Water lovers, head 17 miles south from Steamboat Springs to your boating, fishing, SUPing, water skiing oasis. Navigate south on Colorado Highway 131 toward that awe-inspiring horizon that is the Flat Tops Wilderness; swing left on scenic Routt County Road 14 with all its working ranches; then pull in at Stagecoach State Park, where an 820-acre lake reflects towering sandstone cliffs and a bluebird sky.
About the Area
In actuality, Stagecoach is a reservoir. This is upstream on the Yampa River from Steamboat Springs and it is cold, clear water at the top of the watershed – snowmelt from 12,000-foot peaks with prime habitat for fish inside the lake and below the 145-foot-high dam.
Stagecoach State Park lies directly on the old stagecoach route that ran between Wolcott and Steamboat Springs until 1907. Ponder that horse-drawn history as you circumnavigate the lake on an 11-mile gravel trail/dirt road by foot or bike. The park has shady picnic areas, a 92-site campground with electric hookups and a marina where you can rent everything from pontoon boats to kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.
How to Spend Your Time
If you’re spending multiple days at Stagecoach, make the 15-minute, four-wheeling jaunt down the dirt Routt County Road 18 (and downstream on the Yampa River) to the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area. From the trailhead, a trail can take you a couple miles in for a dip in Sarvis Creek, or a dozen miles up to the top of the Continental Divide. The Blacktail Mountain Wildlife Area adjacent to the state park is a critical elk calving ground and another nice place to hike in the summer.
On a more sedentary agenda? Simply enjoy a day at the Stagecoach beach, where the park provides soft sand, a swimming area and volleyball. Or take a short walk on the floating boardwalks that comprise the wetlands trail at the inlet to the lake.
Wildlife is especially great around Stagecoach, with more than 200 known bird species and elk and deer sightings being commonplace. During the summer, watch out for bald eagles that nest near the park and can often be seen fishing from snags or telephone poles along the shore, plus the resident gang of American white pelicans that returns to bob around for fish year after year.
Fly fishing in the tailwaters at Stagecoach heralds some of the most famous water in Colorado. The lake’s cold water is home to rainbow, brook, German brown and cutthroat trout – but a state record pike also was caught in Stagecoach a few years ago. In an effort to preserve the trout population, wildlife managers ask that you keep the pike you catch, and if you snag one with an orange tag on its fin make sure to report the number to the tag’s listed phone number. That’s citizen science in action at Stagecoach.
Boating runs the gamut at Stagecoach. On any given day you’ll be floating among water ski boats, putt-putting pontoons, sailboats and canoes. Stand-up paddle boarding is an increasingly popular way to traverse the lake or explore its many coves. The great thing about Stagecoach is that there’s room for everyone because the lake is divided into wakeless and non-wakeless areas. That means you can stand-up paddle board at your usual meandering pace without worrying about a barefoot water skier crossing your path – a park designed for all breeds of water lovers.