Water Blog

Dillon Reservoir

By Kyle McKenzie | May 15, 2020 | Dillon Reservoir

Dillon Reservoir Questions and Answers

Breaking News! Dillon Reservoir Marinas will open May 22nd with crucial Covid-19 guidelines! That means we will be offering private tours only starting on May 22nd

We get a ton of questions about Dillon Reservoir while kayaking, so this blog post is my attempt to answer the most asked questions about Dillon Reservoir.

Can you swim in Dillon Reservoir?

The short answer is no, but there is a little more to this story. Adventure Paddle Tours started offering guided kayak tours on Dillon in 2009. Way back then, one could easily get a ticket if you were caught swimming. Denver Water?s strict stance was absolutely no swimming on the reservoir, and since Denver Water technically owns Dillon Reservoir, whatever they say goes. The interesting thing, though, is that initially, Denver?s stance on no swimming in Dillon was mainly due to their water treatment capabilities. Denver Water’s cleaning technology and capabilities have greatly improved, and they say the water is super clean now.

So, why can’t we swim in Dillon Reservoir today? The answer is the water is simply too cold. Dillon is often lowered twenty to thirty feet every spring because of all of the snowmelt that rushes in. All of that snowmelt, combined with the depth of Dillon, keeps the water super cold year-round. With no swimming allowed they also do not allow jet skis or skiing. Dillon Reservoir is owned by Denver Water, but it is managed by The Dillon Reservoir Recreation Committee, these guys are responsible for implementing regulations and provide Marine Patrol.

How cold is Dillon?

On average, Dillon is around 50 degrees, but early season it can be as cold as 45 degrees, and in late summer, it can be as high as 65 degrees.

Why is Dillon often low?

Many factors come in to play with Dillon’s water levels, and the main factor is snowmelt. However, we might have the most epic snow totals in history, like in 2019, but still have a low reservoir. The reason for this is that Denver Water is actively releasing water downstream in preparation for the massive snowmelt Dillon Reservoir is about to receive. They have water level predictions down to a science too! If you visited Dillon Reservoir in early June of 2019, you would have seen Dillon at 40 to 50 feet below full.

Hiking above Dillon Reservoir
View of Dillon from Buffalo Mountain

Conversely, if you had visited Dillon Reservoir in August of 2019, you would have seen Dillon Reservoir at its highest level ever recorded! Snowmelt is the number one factor involved in Dillon Reservoir water levels. However, Denver Water is in the water business, which means they sell water. Denver Water sells water to Denver residents, but it can also sell or trade water downstream to other water stakeholders. Remember, Dillon Reservoir is part of the Colorado River system, and we have all read about the many issues the Colorado River faces. Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and California all pull water from the mighty Colorado River.

Can you camp on Dillon?

Yes, camping on Dillon is incredible! However, there is no dispersed camping, and there is absolutely no camping on the Islands. Camping on the islands is prohibited due to the potential of spreading noxious weeds. The county puts a lot of resources in trying to remove noxious weeds, and they actually ferry utility vehicles to the islands to spray.
Even with those two restrictions in place, there are tons of great campsites. There are 5 campgrounds on the reservoir; Windy Point, Prospector, Heaton Bay, Peak 1, and Lowry. Lowry is not actually on Dillon but is just across Swan Mountain Road.

My favorite campsite on all of Dillon Reservoir is in Loop D at the Heaton Bay Campground. There are five to 10 tent-only sites, and all are on the water’s edge, offering an excellent opportunity for immediate access to Dillon Reservoir water. We actually kayak by this campground on every kayak tour

The campsites on Dillon are often sold out, and reservations can be made at recreation.gov I have also heard that even if all sites are sold out, you can visit Lowry or Prospector on the Keystone side of Dillon, and they will set you up with a tent only site. I have never tried that, but it’s worth checking out if you end up in a bind. There are also untold amounts of dispersed camping throughout the county. You just have to look for them. Here is the link to the Heaton Bay Campground, it is my favorite. You will need to google the other campgrounds to make sure you reserve the right one.

When does the reservoir open and close?

