Official - Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area
Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area is closed for the winter.
This federally required seasonal closure of Lake Nighthorse is to protect critical winter wildlife habitat. By closing Lake Nighthorse to recreation during winter months, deer and elk that migrate to these lower elevations in winter do not have to actively move - burning stored fat as calories - to avoid humans. There is very little nutrition available to these wildlife during the winter months when plants are dormant, even if there is no snow, so they must conserve stored body fat until new plant growth occurs in the spring.
Not only deer and elk benefit from this seasonal closure, but also water fowl. The National Audubon Society annual winter bird count at Lake Nighthorse continues to indicate how valuable this winter habitat is for Southwest Colorado. The Durango Christmas Bird Count conducted on December 18, 2021 set a new record for number of species observed at Lake Nighthorse. The total count of 29 species is up from the 2020 count of 26 species. 2021 observations included three rare species: 2 White-winged Scoters, 6 Horned Grebes and 1 Common Loon. A total of 8 species of birds were observed at Lake Nighthorse that were not found anywhere else within the census area for the count. Click here for the 2021 winter bird count report. We look forward to what the 2022 winter bird count will report.
2023 season passes can be purchased beginning January 1, 2023 in person at the Durango Community Recreation Center located at 2700 Main Avenue Durango, CO 81301. Prior to January 1st, Parks and Recreation Gift Cards may be purchased at the recreation center and then applied to a Lake Nighthorse pass at any time. Questions? Please call the Parks and Recreation Department at 970-375-7321.
Lake Nighthorse Hours of Operation
30 minutes prior to daily closure, the entrance gate will be closed to access, and boat exit inspections as well as watercraft launches will cease.
During daily operations, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday open to 10 a.m. are quiet & wakeless hours, including holidays.
2023 Hours of operation may vary due to COVID-19.
- April 1 – May 7: Friday, Saturday and Sunday Only; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Non-Motorized Recreation ONLY
- May 12 – 31: Open Daily; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Motorized Recreation Begins May 15
- June 1 – September 4*: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Daily; Guarded Swim Beach June 1 - September 4
*NEW for 2023: Extended hours through September 4th
- September 5 - September 30: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Daily
- October 1 – 15: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Daily
- October 20 – November 12: Friday, Saturday and Sunday Only; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- November 13: Winter Wildlife Closure begins
Lake Nighthorse operations
To ensure quality recreational experiences at Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area, here is a list of City of Durango and Bureau of Reclamation rules and regulations: Lake Nighthorse Recreational Operations (PDF)
Lake Nighthorse Entrance Passes
2023 Park Entrance Pass Options
- Day Pass Vehicle Entrance $10
- Day Pass Walk/Bike Entrance $4
- Season Pass Vehicle:
- 1st for Household $80
- Multiple Vehicle (Same Household) $40
- Season Pass Vehicle Senior *:
- 1st for Household $70
- Multiple Vehicle Senior (Same Household) $35
- Season Pass Walk/Bike $25
- 5-Punch Pass Vehicle $40
- 5-Punch Pass Vehicle Senior * $30
- 5-Punch Pass Walk/Bike $15
Commercial Vehicle / School Bus Day Pass $25
* Senior is 62 years and over
Lake Nighthorse Swim Beach
Swim Beach Rules
- Children 12 years of age and younger must be accompanied by an adult at all times
- Watercraft not permitted within the swimming area, except safety personnel
- Swimpants required for children who are not toilet trained
- Remote-control watercraft toys not permitted
- No Head first entry into the water
- Glass containers are prohibited
- Swim at your own risk
- Fishing not permitted
- Hazards not marked
- Pets are not allowed
Paddle craft launch ramp
There is a new separate hard-surface launch ramp for paddle craft at the swim beach. Convenient loading/unloading parking spaces connect to a crusher fine gravel path leading directly to the new launch ramp. This launch ramp connects paddlers to the no motorized craft zone and the newly expanded no wake zone along the north shore of Lake Nighthorse.
