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The six towns that dot the west end of San Miguel and Montrose Counties — Norwood, Naturita, Nucla, Bedrock, Paradox and Gateway — were all founded at the turn of the 20th century, and today are hubs for outdoor recreation, ranching and alpine adventure. These unique communities in western Colorado are deceptively dry; red rock mesas and gnarled pinyon and juniper pines sit in the foreground while the high peaks of the surrounding mountains sit just beyond reach on the horizon. But take a closer look, and you’ll find a landscape teeming with aquatic life and opportunities for summer water sports fun. In addition to the lakes and reservoirs in the region, the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers hit their stride at the beginning of the summer when the runoff from the high alpine snowmelt is at its peak.

Whether you’re an angler or an expert kayaker, whether you’re a visitor looking to spend a day experiencing some of the most scenic whitewater rafting in Colorado, or just looking for a beautiful place to picnic and enjoy the outdoors, there’s truly something for every water sports enthusiast in this special corner of the Centennial State. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite spots for fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and more, so you can make the most of your next trip to western Colorado’s frontier country this summer.

1. Fish for Trout in Some of the Most Beautiful Water in Colorado

A wide variety of trout populate the area reservoirs, rivers and lakes, like Miramonte Reservoir, shown here. Photo Courtesy: West End Trails Alliance

Trout are native to this part of Colorado, and you can expect to find rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout in the rivers and lakes in the region, in addition to the occasional Kokanee salmon.

If it’s creeking and river fishing you’re after, there is plentiful public access and year-round fishing along the San Miguel River between the towns of Telluride and Norwood, making it the perfect place to dip your line into the waters of western Colorado. This continuous drop river begins high in the San Juan Mountains above Telluride and converges 72 miles downstream with the Dolores River near Uravan. The San Miguel drops over 7,000 feet from a high alpine to a desert ecosystem, and it’s mostly free-flowing with some diversion dams to alter its flow as the summer season progresses. Along this continuous drop river, you can expect to find secluded shorelines lined with swaying cottonwood trees and beautiful red rock cliffs rising above the riverbeds.

Directions: From Naturita, travel east on Highway 145 and then turn left onto Highway 90. After Norwood, look for river access points along the road. From Placerville, follow State Highway 145 north along the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway for about 33 miles to Naturita. Look for river access points along the road.

Miramonte Reservoir, situated near Norwood, Colorado, also offers great opportunities for fishing for rainbow, Snake River cutthroat and brown trout. You can expect stunning views and up to 405 surface acres of fishable water. This beautiful destination is also open year-round for angling.

2. Whitewater Raft along the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers

Dolores River
Offering amazing views, the Dolores River is also home to the infamous Snaggletooth Rapid. Photo Courtesy: Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours

If it’s a thrill you’re after, jump in a whitewater raft and head to the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers in western Colorado. The San Miguel River features class II-IV whitewater rapids, so those with all levels of whitewater experience can enjoy this continuous drop river. The runoff from the snowmelt beginning high in the San Juan Mountains begins in late spring and often continues through mid-July, making this the best time of the year to enjoy this river.

The Dolores River is also one of Colorado’s most stunning rivers. During the spring and summer seasons that follow winters with a lot of snowfall, the lower Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir is a thrilling section of whitewater. The section between Bradfield Launch and Slick Rock features some of the most challenging whitewater on the Dolores River. Experienced whitewater rafters are drawn to the infamous Snaggletooth Rapid (class IV-V). The following sections of river between Slick Rock and Gateway are significantly more mellow, and offer some of the best scenery along the river.

Note: Whitewater rafting excursions should only be embarked upon with an experienced guide at the helm. Book a trip with a guide service for the best experience for the whole family.

3. Kayak, Stand-Up Paddleboard, and Canoe with the Whole Family

Miramonte Reservoir
Miramonte Reservoir is a perfect setting for a stand-up paddleboarding adventure. Photo Credit: Nola Svoboda/San Juan SUP Co.

The Miramonte and Buckeye Reservoirs in the west end of San Miguel and Montrose Counties offer the perfect setting for a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or canoe adventure with the whole family. Lone Cone Peak rises above Miramonte Reservoir near Norwood, Colorado, and you’ll find stunning mountainscapes at Buckeye Reservoir as well.

Both Miramonte and Buckeye Reservoirs offer camping options, making it possible to spend a full weekend at these beautiful destinations. The Pioneer Campground features 30 single-family reservable sites and 18 less-developed dispersed sites scattered around the reservoir. Campsites at Pioneer include gravel parking areas, concrete picnic tables, fire rings and vault toilets. Miramonte has a first-come, first-served campground in the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area. Campsites are located in the sagebrush uplands and are generally exposed, with little shade.

Grab some snacks, load your family into the car, and head out on your summer road trip to western Colorado for some of the best water sports recreation in the Centennial State.

Learn about all that western Colorado’s frontier country has to offer.

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