Cross-country skiing reigns at Vallecito Reservoir, where roughly 9 miles of groomed and ungroomed interconnected trails treat all skill levels
When Vallecito Reservoir is frozen and the landscape is covered with snow, it’s all about cross-country skiing, skate skiing and snowshoeing. No matter your skill level, the snow-covered blocked roads and trails on the east side of the reservoir are perfect for skinny skis. The road and trail network is also dog friendly and a popular family-friendly place to not only ski and snowshoe but sled.
Located along the east shore of the lake and nestled within the San Juan Mountains, expect to find unmatched scenery and silence − snow machines are not allowed. However, depending on your arrival you may not be alone. The area is one of those cross-country skiing locations that can get popular on weekends. And there is a fee to ski it (see below).
The jumping off point to ski the approximately 9 miles of groomed and ungroomed trails is located across Vallecito Dam at a road barrier. This is both the Vallecito Nordic Trailhead and the closest parking. As you approach Vallecito Dam from either Bayfield or Durango, turn right onto County Road 501A at mile marker 13, located below the dam. Cross the dam and continue 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Park along the lake side of the roadway.
Where to Go
Easy! Proceed through the barrier at the trailhead and head northeast on the road, which is frequently groomed by the Vallecito Nordic Ski Club. You’ll find a good map of the network with a visit to the club’s website.
In a nutshell, here are the options:
The main route is the road beginning at the trailhead at Old Timers Campground. This groomed trail heads north to its terminus at Burnt Meadow. As you ski north on the road you’ll come to the Campground Trail. If you’re feeling adventurous, the trail arcs west off the road and wends through the woods along the lakeshore until it eventually rejoins the road. A bit south of where the Campground Trail rejoins the road at the northern junction, an out-and-back route is found turning east off the road. Ascend this spur road and ski it back down. Another spur trail and loop is located near the end of the main road, which loops around Pine Point.
Some skiers enjoy plowing their own routes off the groomed trails, often veering close to the lake shore and, during low water years, to exposed features. Be careful!
The Vallecito Nordic Center grooms the trails and treats the area like the special place it is. Donations are welcome!
The day-use fee is $5 per car, which you can pay in cash at the trailhead. Once the fee is paid, you rip a stub and hang it on the rearview mirror of your car.
An annual all-use pass is $50. The pass provides access to the ski area in winter as well as to boat the lake in the summer. You can pay the fee at the Pine River Irrigation Project (PIRG) office or at businesses along the west side of the lake.
The fee is administered by PIRG for the operation and maintenance of the Pine River Project. The skiing area is under the jurisdiction of both U.S. Forest Service and PRIG. The first half mile of the road is on PRIG land. Where it ends, the road wanders back and forth across both land jurisdictions.