Paonia State Park fills a steep-walled valley carved by Muddy Creek east of the country town of Paonia in the central Colorado’s Rockies. The narrow six-mile-long finger lake, looking like a glacier-scraped Norwegian fjord, offers fishing, camping, boating, waterskiing, hunting, and sightseeing. Ragged Mountain, a towering 12,094-foot mountain with a steep rocky, snow-covered face sits above the park’s aspen, fir, and scrub oak woodlands. Expect a primitive experience in the park’s canyon, with only basic services, including rough campsites, no official hiking trails, and no drinking water. The 337-acre reservoir, used for farm irrigation, is usually almost empty by mid-August so boating and fishing is limited.
- The park has two campgrounds—Spruce and Hawsapple—with 15 primitive campsites, offering a quiet mountain retreat. Bring your own drinking water since none is available.
- Fishing in the reservoir is recommended from mid-June to mid-August, but fly fishing for trout below the dam is generally good. The lake offers great fishing for northern pike. No ice fishing is allowed.
- Boating with motor boats, sailboards, kayaks, and canoes is allowed on the lake but best before the water level drops. Bring hand-carried watercraft to launch on the water after mid-August.
- Bring your water skis when the lake is full. You can ski for two miles down the lake before making a turn.
Recommended season(s): Year-round. Early summer is best before the lake level drops.
—Stewart M. Green