The Curecanti National Recreation Area Scenic Drive runs 22 miles on U.S. 50 from the east end of Blue Mesa Reservoir to Blue Mesa Dam on the Gunnison River. The 45,095-acre recreation area, administered by the National Park Service, is a ladder of three lakes—Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal—on the river. The parkland offers fishing, boating, hiking, and camping. The scenic drive, beginning west of Gunnison, edges alongside Blue Mesa Lake. Blue Mesa is Colorado’s largest lake, with 96 miles of shoreline and 9,000 surface acres when full. The drive initially enters a canyon and passes Neversink, Crystal Ranch, and Beaver Creek picnic areas, with fishing access. The highway winds past the upper lake to the Lake City Bridge. Past here the lake widens and the highway runs along the north shore past campgrounds and a visitor center. After a big bridge over the lake, the drive traverses the south shore with great views north to the West Elk Range to its end at the junction of U.S. 50 and Colorado 92 above the dam.
- Blue Mesa Lake offers great fishing from the shoreline and boats. A large mackinaw lake trout population inhabits the lake, living in the deep, cold water and reaching 30 pounds in weight. The Kokanee salmon population also thrives, although the lake trout are decreasing numbers. Fishermen also catch brown and rainbow trout. Fishing is great in autumn when the browns swim upstream for spawning. Salmon can be legally snagged in October. Blue Mesa has great ice fishing in the cold winter.
- Stop at the Elk Creek Visitor Center about 16 miles west of Gunnison to get acquainted with Curecanti. The center has educational displays, audiovisual programs, and maps and books. In summer, join a ranger-led hike or attend a campfire program at nearby Elk Creek Campground. The center is open daily in summer and Monday through Friday in the off-season.
- Curecanti is a great place to camp with few people and starry nights. Six campgrounds lie alongside the scenic drive—Stevens Creek, Elk Creek, East Elk Creek, Dry Gulch, Red Creek, and Lake Fork. Elk Creek and Lake Fork are the largest, with 160 and 90 sites respectively. Both have showers, dump stations, and are reservable. Elk Creek has electric sites.
- Other activities along the scenic drive include windsurfing at the Bay of Chickens; hiking to Dillon Pinnacles; and birdwatching at Cooper Ranch. The Morrow Point Boat Tour on the reservoir west of Blue Mesa is a great summer excursion. The boat heads down the reservoir to Chipeta Falls, a 160-foot-high waterfall that drops into the lake.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
—Stewart M. Green