Turquoise Lake, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Northwest -

Also known as:  Turquoise Reservoir

One of Colorado’s favorite high-altitude recreational destinations is Turquoise Lake. Located five miles west of vacation playground Leadville, 1,780-acre Turquoise Lake offers plenty of opportunity for avid outdoors fans to enjoy woods, water and wide mountain vistas. As part of the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project developed by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, visitors have plenty of access to the water and surrounding Mount Massive Wilderness Area’s 30,540 acres with numerous campgrounds where they can temporarily stake their claim.

At nearly 10,000 feet elevation, Turquoise Lake appears to have originally been a natural lake formed along Lake Fork Creek. With a great deal of mining activity in the area, Turquoise Lake was likely first dammed late in the 19th century and named for the rare turquoise deposits found nearby. The effort to provide plentiful water for the growing population of the Front Range gave birth to massive water projects to move water from the west side of the Rocky Mountains to the east. The Frying Pan-Arkansas Project is one of the largest and most complicated of the water reclamation projects, second only to the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The reservoir stores water that is funneled to Twin Lakes a few miles south. Completion of the current Sugar Loaf Dam in 1968, along with the addition of a berm along the east end of the new reservoir, raised water levels and dislodged some long-established cottage resorts. The Bureau of Reclamation then established recreational opportunities for eager visitors. In cooperation with the US Forest Service as part of the San Isabel National Forest, eight campgrounds were developed within Turquoise Lake Recreation Area around the east end of the lake.

The campgrounds hold a total of 300 campsites and enough amenities to make a stay enjoyable if not modern. Potable water is available and picnic tables, vault toilets and campground hosts are provided. Nearly all campsites are wooded, and many have access to Turquoise Lake. Due to the high altitude and chilly summer nights, swimming is hardly an option, although a few hardy souls do engage in water skiing while wearing insulating wetsuits. Instead, sunny and sometimes hot summer days are enjoyed in hiking the many trails in the area and viewing the wildlife. The woods hold mule deer, elk, porcupine and the occasional bear along with a variety of smaller mammals.

Trail guides are available near the trail heads at Molly Creek Campground with a favorite short walk being the 1.2-mile Turquoise Lake Nature Trail. The Nature Trail intersects the longer 6.4-mile Turquoise Lake Trail that travels along the shoreline from the dam to the May Queen Campground. More strenuous, the Lake Fork Creek Trail climbs to the northwest to Timberline Lake a bit over 2 miles. Trails leading into higher elevations explore above the timberline, leading to alpine plant patches and permanent snowfields. Marmot and pica are sometimes seen on these high elevation hikes. Mountain biking is also a popular activity near Turquoise Lake with several challenging designated mountain bike trails. A half-marathon is held here annually, and other races skirt parts of Turquoise Lake throughout the summer

Fishing is one of the biggest sports at Turquoise Lake with a large population of lake trout, although most are not of massive size. The mackinaw or lake trout are joined by brook trout and rainbow trout, providing plenty of targets for the eager angler. A fishing site at the dam allows for easy shore fishing, and the Matchless Boat Ramp on the east side of the lake accommodates larger boats. All boats must be inspected to prevent invasive species contamination before launch. Although all facilities are closed in winter, the lake itself is a popular spot for ice fishing. Water levels vary greatly during the year, with snowmelt-caused high water receding as much as 65 feet by the end of summer.

There aren’t any lakefront homes along the shoreline. Non-campers may want to make visiting Turquoise Lake a day trip from nearby Leadville where there are other lodging options. A popular mountain vacation spot, Leadville is home to many guest ranches, resort cabins, bed & breakfasts and quaint inns. The highest-elevation incorporated city in Colorado, Leadville has a long and colorful history as a mining boom town. Hear about Leadville’s colorful past and its equally colorful former residents. A full 70 blocks of downtown Leadville enclose a historic district holding such famed landmarks as the Tabor Opera House. Another favorite stop in Leadville is the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Plenty of local artisans have wares available for purchase in the area, and restaurants and cafes are plentiful. A popular activity is a ride on the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad, particularly scenic for a fall tour of the mountains glowing with autumn colors. Near the city, a major downhill ski area offers winter sports at their best. Or, take a dogsled tour, go horseback trekking or whitewater rafting. There is always something happening in Leadville, with specialty festivals and celebrations going on year round.

Every visitor to the Turquoise Lake area should take a mine tour. There are several mines open to the public, and most come with a knowledgeable tour guide who will fill in all of the history of the mines and their influence on the American economy. Learning about the mines will help explain some of the current problems local residents face regarding mine clean-up and water protection. The area around Turquoise Lake lies within the Sugarloaf Mining District. Only a short distance from the Continental Divide, the rugged peaks hold within them many valuable minerals that were mined here in the 1800s. Gold deposits didn’t last long, but silver created a boom that created Leadville and riddled the area with tunnels. Along with natural faults, the tunnels created other cracks in the bedrock which allow water to percolate into the abandoned mine tunnels. This water eventually escapes the mines and is often heavily polluted when it joins the watershed. The evidence of what can happen when this trapped water is suddenly released was shown recently in the huge spill that polluted the Animas River in 2015, flowing through four states.

Local watershed groups have worked diligently to attempt clean-ups of mine tailings in the path of watercourses and to encourage wetland growth to help filter water escaping from the mines. Unfortunately, some groups claim acting to protect the environment has put them personally liable for damages under a flawed Clean Water Act. Many of the groups have ceased operations because of legal fears. A concern connected more directly to Turquoise Lake was recently found when a study tracing water movement from the lake found the tracer chemicals used in the study to be present in the wetlands outside of leaking mines in the area. The concern is that higher water levels may be allowing the lake’s water to enter the mine tunnels through natural and artificial fractures. The question of whether to limit the amount of water allowed to collect in the reservoir is under study, with possible ramifications to the amount of water available to the Front Range in the future.

In the present, Turquoise Lake is an ideal high-altitude recreation site, one where the mackinaw trout are eager to be caught and the pristine air invigorates every adventure out-of-doors.

Things to do at Turquoise Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Playground

Fish species found at Turquoise Lake

  • Brook Trout
  • Lake Trout
  • Mackinaw Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Turquoise Lake Photo Gallery

Turquoise Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Not Known

Water Level Control: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Surface Area: 1,788 acres

Shoreline Length: 11 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 9,845 feet

Maximum Depth: 85 feet

Water Volume: 129,440 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1968

Drainage Area: 28 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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