Pearl Lake, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Northwest -

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
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Pearl Lake

  • Brook Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Grayling
  • Trout

Pearl Lake Photo Gallery

    Pearl Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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    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

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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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