- The remote Dolores River is one of Colorado's best fisheries. It also offers seclusion and exciting rapids for whitewater enthusiasts. Although it has gained a reputation for difficult fish, the experience is well worth it.
Recreation - The Dolores starts high on Lizard Head Pass and runs to McPhee Reservoir where it becomes a classic tail water fishery. The section above McPhee Reservoir is a typical high alpine freestone stream featuring rainbow trout, two campgrounds and lots of private land and water.
At McPhee Reservoir the river hooks to the northwest. The section below the earthen dam is pristine tail water for 11 miles to Bradford Bridge. This is the stretch most people refer to as the Dolores. Fly fishing the Dolores, especially during low water, can be very technical. Matching the hatch can be key. Fly patterns for tail waters and spring creeks seem to work best.
The Dolores has rainbow, brown, and cutthroat. The best fishing begins after runoff, around the middle of June in most years. The river fishes well with good insect activity into November. The first six miles of river are closed to auto traffic December 1 to April 1 providing elk a protected winter range.
The entire river is open year round. From McPhee Dam downstream to the Bradford Bridge use artificial flies and lures only. With seclusion and scenery, great hatches and fly fishing the Dolores is a great spot.
With respect to boating the Dolores provides multi-day trips which take boaters through some of the most remote areas in Colorado. A tail water fishery below McPhee Reservoir provides excellent trout fishing on the upper segment. It extends from Bradfield to Slick Rock, offering a unique color combination of Ponderosa pine groves, Douglas fir, oak brush and red sandstone cliffs. Coupled with this scenery is some challenging whitewater, including the well-known Snaggletooth rapid.
The Slick Rock to Bedrock Segment meanders are deeply entrenched through large red-wall sandstone canyons. This portion provides a true wilderness river experience. The Lower Dolores River refers to the section from Bedrock to Dewey Bridge in Utah. Scenic deep, sandstone canyons line the river corridor. Most of this section is paralleled by public roads. Camping is somewhat limited in some shoreline areas due to the vegetation and private property, but there are well shaded underdeveloped campsites available.
Climate - The Dolores River starts at 10,222 feet and runs southwest to the town of Dolores and McPhee Reservoir. Persons coming from lower elevations should be aware that time is needed to adjust to the higher elevations.
Warm days and cool to freezing nights can be expected in the mountains during the summer. July and August are usually the warmest months. During this time afternoon thunderstorms are common. Be prepared for both warm and chilly weather, as well as for rain showers.
Being at high elevation and fueled mainly by melting snow, the Dolores is a rather cold river. During the spring runoff the river is full of freshly melted snow, and the temperature of the water is especially cold.
Please make sure that you dress appropriately when participating in whitewater sports. Wear shoes that can protect feet if you bounce off rocks or walk out of a canyon in the event of an accident. Wet suits are mandatory when air and water temperature added together total 100 degrees or less. If total is less than 80 degrees, a full set of waterproof or wool garments on top of the wet suit should be worn.
The Dolores starts high on Lizard Head Pass and runs southwest with Highway 145 to the town of Dolores and McPhee Reservoir. At McPhee Reservoir the river hooks to the northwest. This is the famous tail water section of the Dolores. To reach this section of the Dolores, drive north from Cortez on Highway 666. Look for Road CC (or a right turn just past Pleasant View) and follow the signs to the river.