rigeway state park

Ridgway State Park – What to See and Do

Located just north of Ouray, Colorado in the heart of one of the most popular off-roading spots in the country, Ridgway State Park is a park you won’t want to miss if you are visiting the area.  It’s a great spot to just spend the day exploring some of the many hiking trails or hanging out on the water, or you can use it as a home-base for some of the many local activities in the area.

rigeway state park

The park is quite popular and also large, so some pre-planning is highly advised.  Luckily, we’ve put together this guide for you to help you navigate your way through the park and get the most out of your visit!


To understand the origins of Ridgway State Park, it’s important to go back to 1978 when the Dallas Creek Project started to build the Ridgway Dam along the Uncompahgre River.  The Ridgway Dam was completed in 1987 and created the Ridgway Reservoir to assist with area irrigation and flood control.  As is the case with many dams and reservoirs, the project also involved the creation of recreation opportunities, which included establishing Ridgway State Park in 1989. 

The park encompasses over 3200 acres today and hosts over 750,000 visitors annually.


ridgway state park map

Ridgway State Park map, courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Whether you are into spending time on the water or hiking and exploring the outdoors, you’re sure to find something to do at Ridgway State Park!  Unless you plan on renting a boat or camping, you don’t have to make any reservations for any of your activities. 

When visiting Ridgway State Park, our recommendations for what to do include:

  • Ridgway State Park Visitor Center. The visitor center is worth checking out for information on the latest conditions in the park.  It also has amazing views!
  • Swimming. Relaxing on the beach and swimming in Ridgway Reservoir is a great way to spend the day!  There is a no wake area in the designated swimming area near the Blue Heron Marina in the Dutch Charlie area that is excellent.  It’s also a great place to launch your own kayak or paddle board.
  • Boating. Spending time recreating on the Ridgway Reservoir is a very popular activity in the park.  If you have your own boat, you can launch it at the Blue Heron Marina.  You can also rent a pontoon boat, pedal boat or paddle board for a few hours if desired.  The Blue Heron Marina is located on the east side of the Dutch Charlie section of the park.  To access the area, enter in the main entrance area off Highway 550 and follow directions to the boat launch and swimming area.
  • Biking and mountain biking. It’s hard to find a spot in Colorado that doesn’t have designated trails for mountain biking, and Ridgway State Park is no exception!  There are over 40 miles of trails in the area that are open from May 1 through the end of November.  If you are into biking on flat trails, the park has 14 miles of trails that are perfect for both self-propelled and e-bikes.
  • Picnicking. If you are looking for a spot to have a picnic lunch, well this may be one of the best spots around!  There are nearly 90 places to eat a meal in the park, with some offering shelters.  The picnic areas are at the swimming area in the Dutch Charlie area, near the dam at the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk area and on the south side near Dallas Creek.


Hiking in the park is a great way to experience the forest and the San Juan Mountains up close.  There are fourteen miles of hiking trails (not including the river walk), with about three miles of accessible trails.  When visiting Ridgway State Park, our recommended hikes include:

  • Uncompahgre River Walk. The walk along the river is super-pretty.  You can pickup this trail at a number of spots in the park.  This point-to-point hike will go along the entire length of the reservoir with a total elevation gain of 1105 feet.  If you walk along the reservoir only, it’s about 6.6-miles (one-way), or you can continue along the Uncompahgre River all the way to the city of Ridgway for the full 9.9-mile walk (again, one-way).  This trail is popular with cyclists in particular, so be advised that you will have to share the trail.  Don’t feel the need to hike the entire trail!  Even hiking part of it is an excellent work out and will offer great views of the reservoir and surrounding San Juan Mountains.  The Uncompahgre River Walk trail can be picked up a various locations, including in Ridgway Town Park to the south, the Dallas Creek and Dutch Charlie areas, or from the Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk campground area on the north side of the park.
uncompahgre river walk trail map
  • Forest Discovery Nature Trail. Though short (only 0.6-miles, round-trip) and easy, this is a great walk that includes signs about the area and offers great mountain views.  The entire walk has an elevation gain of 39 feet, so it’s terrific for small children.  The Forest Discovery Nature Trail is in the Dutch Charlie area, behind the Visitor Center.
forest discovery nature trail map
  • Oak Leaf Trail. The Oak Leaf Trail is an easy, 0.9-mile (round trip) loop.  This easy hike only has an elevation gain of about 70 feet.  The trail starts at the Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk campground area and crosses the Uncompahgre River before making a loop through trees and brush.  You’ll see plenty of wildlife on this hike (mostly smaller mammals and birds), but you may also glimpse a deer!  During the early summer, wildflowers abound.  The Oak Leaf Trail starts on the east side of the road in the Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk campground on the north side of the park.
oak leaf trail map
  • Dallas Creek Trail. On the southern side of the park, this trail is a good one to consider as well.  This 1.4-mile (round-trip) loop hike has an elevation gain of just about 120 feet.  After crossing the river and Dallas Creek, the loop provides great views of the San Juan Mountains and the reservoir.  You’ll also have plenty of wildflowers on this hike as well.  The trailhead for the Dallas Creek Trail begins by entering the Dallas Creek section of the park and heading south to the parking area at the end of the road.
dallas creek trail map
  • Wapiti Trail. Starting at the Visitor Center, this 1.1-mile (round-trip) hike goes up the Wapiti Trail to the Dutch Charlie Campground.  It’s an easy/moderate hike and doesn’t have much in the way of spectacular views, but it is a good hike to get your heart pumping if you are staying at the campground and aren’t afraid of the 110 feet in elevation gain.  The trail can be reached by parking at the Visitor Center and heading north up the hill.
wapiti trail map
  • Enchanted Mesa Trail. Traveling along the reservoir, the Enchanted Mesa Trail is a 6.9-mile (round-trip) hike with an elevation gain of nearly 900 feet.  The hike travels from the Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk Campground to the swim beach in the Dutch Charlie area.  You’ll have views of the water along the entire way, taking a swim halfway through is a great way of cooling off if you are hiking in the summer.  You are actually hiking along a mesa about 300 feet above the reservoir for most of the hike.  The views to the south are a bit prettier than the return trip back to the campground, but it’s a nice hike to consider if you are in the area and have the energy!  The trailhead starts on the south side of the Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk Campground.
enchanted mesa trail map