Wibit Aqua Park at the Swim Beach: June 3 - September 4, 2023 from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wibit Aqua Park Rules:
- All guests using the Aqua Park are required at all times to wear a life jacket (available on site)
- Children under 12 years will need to be accompanied by an adult when using the Aqua Park
- No paddle craft allowed inside the yellow safety buoys
- Remove watches, jewelry, keys or other sharp objects before entering the Aqua Park
- Never swim underneath any of the inflatables
- No floatation devices other than a life jacket allowed on the Aqua Park
- No diving or sliding headfirst off the Aqua Park
- Shoes not allowed on the Aqua Park
- Aggressive behavior will not be tolerated
Activities & Programs At Lake Nighthorse
Activities and Programs offered at Lake Nighthorse
Boat Inspections and Decontamination
Ballasted Boat Decontamination Schedule:
- Tuesdays and Wednesdays: No decontamination of ballasted boats
- Thursday through Monday: Decontamination of ballasted boats will be limited to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Decontamination of non-ballasted boats will be available daily. Ballasted boats with valid green seal and white receipts may launch following incoming inspection and seal removal at any time when the lake is open.
All fishing at Lake Nighthorse requires a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fishing license for individuals 16 years of age and older. For information on where to purchase a fishing license, click here (Where to Buy Fishing Licenses PDF).
Please review the 2022 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing Brochure prior to fishing at Lake Nighthorse: CPW Fishing Brochure
ADA fishing dock is located adjacent to the Boat Ramp Parking Lot.
Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Kokanee Salmon have been stocked since 2011. Other species in the lake include White and Flannelmouth suckers, Fathead Minnows, Johnny Darters, and Crayfish. Fishing Regulations are:
- Bag limit is 4 trout per day and 8 in possession (no size limit restrictions).
- Anglers can use traditional baits (see Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing Brochure for definitions; e.g., no live bait allowed).
- Limit on Kokanee Salmon is 10 per day and 10 in possession. No snagging is allowed.
- No fishing where signs are posted.
- Please put fish entrails in the garbage, not the lake.
- Aquatic Nuisance Species Boat Inspections are mandatory at Lake Nighthorse.
Lake Nighthorse was constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Animas La Plata (ALP) Project. The lake is full and the surface area is approximately 1,500 acres at maximum elevation and the reservoir area includes a total of approximately 5,500 acres. The reservoir site is two miles from downtown Durango and provides a significant recreational amenity to the area.
2021 Lake Nighthorse wakeless use public engagement meetings
The City of Durango Parks and Recreation Department invited interested community members to virtual meetings exploring possibilities for adapting management of wakeless use at Lake Nighthorse Recreation Area. The purpose of the engagement process is not to reconsider allowable recreational uses but to discuss opportunities for adjusting the balance of existing recreational uses.
Information from these meetings includes:
- February 22 Meeting Presentation
- February 24 Meeting Presentation
- Public comment sent to firstname.lastname@example.org as of 3-18-21
- Combined Questions and Answers received during these meetings
- March 10 Parks and Recreation Advisory Board adaptive management presentation.
- Lake Nighthorse 2018 Season Report (PDF)
- Lake Nighthorse 2019 Season Report (PDF)
- Lake Nighthorse 2020 Season Report (PDF)
Public Meeting Information:
Public Meeting Summary:
- Bureau of Reclamation 2016 Environmental Assessment
- 2014 Lake Nighthorse Final Conceptual Recreation Master Plan (PDF)
- Lake Nighthorse Area Map (PDF)
- Lake Nighthorse Economic Impact of Recreation Use (PDF)
- Lake Nighthorse Recreation Market Assessment (PDF)
- 2011 Lake Nighthorse Draft Master Plan (PDF)
- Lake Nighthorse Public Presentation from June 18, 2014 (PDF)
For questions to the City of Durango Parks and Recreation Department regarding the current status of recreation at Lake Nighthorse, please email the Parks and Rec Department