Colorado Resort Adventure Guide

National Recreation Area

Three lakes, named for corresponding dams on the Gunnison River, form the heart of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Panoramic mesas, fjord-like lakes, and deep, steep and narrow canyons abound. Blue Mesa Lake is Colorado's largest body of water, and is the largest Kokanee Salmon fishery in the United States. Morrow Point Lake is the beginning of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and below, Crystal Lake is the site of the Gunnison Diversion Tunnel, a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Recently discovered dinosaur fossils, a 5,000 acre archeological district, a narrow gauge train, and traces of 6000 year old dwellings further enhance the offerings of Curecanti.

1,100,000 visitors per year. Most people visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Elk Creek Visitor Center/NPS Administration & Headquarters is located 15 miles west of Gunnison on US Hwy 50.
The park shares its western boundary with Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument.

Curecanti National Recreation Area
102 Elk Creek
Gunnison, CO 81230

(970) 641-2337

For information requests:

The park is open every day of the year. Visitor centers are open daily, mid-May through the end of September. Elk Creek Visitor Center is open every weekend throughout the winter (closed on Federal holidays) and intermittently during the week.

Weather can vary greatly throughout the day.
Summer daytime temperatures range between 50 to 90F (10 to 32C), nights 40 to 60F (4 to 15C)
Winter daytime temperatures range between -20 to +40F (-29 to +4C), nights -30 to +20F (-34 to -7C)
Precipitation is minimal, brief afternoon thunderstorms can occur during the summer, snow accumulation varies greatly year to year.
Layered clothing appropriate for the season is recommended.

The entire park is along the Gunnison River between Montrose and Gunnison, Colorado (approximately 200 miles SW of Denver) and is easily accessed from US Hwy 50, CO Hwy 149, and CO Hwy 92.

By air: Commercial airlines to Gunnison, Montrose, and Grand Junction
By bus: To Gunnison, Montrose, and Grand Junction
By train: To Grand Junction
In Park: No public transportation is available, car rentals are available at all airports. Boat rentals are available in summer, at park marinas.

Blue Mesa Lake Boat fees (all motorized and State registered vessels): $4 daily, $10 for 14 days, or $30 for 1997 boat pass.
Annual boat permits may be purchased by mail after March 1st.
No entrance fees, camping fees are $8.00 and $9.00/night.
User fees such as camping and boat permits are half price for Golden Age and Golden Access passport holders.
You must have a Colorado state fishing license to fish within the park.

Visitor Center/Exhibits:
  • Elk Creek:Visitor Center is staffed and open daily mid-May through the end of September, weekends throughout the winter (closed holidays). Accessible trail and observation deck adjacent to visitor center.
  • Lake Fork:Visitor Center is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, closed in winter.
  • Cimarron:Visitor Center is open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day, closed in winter. Narrow gauge train exhibit and Morrow Point Dam overview with kiosk.

Boat ramps: Iola, Stevens Creek, Elk Creek, Lake Fork, Ponderosa -- all on Blue Mesa Lake
Marinas and Showers: Elk Creek and Lake Fork
Restaurant: at Elk Creek marina, Pappy's Restaurant (open summers only)

Trails, Roads:
  • US Hwy 50 runs the length of Curecanti National Recreation Area with outstanding views of Blue Mesa Lake and the Dillon Pinnacles. Neversink, Coopers Ranch, Dillon Pinnacles Trail, Pine Creek Trail, and Mesa Creek Trails are short hiking trails along Hwy 50.
  • CO Hwy 149, heads south from the park and ends at Lake City, an historic mining town 48 miles south of U.S. Hwy 50. Iola Boat ramp and picnic area is accessed from HW 149. Designated as part of the Colorado Scenic Byway,
  • CO Hwy 92(24 miles west of Gunnison) takes you through two life zones to three trailheads (Curecanti Creek Trail, Hermits Rest, and Crystal Creek Trail) and four scenic overlooks (Blue Mesa Dam, Pioneer Point, Hermits Rest and Crystal).
  • Soap Creek Road(unpaved) takes you to Ponderosa Camprground 6 miles north of Colorado Hwy 92.
  • CO Hwy 347to East Portal Road and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument. The steep ascent to the south rim of the Black Canyon is open all year. The East Portal Road, providing the only road access in the canyon to the Gunnison River, is closed in winter.

