Vallecito Lake ~ San Juan National Forest

Vallecito Lake ~ San Juan National Forest

The old rule of thumb for when the heat of summer reaches an unbearable peak in the Southwest is to drive to northern destinations, head for the mountains or find a place to jump in the water to cool off.  The San Juan National Forest in Colorado is a place that meets all of the cool summer destination criteria. There are several local lakes to choose from in this region that offer varying activity venues and civilization is not too far away. The combination of mild mountain air temperatures and cool lake water in a heavily forested environment are like a dream come true for those who are baking in the extreme heat of the low desert!

There are three navigable lakes near Durango, Colorado that are well worth checking out when looking to escape the heat of summer.  Each of these lakes are actually large reservoirs that are part of the spring season snow melt flood control retention dam system in this region. 

One of the largest bodies of water in the southern end of the Sand Juan National Forest is Vallecito Lake.  The access roads to Vallecito Lake are paved, so any kind of vehicle can make it to this destination.  The two lane country roads that go to this lake can be found in Durango or Bayfield and the signage is fairly easy to spot.

Upon arrival at Vallecito Lake, the setting will be familiar to those who have gone to mountain lakes back east during a summer vacation.  Pine forests surround the lake, the mountain peaks roll gently out to the horizon and the sky is crystal clear cobalt blue.  The main road follows the curves of the lake, so the water is nearly always in view.  Along this road visitors will find lakeside cabin resorts, marinas, rentals and restaurants, just like what can be found at lake destinations back east.  There are even a few lakeside dive bars too.  This kind of lakeside venue is a familiar sight for east coast weekenders and it spells summertime fun and relaxation at its best!     

At Vallecito Lake there are plenty of shade trees and picnic areas that are perfect for lazing the day away.  The boat launch ramps are well maintained and the water level remains high even though severe drought conditions exist.  There are also beaches where wind surf boards can be easily launched.  Watercraft rentals of all kinds can be found lakeside or in Durango, so anybody can join in on the fun!   

Vallecito Lake is stocked by a local fishery program, so anglers are in luck too.  This lake is deep enough to support some pretty good size fish, so keeping an eye on the bobber is a must to do.  A few tackle shops can be found around this lake, so there is no excuse not to bait a hook!.  As every fisherman knows, getting the inside skinny from a local to find where the hot spots are is part of the game and the local tackle shops are the place where the angling information flows. 

For the land lubbers, there are plenty of hiking trails around Vallecito Lake.  The most popular trails follow the shoreline, but a few climb up to peaks where bird’s eye views of the lake can be found.  There is also a trail by the retention dam that meanders through a maze of wood carving artwork, which is unique to say the least. 

The best thing about Vallecito Lake is that this destination rarely seems crowded.  This is because there are two more good size lakes nearby and the local Animas River whitewater rafting is world famous.  With plenty of fresh air to breathe and cool lake water for relief from the heat, having some extra elbow room is like the icing on a cake!  If spending some quality rest and relaxation time at a picturesque lake in the San Juan National Forest sounds like it could be a vacation plan, then planning a venture to Vallecito Lake is well worth looking into.  Vallecito Lake definitely is a good choice for escaping the extreme heat of summer!                                


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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