There are several other walks / hikes to consider and you can learn more about these using the Ridgway State Park hiking guide.


In some ways there is too much to list, as there is a ton to do in the area.  A few ideas include:

  • Visit the town of Ouray, CO. Known as the “Little Switzerland of America,” it’s hard to keep your eyes on the road while you are driving around this area!  There are a ton of great eateries in the town, but the big attraction is the incredible scenery.
ouray, colorado
  • Drive the Million Dollar Highway. This may be the prettiest drive in the lower United States.  Driving to the south through Ouray to Silverton, this 25-mile stretch along Highway 550 is incredible.  Plan on taking about 3 hours to drive the entire 25-mile stretch and back (due to the lower speeds, some traffic and the fact that you’ll want to pull off and take in the views).



Though not necessarily hard to get to, unless you are driving the Million Dollar Highway, you likely won’t find yourself in the area of Ridgway State Park during a “normal” visit to Colorado (if there is such a thing!).  However, it’s easy to get to if you are driving along Highway 550 and happen to be just north of Ouray or south of Montrose, CO.


A day-use pass is required, which costs around $10.  You can also get a Colorado State Park annual pass for $80 if you plan on visiting several times or also going to other state parks in Colorado.


There are three campgrounds in Ridgway State Park and they are all worth considering.  Reservations are required and spots can fill up fast, so be sure to check ahead of your visit (ideally months in advance!).

Dakota Terraces Campground:

  • Location: The Dakota Terraces Campground is located along Highway 550 in the Dutch Charlie area of the Park.
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered year-round. Ridgway State Park Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 79 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / No.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Additional details: This campground has the best views in the park and is situated on a plateau.
ridgway state park

Elk Ridge Campground:

  • Location: The Elk Ridge Campground is located along Highway 550 in the Dutch Charlie area of the Park.
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered year-round. Ridgway State Park Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 107 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.

Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk Campground:

  • Location: The Pa-Cho-Chu-Puk is located along Highway 550 in the northern part of Ridgway State Park.
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: Offered year-round. Ridgway State Park Campground Reservations.
  • Capacity: 95 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: Yes / No / Yes.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and showers.
  • Additional details: This campground is good, but be advised the road noise can be a problem.


Ridgway State Park is open all year round, so you can visit anytime you want to.  However, if you want to enjoy the water and be able to swim in it, visiting in the summer is highly recommended.  Fall is particularly beautiful in the area, but nights can get cold.  Spring can bring rains and damp / muddy trails, so just be prepared if you come during that time of year.  You can also visit in the winter, and if you prepared for the cold and snow, it can be an amazing time.

ridgway in the fall

Ridgway area in the fall, photo courtesy of Larry Lamsa


The park is open year-round, and visiting in the winter is a great time as the park is peaceful and lacking the crowds present in the warmer months.  For those who are into hiking, picking up a set of snowshoes at the Visitor Center (offered for free!) is a great option.  You can also ice skate, fish and camp.


Pets are allowed in the park but must be leashed at all times.  They are not allowed in the swimming area or on the beach.



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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

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