The Dolores River flows for more than 200 miles through southwestern Colorado, starting high in the San Juan Mountains and descending to its confluence with the Colorado River near the Colorado-Utah border. The Dolores flows through five major western life zones, from the alpine life zone at its headwaters to the Upper Sonoran life zone along much of its lower reaches (6400 ft.- 5000 ft. elevation). Boating and fishing are popular and fun activities to participate in along the Dolores River. Flows on the lower Dolores River are controlled by spill releases from McPhee Reservoir, 12.5 miles upstream of the Bradfield launch site. The reservoir provides important recreation, fish and wildlife benefits; however, its primary purpose is to provide irrigation water, flood control, and hydroelectric power. The Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, is an archaeological museum that displays artifacts found during the reservoir's construction. The exhibits include a reconstructed prehistoric dwelling. The Anasazi Heritage Center also maintains a 1/2 mile interpretive trail that leads to Escalante ruins. Other activities in the area include horseback riding, picnicking, and hunting.
Currently, private permits are not required for boating the Dolores River within Colorado. However, BLM requires all boaters to register at the access points. All overnight boating parties on the Dolores River are required to use fire-pans for all open fires, porta-potty for human waste, strainer for dishwater, and "scrim" material is recommended for use as "kitchen" flooring.
Opportunities are available.
The Dolores River is a recent trout fishery, resulting from the 1986 construction of the McPhee Reservoir. The San Juan National Forest offers additional fishing opportunities with its 92 lakes. Many of the fish are trout, such as, cutthroats, rainbows, brook trout or German browns.
The Dolores River is a very popular area for river rafting, kayaking and other water sports. Many licensed guides are available for trips down the river. Permits if required may differ when crossing state borders. Consult the BLM website for information on permits.
In an average snowpack year, the river is floatable from late April to early June. In a very dry year, there may be no boatable flows at all. The Memorial Day Weekend is the busiest time on the Dolores River. Visitors may encounter 200+ people at either the Bradfield or Slick Rock launch sites on Saturday morning. Mountain Sheep and Gypsum Valley launch sites are less crowded. Most parties launch between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Weather during April and May can be quite cold and windy with occasional rain, and sometimes even a late season snowstorm. Hypothermia can result from this combination of factors, and boaters should be knowledgeable of its symptoms and treatment.
From Cortez, travel 30 miles north on U.S. Highway 666. The put-in is at the Bradfield Bridge Recreation Site, six miles east of Cahone, Colorado.