Elk Creek Visitor Center: Ranger conducted porch talks, trout viewing pond, are offered daily in the summer. Winter treks (on foot or with snowshoes) offered January through March.
Elk Creek and Lake Fork Amphitheaters: Daily evening programs Memorial day to Labor Day in the summer.
Stevens Creek Amphitheater: Friday and Saturday evening programs Memorial Day to Labor Day in the summer.
Numerous theme hikes offered throughout the summer in a variety of park locations.
Education Outreach: Preschool through graduate school programs are available meeting Colorado Department of Education Content Standards.

Lodging and camping facilities:
All of the sites at Curecanti National Recreation Area are without hookups. There is a 14-day stay limit.
All campgrounds are usually full during Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day holidays and weekends are more crowded.
Campgrounds from east to west:
Stevens Creek - 54 sites, vault toilets, water available, closed in winter, $8.00/night
Elk Creek - 179 sites; Marina, restaurant, flush toilets, water, dump station, showers (summer); vault toilets only in winter $9.00/night
East Elk Creek - Group site, vault toilets, water available (summer) $2.00/person/night, $20.00 minimum
Lake Fork - 87 sites, flush toilets, water, showers, dump station, marina, closed in winter, $9.00/night
Dry Gulch - 10 sites, vault toilets, water available (summer), $8.00/night
Red Creek - 7 sites, vault toilets, water available (summer) $8.00/night
Gateview - 7 sites, vault toilets, water available (summer) $8.00/night
Ponderosa - 29 sites, vault toilets, water available (summer) $8.00/night
Cimarron - 22 sites, flush toilets, water, dump station, closed in winter, $9.00/night
East Portal - 15 sites, vault toilets, water available (summer) $8.00/night

Other lodging:
For motel/hotels, cabins or other campgrounds outside of the park, please call the Montrose Visitors and Convention Bureau at (970) 249-6360 or (800) 873-0244, or the Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce at (970) 641-1501.

Restaurant (summer only) at Elk Creek; Convenience grocery (summer only) at Elk Creek and Lake Fork marinas.

Other Concessions/NPS-Managed Visitor Facilities and
Boat Rentals in summer, 42 passenger tour boat (ranger guided) on Morrow Point Reservoir (summer only) and Guided Fishing trips

We have sales outlets in each visitor center operated by Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, a nonprofit organization.

Accessible Visitor Centers- Elk Creek, Lake Fork, Cimarron. Accessible comfort stations, camping sites at Stevens Creek, Elk Creek, Lake Fork, Cimarron. Accessible overlooks-Dillon Pinnacles, Hermits Rest, Crystal.

Hiking trails, wildlife viewing, camping, picnicking, photography, boating, salmon and trout fishing, hunting, windsurfing, sailing, waterskiing, cross country skiing, ice-fishing and snowmobiling.
Camping is first-come/first-served, no reservations are accepted (except for group site).
A Colorado fishing license is required for fishing within the park.
Boats (motorized and registered vessels) must have a current Curecanti permit (see above fees).

Interpretive programming is available all summer. Evening programs are presented Wed-Sun at Lake Fork and Elk Creek Campgrounds and on Fri and Sat nights at Stevens Creek campground. Nature walks and demonstrations are offered daily throughout the park.

Fishing tournaments, an array of educational programming and winter treks/snowshoe hikes are available all year. Please call the Elk Creek Visitor Center for details, at (970) 641-2337 extension 205.

Blue Mesa Lake's surface starts to freeze in late November, providing little access to boats. The surface of all three basins on the lake are usually frozen any time after late December. Ice thickness is usually safe for ice fishing on the Iola basin in January -- and winter fishing is excellent! Melting begins in April, with "ice out" (ice free conditions) as early as late April.

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