Route: McPhee Reservoir Circumnavigation (CO)

Submitted by westbr on Fri, 05/07/2021 - 11:48am
Colorado, US
36 mi
Vertical Gain
3,900 ft

To highlight the burgeoning growth of the trail system in southwest Colorado, a route entirely around McPhee Reservoir is being proposed.  The McPhee reservoir was completed in 1985 as a means of controlling El Rio de Nuestra Senora de Dolores, or the Dolores river, for irrigation and agricultural purposes.  At its maximum, McPhee reservoir is the fifth largest body of water in Colorado and resides on the northeast cusp of the Colorado plateau near the city of Dolores.  Uplifted by the late Cretaceous laccoliths of the southern Rocky Mountains, the San Juan mountain range feeds the upper Dolores river valley before it abruptly heads northwest to join the Colorado river.  At this geological anomaly, the McPhee area provides unlimited outdoor recreational activities.

The route comprises approximately 35 miles and 4000 feet of elevation gain from various terrain; trails, historic canal paths, forest service roads, and cross-country travel.  Performance of the route in either direction is feasible due to the extensive trail systems in the area developed for mountain biking enthusiasts.  Additionally, given the current extended drought in the region, side drainages may be circumnavigated due to a lack of reservoir filling.  These side drainages, make up the four major arms of the historic Dolores river valley, known locally as rich in ancestral Puebloan sites.   Encompassed almost entirely within the San Juan National Forest, the route includes greater than 20 miles of trail (both double and single-track), approximately 10 miles of off-trail orienteering, and a couple miles of pavement to complete the route.

Images can be provided upon request.

GPS Track


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Hello all!  I am happy to report that I made this trek yesterday, May 6th 2023.  The lake was at 6918', which is 10.88 feet below Full Pool... it was full!  I had hoped to make this run last November before the wildlife closures, but couldn't swing it... whoops!  Anyways, don't underestimate the bushwhacking on the north side of the lake.  I ended up swinging north to get around the full side drainages and also, I took more pavement than I had hoped.  Thanks to whoever thought up this route as it has a little bit of everything.