John Martin State Park lies in the Arkansas River Valley in southeastern Colorado where a massive 2.6-mile-long dam blocks the river, forming John Martin Reservoir, the second largest lake in Colorado. The 13,176-acre park is a recreational oasis for boating, fishing, hiking, swimming, camping, and nature study. The park is an excellent birding area with 373 species recorded in the area. John Martin, relatively isolated from the Front Range cities, makes a great getaway for a family adventure. Plan on camping at the 216 sites in Lake Hasty and Point campgrounds. The park offers a different experience than Colorado’s mountains, with sky, water, and prairie horizon merging beneath a vault of blue sky.
- The state park, lying along the Central Flyway bird migration route, is one of Colorado’s most diverse birding areas with habitat for shorebirds and water birds on the lake, grassland species on the dry prairie, and passerines in riparian zones below the dam. Bald eagles roost in trees near the Lake Hasty Campground in winter. Other animals seen in the park include whitetail deer, beavers, porcupines, raccoons, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and turtles.
- The reservoir offers good warm-water fishing for crappie, saugeye, wiper, bass, channel catfish, walleye, and bluegill. Trout are caught in Lake Hasty below the dam. Don’t forget to have a valid Colorado fishing license.
- Southeastern Colorado is uncrowded land populated by small towns and scattered farms. It’s also rich in history. Spend some time visiting nearby historic sites, including the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site near La Junta, and the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, one of the most infamous chapters in Colorado history.
- Plan on hot weather if you come during the summer, with temperatures regularly climbing to 100 degrees. There are plentiful shade trees in the campground area. Bring plenty of food, drink, and supplies because it’s a half-hour drive to Las Animas on the west and Lamar on the east. Insect repellent is a good idea since the bugs enjoy summer heat too. Remember that the lake is enormous so bring a boat and life jackets if you want to get away from the developed park areas.
Recommended season(s): Year-round
—Stewart M. Green