Clear Creek Reservoir, Chaffee County

Note: this is not related to the commonly known Clear Creek in Clear Creek County, which is a tributary of the South Platte River, and flows through Golden, CO.

A Fisherman’s Oasis, Accessible Year-Round

Clear Creek Reservoir is directly off U.S. 24, on Chaffee County Road 390. In the winter months, ice-fishing is a popular activity on the reservoir. In the summer months, the reservoir is open to boats, and there are numerous camping areas close to the reservoir. There is a restroom at the main boat dock parking area, but no camping is allowed here. Numerous pull-offs exist beyond the first parking area, that provide additional access to the reservoir shore.

The boat dock is closed in the winter because apparently it’s hard to bring a boat on solid ice.

Clear Creek Reservoir is managed by Colorado Parks & Wildlife, which monitors the health of fish populations in the reservoir. According to CPW, the reservoir has excellent fishing for brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout, all of which are routinely stocked. There is also a population of Kokanee Salmon and Tiger Muskie, which have recently rebounded in population after a die-off.

Frozen lakes make interesting noises. You should look it up, they can be quite eerie.

The 407-acre reservoir is owned by the Pueblo water department, which holds water usage rights. Water rights have always been a contentious issue in the west, and with the majority of precipitation falling on the western slope, there are numerous diversion projects in Colorado that redirect western slope water to the eastern slope, where the largest population centers in Colorado are.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas project is a large project in this region, with the Twin Lakes system including Mount Elbery Forebay reservoir constituting a significant portion of capacity in the project. Twin Lakes is directly north of Clear Creek Reservoir.

The official information board for the reservoir. It took seven years to construct this reservoir, and it has been open for fishing since CPW entered an agreement with the City of Pueblo in 1965, ten years after Pueblo purchased water rights on this reservoir.

Deep History in this Area, More than Initially Meets the Eye

Clear Creek Reservoir is located in a valley which has history that runs deep, and far (i.e. its entire length). There are four ghost towns along County Road 390, which ultimately turns into Forest Service Road 390. Immediately after turning on to CR 390 from the highway, a lowly brown sign tells you the distance to two, Vicksburg, eight miles up the road, and Winsfield, 12 miles up the road. Vicksburg was once a prominent mining settlement, home to over 600 residents at its peak, and 40 buildings strong. Winsfield once had an estimated 1,500 residents, which was a lot for the 19th century in Colorado.

Otherwise, the area was used for ranching and cattle grazing. Some old cabins are immediately visible directly across the road from the reservoir.

Clear Creek is a fairly run-of-the-mill high mountain creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River. The reservoir is the only dam on the creek, whose headwaters are on the Continental Divide at the top of the valley.

Plenty of Outdoor Recreation in the Area

In addition to fishing, there is abundant camping areas to the west of the reservoir, with dispersed camping allowed at the inlet. The dam, and 100 feet surrounding it, are closed to the public per federal Homeland Security regulations, and violators are subject to at minimum a fine.

There is a campground with RV accommodations just to the west of the reservoir, as well as more National Forest land further up the road. There are numerous little pull-offs for dispersed campsites. Also, the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile trail from Denver to Durango runs to the south of the reservoir, and a bridge at the campsite provides access.

This bridge, located at the campsite, provides visitors with trail access to the Colorado Trail.

Clear Creek Reservoir is a nice little gem to know about in the Colorado Rockies. It seems like a place that isn’t too busy in the summer months, and hardly visited in the winter months. In April, we were the only people there, in addition to two groups of people camping at the campsite. We saw one other fisherman, and that was it, even though it was 60 degrees and sunny on a weekend.

While the reservoir was a brilliant turquoise color in April, in deep winter, there’s just something about the peacefulness of a frozen reservoir.