Dillon is more or less open year-round to walk-in access, and the ice typically melts mid-May. The marinas usually try hard to open by Memorial day weekend. Still, they often have tons of work to get things open. Since the reservoir freezes every year, both marinas have to pull out a ton of their infrastructure, so the ice doesn’t damage it. You can often kayak Dillon as late as December.

Where can I launch my boat?

I wrote a separate blog on where to hand launch your kayak. You can visit that here. If you are launching a trailered boat, you can only launch from either the Frisco Bay Marina or the Dillon Marina. Both marinas require an extensive aquatic invasive inspection, and they will not let you launch until all of the boxes have been checked. If it is found you are carrying mud, water, or hitchhikers, they will charge you for a steam cleaning. Do not try to skirt this!

Is there a town under Dillon Reservoir?

The first year we were running tours, we often had guests tell the whole group about how the original town of Dillon is at the bottom. The Town of Dillon indeed used to be where Dillon Reservoir is. However, it’s somewhat incorrect in saying there are still buildings underneath. In fact, most of the buildings that were worth keeping were moved, and you can even visit them today. My favorite restaurant in the county, Arapahoe Cafe, operates in a building that used to be where Dillon Reservoir sits today. Check their menu out here. ?The mint, Old Dillon Inn, and a few buildings in Breckenridge and Frisco all used to be where Dillon Reservoir sits today. Lastly, any building that was left behind was demolished before Dillon Reservoir was filled.

How deep is Dillon?

Just over 200 feet. I have been on a boat with a depth finder, and we did find a 230-foot spot.

Can you rent a boat on Dillon Reservoir?

Yes, you can rent pontoon boats, fishing boats, sailboats, kayaks, and canoes. We provide guided kayak tours on Dillon Reservoir out of the Frisco Bay Marina.

Where to rent a sailboat on Dillon Reservoir?

If you want to sail on Dillon Reservoir, you should definitely reach out to Tom and Seth with Windrider of the Rockies. You can book a lesson, rental, or tour from https://windrider.us and they don’t take reservations over the phone. Just like us, they operate out of the Frisco Bay Marina, and reservations by phone are difficult there.

Can you hike or bike on Dillon?

There are tons of hiking trails, singletrack bike trails, and a paved recreation path. My favorite hike on the water is the Meadow Loop and Ridge Trail on the Dillon side. My favorite mountain biking on Dillon is on the Frisco Recreation peninsula. There are tons of interconnected trails here, so depending on your timeframe, you can do 5 miles or even 20. The best way to use the county paved rec path is to start at the Frisco Bay Marina, bike to the Dillon Marina then take the Summit Shuttle back to Frisco.

Biking the Peninsula on Dillon

When is the best time to visit Dillon Reservoir?

This is a tough question to answer. If you’re looking for light winds for kayaking or rowing, it’s definitely in the morning. If you want to sail with good winds anytime after 11 is excellent. September is probably my favorite time of year to be out. It can still be pretty warm, but can also get super cold. If you want excellent aspen watching, try the second week of October. Don’t overlook the sunsets! Sunsets are often spectacular on Dillon, you just need to pay attention to the thunderstorm forecast. We offer a Sunset Kayak Tour a few days a week.

sunset over mountains
Sunset Kayak Tour on Dillon

What kind of fish are in Dillon Reservoir?

There are more Rainbow trout than anything else, but there is also a growing population of Arctic Char. There are brown trout, cutthroat and kokanee salmon too. If you want a guided fishing trip reach out to Randy with Alpine Fishing Adventures. They offer boat trips in the summer and ice fishing in the winter.

How big is Dillon Reservoir?

Dillon is 3,200 acres has 26 miles of shoreline, and is Colorado’s 3rd largest reservoir.

I hope I was able to answer any questions you might have about this amazing place, but if I did not, please, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m pretty sure we will have an answer to just about any question. If you want to learn more about Dillon or just want to explore this fantastic place, please join us on a kayak tour today! You can book a guided kayak tour from adventurepaddletours.com/kayak-tours. We are the topped rank activity in Frisco and have been offering guided kayak tours on Dillon since 2009! There is so much to see and learn!

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