Curecanti National Recreation Area, 200 miles southwest of Denver, Colorado, is a natural area dominated by three reservoirs of the Gunnison River. The reservoirs include Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado and the largest Kokanee Salmon fishery in the U.S.; Morrow Point Reservoir, the beginning of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison; and Crystal Reservoir/East Portal, which is the site of a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark known as the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel.
This recreation area was established in 1965 in order to manage the land on and around the Aspinall Storage Unit, a collection of reservoirs created primarily to provide water storage to the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah.
Today, besides being ecologically important, it's a prime recreation area, especially for those who enjoy boating, fishing, and other water sports. For visitors, a good first stop is at the Elk Creek Visitors Center, which provides guests with lists of things to do, current special events, maps, and more. Here, guests can make reservations for boat tours and kids can sign up for junior ranger programs.
Fishing is tops here, and the largest Lake Trout ever caught in Colorado was pulled from the Blue Mesa Reservoir in May 2007, weighing in at more than 50 pounds and 44 inches long. Kokonee season runs from September to December, depending on what part of the park one visits. Furthermore, portions of the Gunnison River that run through Curecanti National Recreation Area are designated Gold Medal & Wild Trout Waters, a designation given to the rivers that have the best potential for trophy trout fishing. Fly fishing is the small creeks that feed the reservoirs is popular and often these creeks are prime snagging areas.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, at 20 miles long, is a prime location for boating. Many of the arms of the reservoir reach into secluded canyons and make for very picturesque voyages. In addition, windsurfing is popular on this reservoir as is waterskiing. The smaller Morrow Point Reservoir is ideal for sea kayaking and canoeing. The scenery is breathtaking and backcountry campsites make it possible to enjoy a multi-day trip on this twelve-mile-long reservoir. Guests can also book a 1.5 hour pontoon boat tour of Morrow Point, available twice each day (weather permitting) and narrated by a National Park ranger. Crystal Reservoir is limited to hand-carried vessels and can be quite tricky for inexperienced kayakers or canoers.
In addition, this recreation area offers about a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from easy 1.5 mile round trip trails to a very strenuous 6 mile round trip hike with an 1,800 foot elevation change. Horseback riding trails are also available. Hunting is also permitted within the park during certain times of the year and under strict Colorado guidelines.
Camping is available at numerous campsites located throughout the Curecanti National Recreation Area. A total of about 400 sites are located here and some are open year round while others are limited to the late spring and summer. Facilities vary but those that are open from fall to spring offer limited facilities during that time. Reservations are essential during the summer.
Read about other Gunnison tourist attractions:
- Gunnison National Forest - Gunnison, CO - three forests in one with numerous natural wonders and activities
- Curecanti National Recreation Area - Gunnison, CO - a natural recreational facility offering a number of amenities
- Gunnison Pioneer Museum - Gunnison, CO - the history of the county through the preservation of artifacts
- Hermit's Rest - Gunnison, CO - Rest stop consisting of a strenuous trail leading to camp sites and restrooms
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