with the kids at
offer the best of
the great outdoors.
fishing, mountain biking,
canoeing, and wildlife watching
at this high mountain lake
near the historic silver town of
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Did You Know?
Turquoise Lake Recreation Area, Colorado is home to 8 separate campgrounds.
Photo: The town of Leadville, Colorado lies near Turquoise Lake.
Leadville, Colorado plays an
important part in American
history. It is the spot where such folks as the Guggenheims made a fortune and Charles Dow of the Dow Jones Industrial Average got his start.
Follow this link to
Is it any wonder that Turquoise Lake is one of Colorado’s most popular weekend getaways?
What a Site
Eight campgrounds ring the lake. Some sites look out over the water to 13,000-foot peaks beyond. Others are tucked into secluded forests and meadowlands. Campgrounds are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, toilets, and drinking water. The Belle of Colorado Campground is for tents only, while the Tabor Boat Ramp is like a big parking lot for RV’s, accommodating rigs up to 37 feet long. Reservations are a good idea for all campgrounds except Belle of Colorado and Tabor Boat Ramp, which are first come, first served. No dispersed camping is allowed around the lake.
At an altitude of 9,800 feet above sea level, the air here
is thin and crystal clear. All the better for sighting wildlife, whether it is
a pika or marmot above timberline or elk and mule deer in the woods near your campsite.
Bears have been known to visit the area, so keep a clean camp and store your
food, cooking gear, and toiletries in the car when you aren’t using them.
Porcupines are common in the forests, as are chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels. You’ll likely hear a chickaree’s scolding call. Steller’s jays, chickadees, and an occasional bluebird flit through the branches, while numerous hummingbirds may be attracted to bright red objects around your campsite. Occasionally beavers are seen along streams near Turquoise Lake, and if you are very lucky, you might spot river otters playing there as well.
High Country Hiking
Several nearby hiking trails wind through the woods and
climb to spectacular viewpoints. Others follow tumbling streams to glacier-carved
pockets with trout-filled lakes.
The Turquoise Lake Trail follows the eastern and northern
shoreline for 6.4 easy to moderate miles, one way. Great for families, it
accesses several campgrounds and picnic areas. Braiding in and out of lodgepole
pine forests, it treats you to changing views of the lake and peaks beyond.
Don’t confuse the Turquoise Lake Trail with the Turquoise
Lake Nature Trail, looping for 1.2 miles between the Silver Dollar and Molly
Brown Campgrounds. Following gentle terrain, it is a great way to learn about
the forests surrounding the reservoir. The trailhead lies on the road between
the two campgrounds. Pick up a booklet there. Our favorite features were the
pothole lakes, carved by glaciers. These woodland clearings are filled with
ponds and marshes of beautiful wildflowers. They are like fairylands where
grinding, frozen rivers once flowed. We were glad, however, to wear bug
repellant to keep those fairies from biting us.
High above Turquoise Lake, Hagerman Pass crosses the Continental Divide. Just beneath this lofty ridge lies the abandoned bed of the Colorado Midland Railroad. Built in the 1890’s, now it is a winding complex of paths, tunnels, and ghost towns. The official trail is hard to trace, but it follows a 5.5-mile loop through alpine meadows and past the site of a giant trestle. Although the old train-bridge is no longer there, you can still find artifacts among the wildflowers in the gulch it once crossed.
Anglers will find plenty of action in Turquoise Lake,
itself. Rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout swim below the surface, as
do mackinaw and kokanee. In this incredible setting, it’s worth it to rise
before the sun and catch the rosy pre-dawn alpenglow that reflects off the
Across from the May Queen Campground, a pullout and trailhead marks the beginning of the Lake Fork Creek Trail. It climbs northwest for 2.1 miles to pretty Timberline Lake, providing good fishing opportunities along the way. Within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, these waters are catch and release only, with artificial flies and lures. Greenback cutthroat trout are being restored in both the creek and the lake.
Float Your Boat
With 1,780 acres of open water, Turquoise Lake is popular
with small boaters. Sailboats catch the mountain breezes for beautiful, fast
rides. Those same winds can be awfully chilly for power boaters as they splash
through waves of snowmelt. Still, a few die-hard water skiers don wetsuits and
brave the frigid waters. Bright summer days can make the lake a busy place.
As the sun sets, the breezes calm, and the bigger boats are winched onto their trailers, Turquoise Lake is beautiful for canoeists following the shoreline to watch the evening settle in.
Remote from city lights, the area offers mind-boggling stargazing. Frequently constellations get lost in the wash of the Milky Way. For a treat, bundle up against the nighttime frost, grab a blanket and a foam pad to sit on, and sneak quietly to the water’s edge. The soft lapping of waves and the hush of air in pine needles makes a sweet soundtrack for the spectacle above. Take a deep breath of thin mountain air and watch the silhouette of the Great Divide fade into the inky sky. It will be a bright spot in an already brilliant weekend getaway.
When You Go
From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to exit 195, near
Copper Mountain, and go south on Colorado Route 91 to Leadville. From
Leadville’s main street, Harrison Avenue, turn right (west) onto 6th
Street and follow it to McWethy Drive. Go right on McWethy and then merge into
County Road 4, going west. Cross the railroad tracks and the Arkansas River,
then follow the road straight into the recreation area.
The heavy snowfall often doesn’t completely melt until
mid-May. Summer days are crisp, with high temperatures just reaching the 70’s.
Still, you can work up a sweat in the sunshine; wear layers to adjust to
changing temperatures. Apply sunscreen often to protect against high-altitude
sun exposure. Nighttime lows in the summer dip towards freezing, so bring
cuddly sleeping bags and be prepared to bundle up.
At nearly two miles above sea level, it is easy to feel the
affects of altitude sickness. Drink two liters or more of water each day and
avoid alcohol, which makes symptoms worse. (Filter or treat water in the lakes
and streams before drinking.) Take it easy, rest frequently, and eat plenty of
high-energy food when exercising.
Reserve campsites at 877/444-6777 or www.reserveusa.com. A $9 reservation fee will be charged in addition to the Forest Service camping fees, which run $14 per night. Contact the San Isabel National Forest Leadville Ranger District (719/486-0749; www.fs.fed.us/r2/psicc) for more information.