Ridgway State Park is one of many high elevation snow melt retention reservoirs in the Colorado Rockies. The retention reservoirs help to control spring and early summer season flooding after a heavy winter, while during seasons of drought these man made lakes ensure that water will be available. In order to make room for the spring season snow melt floodwaters, most of the reservoirs in the Rockies are allowed to run dry toward the end of summer and early autumn. Shortly after the proverbial plug in the big bath tub is pulled, the shorelines recede dramatically and the summer boating season ends. The Ridgway Reservoir is one such proverbial water tub that gets its cork popped at the end of summer and this is why Ridgway State Park has a short, yet very busy summer season.
The neighboring town of Ridgway is located on the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. 550) between Ouray and Montrose. In this region, five very large National Forests meet, so there are endless miles of deep wilderness to explore. The Gunnison Gorge Conservation Area and Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park are only 45 minutes away from Ridgway State Park and adventures on the Alpine Loop await just south of Ouray. This State Park is also about one hour away from the harsh high desert environment of the Canyonlands National Park, so the cool mountain lake water certainly is within reach of those who have been baking in the sun for far too long.
Because the Ridgway Reservoir is located in a big snow melt basin, it really does not take long for this big lake to fill back up after it runs dry during winter. In fact, after an extra heavy snow melt, the Ridgway Reservoir can go over the top and the shoreline will extend all the way to the highway. When the Ridgway Reservoir is full to the top in early summer, it acts as a beacon for boaters, fly fishermen and people that just want to splash around on a warm sunny day!
Ridgway State Park covers a lot of ground and there are three separate access points along the highway. The Po-Co-Chu-Puk area is located in the north end of the park and this is where the headwaters, campground and RV slips can be found. Dutch Charlie is the middle section of this park and this is where the boat launch, aquatic recreation area and visitor center are located. Campsites and RV hookups are available in Dutch Charlie too. The third access point is Dallas Creek in the southern end of the park. Dallas Creek is a nature watching area that has picnic tables and lakeside hiking trails. All three of the Ridgway State Park access areas have children's playgrounds and an extensive number of picnic tables, so this destination definitely is geared up for summer season day trip adventures.
The snow capped mountain peak setting of Ridgway State Park adds to charm. Civilization is just a few miles away in Ridgway or Montrose, so gearing up or finding rentals is easy to do. Ridgway State Park does get crowded during the peak summer season and the campsites are usually full on weekends, but there are plenty more camping options in the surrounding National Forests. As far boat traffic is concerned, there is plenty of room to putter around, mostly because there are a few other big reservoir lakes nearby.
Ridgway State Park certainly is a prime time summer season destination, but the window of opportunity for visiting this lake is limited. Mid spring to early summer is when the temperatures warm up in Ridgway and this is when the lake is full. As soon as the outdoor temperatures start to plummet in autumn, the water is drained off before the winter freeze, so this is the end of the line for the aquatic sports season.
Even though the aquatic scene ends during the last days of summer, Ridgway State Park does remain open all year round. Fishing, hiking and camping are options during the winter season and this is a very pretty place to visit when the mountains are draped with snow. As far as the summertime boating and swimming goes, there is no better spot up in these mountains, so be sure to check out this picturesque State Park while the short window of opportunity exists!
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