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Horsetooth Reservoir

before 2001 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004

Horsetooth Reservoir
Sunrise over Soldier Canyon Dam

Horsetooth Reservoir
Dixon Cove

Horsetooth Reservoir
Goose couple in Quarry Cove

Horsetooth Reservoir

Dixon Cove
Quarry Cove in winter

  • location: just west of Fort Collins, CO
  • elevation: 5,430 feet
  • size: 1,875 acres
  • controling agency: Larimer County Parks and Open Lands Department
  • entrance fee: daily or annual vehicle pass
    boat (including kayaks!) pass
  • maps: interactive
  • Horsetooth Reservoir page
    in Larimer County Parks
  • current reservoir data: Horsetooth Reservoir

Horsetooth Reservoir is located less than 4 mile from my home, therefore it is the main destination of my day paddling.

This 6.5 mile long reservoir was constructed as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project by building four large earth-filled dams. Spring Creek, Dixon Canyon and Soldier Canyon Dams, each approximately 210 feet high, are built across openings in the long hogback forming the eastern side of reservoir while Horsetooth Dam is constructed across the north end. The reservoir is adjacent to Lory State Park.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project completed during 1938-1956 is the Colorado's largest transmountain water diversion. It takes water from the Colorado River basin on the Western Slope and brings it to the Big Thompson River basin on the Eastern Slope of the Continental Divide for drinking, irrigation of farmlands, and generation of hydroelectric power. The most noteworthy achievement of the project was boring the Adams Tunnel 13 miles through a solid granite mountain.

Usually, I launch my kayak at one of three boat ramps: Satanka Bay at the northern end, South Bay or Inlet Bay. It is possible to access the reservoir also from Lory State Park at Eltuck Bay but it requires carrying a kayak some distance from the parking lot. There is no comfortable kayak access from the east shore. The 6.25 miles distance between boat ramps at Satanka Bay and South Bay I can cover in my Patuxent in about 90 minutes.

Bobcat fire Smoke plume from the Bobcat wildfire
May 2000
dry Horsetooth The reservoir will be drained to 1/3 of its capacity to repair the leaking dams (see the clarification below). This construction will start probably in the fall of 2000 and take 3 to 5 years. During the Fall of 2000 the 6 mile-long reservoir turned into three ponds connected by a ditch. The waters of Horsetooth Reservoir cover numerous quarries of fine-grain sandstone and an old quarry town Stout. Low water uncovered some building remains.
November 2000

Actually, the dams don't leak. That's not the problem. The problem is that there is a limestone formation that runs the length of the reservoir and dives underneath Horsetooth Dam on the northern end--and that limestone has been channeling water out under the dam for quite some time. The other three dams are simply undergoing modernizations to bring them up to current technology standards.
Kara Lamb
Public Information
Eastern Colorado Area Office
U. S. Bureau of Reclamation

before 2001 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004

Horsetooth Reservoir
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