Mancos State Park in far southwestern Colorado is simply one of the prettiest state parks. The La Plata Mountains, the westernmost extension of the Colorado Rockies, tower above placid 215-acre Jackson Gulch Reservoir. The park, just east of Mesa Verde National Park, attracts lots of visitors escaping the New Mexico and Arizona summer heat. There are recreation centers on the lake that has excellent fishing for rainbow trout and yellow perch and wakeless boating for kayaks, canoes, and powerboats. Mancos also offers 5.5 miles of hiking trails, and 32 campsites and two yurts below shady ponderosa pines along the lake edge. Other activities are horseback riding, biking, birdwatching and nature study, picnicking, and educational programs.
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- Mancos State Park offers evening programs every Saturday during the summer, as well as educational and interpretative programs like guided hikes and games. Some of the programs include butterfly walks, a night of cowboy songs and poetry, and the popular star party when local astronomers bring high-powered telescopes to view the night sky.
- Jackson Gulch Reservoir is a wakeless lake with a concrete boat ramp. No boats can create a wake, so hand- and wind-powered watercraft like canoes, kayaks, and sailboats rule. Low-powered boats can also cruise slowly around the lake. As at all Colorado lakes, Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) inspections are required on all trailered boats before they launch.
- The state park lies east of Mesa Verde National Park, the ancient home of the Ancestral Puebloans who built cliff dwellings in the mesa’s canyons. Mancos makes a great base camp for visiting Mesa Verde as well as other Native American ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, the Anasazi Heritage Center and Escalante Ruin, Ute Tribal Park, and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument west of Cortez.
- The nearby western town of Mancos offers lots of interesting fun for the camper, hiker, and fisherman. The historic town, named by Smithsonian Magazine in 2016 as one of “America’s best small towns to visit,” boasts restaurants, art galleries, a distillery, coffee house, and the Columbine Bar, one of Colorado’s oldest saloons.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
—Stewart M. Green