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Thousands of tourists and recreational guests come to the Colorado Rockies each year, never knowing that Green Mountain Reservoir is only a short distance away. This little-known lake is only about 20 miles downriver from well-known Silverthorne, in the White River National Forest. The 2000+-acre reservoir is visited primarily by local residents who delight in the scenery, the fishing and the many US Forest Service campsites along the shore.
Nestled beneath the Gore Mountain and Williams Peak ranges, the reservoir takes its name from towering Green Mountain to the northeast. The 19-mile shoreline is a mix of national forest land and private property. Some private homes are located in the village of Heeney on the northwest shore. A small marina at Heeney rents fishing boats, pontoons and water sports equipment, sells boat gas, rents boat slips and offers snacks, supplies, bait and ice. The lake is heavily used for power boating, sailing, wake boarding, jet skiing, tubing, canoeing and kayaking. Highway 9 skirts the eastern edge of the reservoir along part of its length, and a local road travels the western shore, making circling the lake a pleasant afternoon's excursion for driving, hiking or cycling.
Fishing is good at Green Mountain Reservoir. The cold-water fishery is loaded with rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and lake trout. Lake trout are often caught through the ice in winter. But the real drawing card is kokanee salmon. Some of Colorado's biggest kokanee come from Green Mountain Reservoir; snagging is permitted from September through December. A Colorado fishing permit is required and special regulations must be followed. Because there has been an overabundance of smaller lake trout, special expanded limits are currently in effect.
A forest service pass is required for those visiting the lake. All personally-owned boats must be registered and inspected for aquatic invasive species. Boats rented from the marina already are inspected, but the marina staff will also inspect boats for a nominal fee. Cleaning service is available for those boats not passing inspection. Another public boat launch ramp is located near the south end of the reservoir at McDonald's Flats Day Use Area near the Blue River inlet. The former Davis Springs Campground upstream on the Blue River has been converted to a day-use-only site with ample opportunities for shore fishing.
Six rustic campgrounds are located along the shore of Green Mountain Reservoir; only Cow Creek South accepts reservations. All campgrounds are small, with a maximum of 24 sites. All have vault toilets, and the McDonald Flats Campground and Prairie Point Campground have water available. Few visitors choose to swim in the cold waters of this high-elevation lake. One resort property with housekeeping cabins is located near the Davis Springs Day Use site. The resort keeps some cabins open for hunters during the season for hunting within the White River National Forest big game units. Several trails in the area lead to the Cataract Lake area and other destinations in the surrounding mountains.
Elk and deer are plentiful and often seen, as are bald eagles, ospreys and a variety of birds. Hang gliders practice their sport at the north end of the reservoir, and municipalities both to the north and south offer special events and festivals throughout the year. Silverthorne has factory outlet stores. Not far away, visitors can arrange for horseback trail riding, hot air balloon rides, guided fishing trips, downhill skiing, narrow gauge train tours, casino gambling, view a rodeo, attend a barbecue, go ATV riding or take a mountain bike trail to dizzying heights. Those who enjoy fly fishing can enjoy the Blue River, designated as Gold Medal Trout Waters. Surrounding towns have commercial hotels, motels and guest lodges. Private rentals can often be found via local advertisements. Local craftsmen offer their wares in many small storefronts, and the entire scenic area is a joy for artists and photographers.
Green Mountain Reservoir is a vital part of the major Colorado-Big Thompson project which moves water from the headwaters area of the Colorado River on the western slope of the Rockies to the eastern slope of Colorado and cities such as Boulder and Denver. The reservoir was the first one built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1937 with construction of a dam across the Blue River, a tributary of the Colorado River. The reservoir was part of the compromise that allowed water to be moved to the eastern slope while also returning water to the headwaters region. The reservoir works in tandem with Wolford Mountain Reservoir and requires a delicate balance of returning water to the river for the use of wildlife as well as human use. Due to seasonal water needs, water levels can vary considerably on the lake. Green Mountain Reservoir also generates hydroelectric power for use in the surrounding area and provides some water to local ranches. The town of Heeney was originally built for workers on the original dam, with many of the local cottages now used as vacation homes for their owners.
Getting to Green Mountain Reservoir isn't difficult. Highway 9 north out of Silverthorne will get visitors there in less than an hour. The same highway continues on to Kremmling on US 40. Denver is only two hours to the east. So, detour off the interstate to visit this slice of Colorado paradise.
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