Exploring Blue Mesa Reservoir: Boating Adventures in Colorado


As the state’s largest body of water, Blue Mesa offers endless opportunities for aquatic adventures across its 96 miles of shoreline. From kayaking to windsurfing, visitors of all ages delight in the reservoir’s cool blue waters and stunning high-altitude vistas.


  • With 96 miles of shoreline, Blue Mesa Reservoir is Colorado's largest lake and a premier boating destination.
  • Activities like sailing, paddleboarding, and kayaking draw visitors, along with world-class fishing.
  • Changing water levels, camping options, and boating regulations impact how visitors experience the reservoir.

A Watery Playground

Designated as Colorado’s official “Summer Playground,” Blue Mesa Reservoir shines as the crown jewel of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service. The reservoir was created in 1966 by damming the Gunnison River, completely submerging the former towns of Iola, Sapinero, and Cebolla. Today three dams manage Blue Mesa’s water levels: Blue Mesa Dam, Morrow Point Dam, and Crystal Dam.

Blue Mesa spans 20 miles long and over 100 feet deep at full capacity. The expansive lake offers 96 miles of shoreline to explore by boat and hundreds of secluded coves and inlets. When summer temperatures climb, visitors flock to Blue Mesa to bask on its sandy beaches and cool off with swimming, waterskiing, sailing, and more.

Thrill-seekers enjoy windsurfing Blue Mesa’s waves while paddling a kayak or stand-up paddleboard allows closer access to the reservoir’s remote fingers. Groups gather for picnics along the quiet shores, and hikers delight in the panoramic views from trails like the Pine Creek Trail.

Local Flavor

Beyond boating adventures, Blue Mesa Reservoir offers a taste of Colorado’s cultural heritage. The nearby town of Gunnison provides modern amenities while retaining its Old West charm. Visitors can explore historic buildings, enjoy local cuisine in Western-themed restaurants, and experience cultural events like rodeos and country fairs.

The Lake Fork Marina creates a hub for summer activities at the reservoir itself. Visitors can fuel up their boats, rent watercraft, pick up fishing gear and snacks in the marina store, or relax over a meal at the marina’s restaurant. RVers and tent campers gather outside the marina at the Lake Fork Campground.

Angling Paradise

The fishing at Blue Mesa Reservoir is legendary, earning it Gold Medal status as one of Colorado’s top fisheries. Abundant kokanee salmon and lake trout draw anglers from across the region. In the summer, trout fishing peaks as the fish move into shallower waters to feed. Several boat ramps around the reservoir provide starting points for avid anglers.

The reservoir also supports Colorado’s largest kokanee salmon population, with over 30 million fish. Kokanee fishing heats up in the fall when the landlocked salmon make their annual spawning run into the lake’s tributaries. Anglers flock to the Lake Fork and Gunnison rivers, where they pursue the salmon using spinners, flies, and jigs.

Changing Landscape

As a man-made reservoir, Blue Mesa’s water levels fluctuate yearly depending on snowpack and diversion for agricultural use. During wet years, all three damns reach maximum capacity, and the reservoir floods shoreline vegetation, expanding its banks. In dry years, low water levels create challenges for marinas and boat access.

Since 2021, the Western drought has significantly drained Blue Mesa. The reservoir dropped to a record low of less than 30% full in winter 2023, closing boat ramps and impacting recreational access. Careful water management now maintains boat ramp functionality, but visitors may continue to find changing conditions.

Safety First

All boaters must follow Colorado boating regulations and properly register watercraft. Blue Mesa also requires mandatory boat inspections to check for invasive aquatic species before launching. Though ski boats dominate the summer waves, even small craft like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards need proper registration.

Algae blooms sometimes occur mid to late summer as warming water increases algal growth. Potentially toxic blue-green algae appear like thick, green paint near the surface. Visitors should avoid contact and keep pets out of affected waters. Checking reservoir water quality reports helps determine safe recreation areas.

Year-Round Recreation

Though boating reigns supreme in summer, Blue Mesa Reservoir offers year-round recreation. Campgrounds and hiking trails remain open, though services are limited in the colder months. For the adventurous, ice fishing creates exciting opportunities to hook trout and salmon through holes drilled into the reservoir’s frozen surface.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing also allow visitors to explore the beauty of winter. While most boat ramps close seasonally, ice boats and other specially equipped watercraft can still access the frozen lake.


The following FAQs provide information visitors should know before boating at Blue Mesa Reservoir.

What are the current water levels at Blue Mesa Reservoir?

As of February 2024, Blue Mesa Reservoir is at 41% capacity. Boat ramps remain open, but some areas are inaccessible due to low water.

Where can I get personal watercraft or boat rentals?

Elk Creek Marina and Lake Fork Marina provide kayak, pontoon, ski boat, and jet ski rentals. Hourly to daily rates are available.

Is camping allowed on the reservoir itself?

Overnight camping on the water is permitted. Houseboats, floating campers, and boats can anchor at designated areas. Strict regulations are enforced.

Are there campgrounds at Blue Mesa Reservoir?

Yes, you can make reservations for ten campgrounds, including Elk Creek Campground, Stevens Creek Campground, Red Creek Campground, and others.

When does Blue Mesa open for summer recreation?

The reservoir opens for boating on the first Saturday in April. Campgrounds generally open in early May, depending on weather and road conditions.

What fish species can I catch at Blue Mesa?

Kokanee salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and yellow perch.

Final Thoughts

For water lovers, Blue Mesa Reservoir promises a perfect combination of adventure, scenery, and great fishing. Despite low water impacts, visitors enjoy the expansive lake and wealth of activities. Boating season kicks off in spring, but Blue Mesa’s beauty shines all year–a must-visit destination for all ages to enjoy the heart of Colorado’s Western Slope.


About the author

James Ranson

I’m an editor, traveler, and fan of the great outdoors. I’ve been to all 48 continental US states, and my drives through Colorado’s rugged peaks and snowy forests (not to mention whiskey tastings in Denver!) still stand out in my memories. I’m excited to use my ten years of editing experience to develop engaging and informative guides and articles that enhance the outdoor experiences of both Colorado residents and visitors. Whether a piece is about exploring the best ski resorts, uncovering scenic trails for hiking, or finding the most inspiring drives through the Colorado Rockies, my aim is to provide comprehensive and accessible content that encourages adventure and exploration.