a glimpse of migratory and resident birds including northern harrier, osprey, great blue herons, western screech-owl, western bluebird and red-winged blackbird. In the spring, restrictions are placed on marshy areas of Pearl Lake where greater sandhill cranes return to nest.
Spacious campsites await visitors as they leave the lake shore and head up the pine covered western slopes. Basic amenities include a water hydrant and toilet facilities. Each campsite comes with a 14′ x 14′ tent pad. Two yurts are available, one with handicap access. Campgrounds are generally open from the end of May to early fall when snow may begin to fall.
With an average annual snowfall of 300 inches it is not surprising that Pearl Lake roads and facilities are closed during the winter. Those willing to make the half-mile trek into the park by snowshoe, cross-country ski or snowmobile may stop to ice fish or merely pause to reflect on the beauty of an unspoiled winter mountain scene.
Summer hikers can explore the lake shores as they walk the Pearl Lake Connection Trail. This half-mile trek to the dam leads into Routt National Forest along the six-mile Coulton Creek Trail. Expansive Medicine Bow – Routt National Forest manages land from north central Colorado into central Wyoming. Listed among their recreational offerings are 10 wilderness areas, campgrounds, two ski areas, eight mountain lakes with developed boating facilities and paths for bicycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Hunting is permitted with proper licensing from each state.
Well developed campgrounds and family-friendly amenities will be found in Steamboat Lake State Park. Located just minutes northwest of Pearl Lake, 1011-acre Steamboat Lake sits at the base of scenic Hahn’s Peak. The park maintains a swim beach, marina, fishing pier and visitor center where permits, exhibits and educational programs combine to enrich your visit.
Within Routt County, and 25-minute drive from Pearl Lake, is the community of Steamboat Springs. Winter sports and summer adventures draw year-round visitors to this community of over 10,000 residents. Catering to varied tastes of world visitors, Steamboat Springs has a selection of shops and restaurants that will satisfy even the pickiest guest. Along the Yampa River, and within the city itself, visitors will find golf courses, indoor and outdoor tennis, biking, hiking, hot springs, kayaking, fly fishing and horseback riding readily available. With a one billion dollar transformation underway, the city of Steamboat Springs and surrounding area are attracting new developments, expanding services, and encouraging the preservation and promotion of the region’s history.
Set in the midst of mountain forests, Colorado ranch land and world-class ski slopes, Pearl Lake offers a true western experience. Built specifically for fun and fishing, Pearl Lake is a haven for fishing enthusiasts. The land once home to herds of sheep and cattle are now surrounded by cabins, lodges, dude ranches and resorts. From Hahn’s Peak to Steamboat Springs, Pearl Lake visitors will find a selection of vacation rentals or real estate properties tailor made to make their visit complete.
Things to do at Pearl Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Cabin Rentals
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Horseback Riding
- Wildlife Viewing
- State Park
- National Forest
Fish species found at Pearl Lake
- Brook Trout
- Cutthroat Trout
Pearl Lake Photo Gallery
Pearl Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed
Water Level Control: Colorado State Parks, Colorado Division of Wildlife
Surface Area: 167 acres
Shoreline Length: 3 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 8,065 feet
Average Depth: 30 feet
Maximum Depth: 75 feet
Water Volume: 5,657 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1963
Spread the word! Share our Pearl Lake article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!