How to Spend a Day at Vallecito Lake: 5 Activities to Enjoy at Vallecito Reservoir

How to Spend a Day at Vallecito Lake

A day at Vallecito Lake offers a plethora of outdoor activities for visitors seeking a serene retreat in nature. From fishing for prized catches to paddling across the tranquil waters, there's something for everyone to enjoy. As the sun sets over one of the Durango area’s best lakes, the possibilities for adventure are far from over. Keep exploring to uncover hidden gems and make the most of your Vallecito Lake experience.

Where is Vallecito Lake?

Vallecito Reservoir, also known as Lake of the Little Valley, is nestled in the San Juan National Forest in Southwest Colorado, approximately 18 miles northeast of Durango. This majestic reservoir stands 8,000 feet above sea level and is cradled by over 2.5 million acres of untouched public land. 

It spans 12 miles of shoreline and is one of Colorado's largest and most picturesque bodies of water. Homes near Vallecito Lake are stunning examples of mountain cabins and lakeside retreats, and they typically come with lower prices than Durango’s homes.

The campground at Vallecito Lake, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, offers well-maintained facilities in a serene mountain setting. The Vallecito Dam is impressive in its own right, measuring 162 feet in height and 4,010 feet in length, with a normal operating depth of about 121 feet. It provides ample opportunities for a variety of water-based recreational activities.

Catch Some Fish

Fishing on Vallecito Lake

Anglers at Vallecito Lake can enjoy year-round fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species available for catching. The lake is open May through October and is home to species like northern pike, brown and rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, and kokanee salmon.

Northern Pike

Northern pike, known for their size and best caught using rainbow trout lures, are abundant in Vallecito Reservoir. Fishing for the species is also one of the fun things to do on Lake Nighthorse, and in both lakes, they can be found in shallow areas. Despite being present all year, pike fishing peaks from May 15 to June 15.


Walleye, another prized species in the lake, are plentiful around the eastern islands. Anglers have the most success catching walleye using bottom bouncers and vertical jigging techniques, especially around the full moon when they are most active.


Brown and rainbow trout fishing remain productive throughout the year, with different techniques needed as water temperatures change. In summer, as temperatures rise, trout move to deeper waters, requiring anglers to use lead core lines and spoons or Rappalas to target them effectively.

Get Out on the Water

For those seeking aquatic adventures, Vallecito Lake offers a wide range of water activities including boating, kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding. In short, Vallecito Lake offers all of the popular water activities in Durango! Free public boat ramps provide access to the lake, but visitors need a boating permit from the recreation management. These permits can be obtained from local vendors or the Pine River Irrigation District (PRID) office.

The marina offers a diverse selection of boats, from pontoons to fishing vessels, as well as kayaks and more. If you prefer calmer waters, the northern and southern ends of the lake are ideal for a serene paddling or boating excursion. Whether you're looking to cruise the lake on a boat, explore hidden coves on a kayak, or test your balance on a paddleboard, Vallecito Reservoir has something for everyone.

Hike the Trails

Hiking Near Vallecito Lake

Exploring the diverse hiking trails around Vallecito Lake offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in nature's beauty and serenity. Seven trails cater to various skill levels and rank among Durango’s top hiking trails. Hikers can embark on adventures ranging from half-day excursions to multi-day treks. Each trail presents its unique charm, showcasing the stunning vistas and tranquil surroundings that Vallecito Lake has to offer.

Among the trails available are:

  • Vallecito Creek Trail
  • Lake Eileen Trail
  • The Lake Trails
  • North Canyon
  • East Creek & Graham Creek Trails
  • Pine River Trail
  • Cave Basin Trail
  • Tuckerville Trails

These trails wind through some of the most picturesque landscapes in San Juan County, providing hikers with an opportunity to witness the natural beauty of the area up close. Although direct trail access from the water's edge is limited, visitors can still enjoy a leisurely stroll along a makeshift beach trail that hugs the shoreline. This activity is popular among those looking to combine a lakeside experience with a touch of hiking.

Enjoy a Meal

With a variety of dining options available, visitors at Vallecito Lake can indulge in a range of culinary delights to complement their lakeside experience. The Vallecito Lake Country Market & Mexican Food, known as 'The Country Market,' provides a selection of Mexican dishes and homemade fudge, with La Comida Ranchera Mexican Restaurant offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner six days a week.

The Rocky Mountain General Store is a convenient stop for those seeking groceries and in-house crafted meats like brats and elk sausage. Visitors can also find local liquors like Ska beers and Honeyville Whiskey. The Weminuche Woodfire Grill presents a dynamic menu that includes homemade pizza dough, burgers, pasta, and smoked meats, accompanied by live music and sports viewing.

Alternatively, the nearby Silverton community has more dining options, and as one of the best small towns in Colorado, it’s well worth a visit.

Consider Staying the Night

Camping Near Vallecito Lake

If spending one day at the lake isn’t enough, visitors to Vallecito Reservoir can choose from a variety of campgrounds and RV parks for an overnight stay, allowing them to immerse themselves in the natural beauty and recreational activities offered in the area. Campground options include:

  • Pine Point Campground offers about 15 campsites with stunning scenery
  • Vallecito Campground features 80 shaded sites available from May through October
  • Middle Mountain Campground provides 24 sites that accommodate campers and RVs
  • Graham Creek Campground offers a mix of 25 shaded and open sites
  • Pine River Campground has six campsites near the Pine River #523 trailhead

Create Lasting Memories at Vallecito Lake

Spending a day at Vallecito Lake offers a perfect blend of outdoor activities and relaxation. Whether it’s fishing, boating, hiking, or enjoying a delicious meal with a view, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Consider making it a weekend getaway to fully experience all that this beautiful destination—which ranks among the top camping destinations in Colorado—has to offer. Vallecito Lake is truly a hidden gem waiting to be explored and enjoyed.

Thinking about buying a home near Vallecito Lake? Our REALTORS® are ready to help you find the perfect lake house!

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