Vallecito Lake, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Southeast -

Also known as:  Vallecito Reservoir

The quest for a reliable source of irrigation water in Colorado’s dry Southwest Region brought Vallecito Lake into being. Twenty-two miles north of Durango, Vallecito Reservoir serves the water needs of approximately 55,000 acres of farmers and ranchers while providing recreation to thousands of visitors every year. The 2,720-acre lake was created in 1941 when a dam impounded the waters of the Pine River and Vallecito Creek. The Bureau of Reclamation contracted for the dam to be built but management of the water itself is assigned to the Pine River Irrigation District which apportions the water between several farmers’ cooperatives and the Southern Ute tribal government. Hydro power is produced by a generating plant at the dam. Vallecito, Spanish for “Little Valley,” is the area’s largest reservoir.

Because the lake is surrounded by the San Juan National Forest, supervision of recreation and camping facilities is split between the irrigation district and the United States Forest Service. The crystal-clear lake receives snowmelt in the spring from the steep slopes of the San Juan Mountains, providing an excellent cold-water fishery that supports rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout, northern pike, walleye, smallmouth bass and kokanee salmon. Colorado Dept of Wildlife stocks the lake yearly, leading to an abundant fish population. A pike tournament is held annually. The high altitude permits the lake to freeze over each winter and allows for ice fishing tournaments as well. Trout fishermen are often seen navigating the shallows in float tubes or casting their favorite flies on the two inlet streams.

The lakeshore has experienced very little shoreline development as nearly all of the 12-mile length is public lands. But, Vallecito Lake is anything but inaccessible; several public boat launch sites are located on the lake, and two marinas assure that fishermen or boating enthusiasts have everything they need for an enjoyable visit. Canoes, fishing boats, pontoon boats, buoy service, and fishing gear are available for rent. Bait, tackle, and gas are also available for sale. Vallecito Lake is an all-sports lake and extremely popular with boat owners who come to enjoy sailing, water skiing, tubing, wind surfing, pontooning, canoeing and kayaking. The 961 acres of public recreation land, managed by the US Forest service, holds several camping areas, hiking trails and picnic areas.

An additional two-and-a-half million acres are available in the San Juan National Forest, holding a wealth of hiking and back packing trails, off-road vehicle trails, mountain biking, river rafting and back-country hunting and fishing areas. Near Vallecito Lake, the Weminuche Wilderness Area is positioned along miles of the Continental Divide and offers dizzying heights, breathtaking views and trails that will challenge the most skilled mountain explorer. The roadless area serves as a refuge for wilderness-dependent species such as wolves, grizzly bears, lynx and wolverines. Elk, mule deer, turkey and black bear are hunted here in season, often by hunters traveling by horseback. The San Juan National Forest holds a wealth of unusual species of birds and mammals, making this a favorite of nature photographers.

Several lodges near Vallecito Lake provide vacation rentals to visitors. Most are open year round as the winter season is nearly as popular as summer. The surrounding area is a magnificent place for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding, There are major ski areas within a two-hour drive, and Durango maintains a year-round indoor ice rink. Vallecito Lake makes an ideal home-base for visiting the famed Four-Corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. No visit would be complete without experiencing the breathtaking scenery of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Train. The ancient cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park leave the visitor in awe of the little-known people who created these elaborate fortifications. Helicopter and glider rides can be arranged at Durango, as can hunting and fishing guide services and white-water rafting trips. Durango also holds the Henry Strater Theatre which produces live music acts from around the nation. The Children’s Museum will delight the youngsters and the eclectic shops and galleries are a joy to browse. Several golf courses are located in the Four-Corners area. Those with a penchant for pampering can indulge in a massage and a relaxing soak in natural hot mineral springs located at a lodge between Durango and Vallecito Lake.

Twenty-five miles from Durango, the little town of Ignacio comes alive each Labor Day week-end during Ignacio Bike Week. Not quite as large as Sturgis, Ignacio makes up in enthusiasm for what it lacks in size. Also in Ignacio, the Southern Ute Indian Cultural Center offers Native American dancing on Heritage Night and you can tempt the fates at the Sky Ute Casino.

Vacation lodgings aren’t difficult to find near Vallecito Lake. Several lodges are located near the lakefront, many with private cabins, boats or canoes. Many private residences are rented by the week or the season, often with beautiful lake views. There are many bed and breakfast facilities in the Four-Corners area and larger towns such as Durango are well-supplied with hotels and specialty lodgings. Real estate is often available, some with lake views and others featuring the mountains. There is never a shortage of things to entertain the visitor at Vallecito Lake; it’s a true four-season playground. Come and enjoy the best nature has to offer. Visit Vallecito Lake for the first time – it wont be your last.

Things to do at Vallecito Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Wind Surfing
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Playground
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Vallecito Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Trout
  • Walleye

Vallecito Lake Photo Gallery

Vallecito Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Not Known

Water Level Control: Pine River Irrigation District.

Surface Area: 2,720 acres

Shoreline Length: 12 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 7,583 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 7,669 feet

Maximum Depth: 110 feet

Water Volume: 129,700 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1941

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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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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