The old rule of thumb for when the heat of summer reaches an unbearable peak in the Southwest is to drive to northern destinations, head for the mountains or find a place to jump in the water to cool off. The San Juan National Forest in Colorado is a place that meets all of the cool summer destination criteria. There are several local lakes to choose from in this region that offer wide ranging activity venues and civilization is not too far away. The combination of mild mountain air temperatures and cool lake water in a heavily forested environment are like a dream come true for those who are baking in the extreme heat of the Desert Southwest!
There are three navigable lakes near Durango, Colorado that are well worth checking out when trying to escape the heat of summer. Each of these lakes are actually large reservoirs that are part of the spring season snow melt flood control retention dam system in this region. One of the largest of the three bodies of water is Vallecito Lake, which also happens to be one of the easiest to access. The roads to Vallecito Lake are paved, so any kind of vehicle can make it to this destination. The two lane country roads that go to this lake start in Durango or Bayfield and the signage is fairly easy to spot.
Upon arrival at Vallecito Lake, the setting will be familiar to those who have gone to mountain lakes back east for a summer vacation. Pine forests surround the lake, the mountain peaks roll gently out to the horizon and the air is crystal clear. The main road follows the curves of the lake, so the water is nearly always in view. Along this road a visitor will find lakeside cabin resorts, marinas, rentals and restaurants, just like what can be found at a summer season lake destination back east. There are even a few lakeside dive bars in the mix that are appealing when the whistle needs wetting. This kind of lakeside venue certainly spells summertime fun in the sun at its best!
At Vallecito Lake there are plenty of shade trees and picnic areas that are perfect for lazing the day away. The boat launch ramps are well maintained and the water level remains high even when severe drought conditions exist. There are beaches where wind surf boards can be easily launched, while paddle boarding is the top activity on calm days. Watercraft rentals of all kinds can be found along the shoreline, so anybody can join in on the fun!
Vallecito Lake is stocked by a local fishery program, so anglers are in luck. This lake is deep enough to support some pretty good size fish, so keeping an eye on the bobber is a must to do. A few tackle shops are located around this lake, which are good places to get a tip on where to find hot spot fishing hole. For the land lubbers, there are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails around Vallecito Lake. The most popular trails follow the shoreline, but a few climb up to peaks where bird’s eye views of the lake can be found. There is also a trail by the retention dam that meanders through a maze of wood carving artwork, which is unique to say the least.
The best thing about Vallecito Lake is that this destination rarely seems crowded. This is because there are two more good size lakes nearby and the local Animas River whitewater rafting is a top tourism draw. With plenty of fresh air to breathe and cool lake water for relief from the heat, having some extra elbow room is like the icing on a cake! If spending some quality rest and relaxation time at a picturesque lake in the San Juan National Forest sounds like it could be a vacation plan, then planning a venture to Vallecito Lake is well worth looking into. Vallecito Lake definitely is a good choice for escaping the extreme heat of summer and there are plenty of fun activities to take on!
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