Lake Pueblo State Park has trails on high ground, others that traverse canyons, and still others following the lake’s shoreline. The bluffs and rock formations and in the park are enough to turn an ordinary hiker into an amateur geologist. Learn more about Lake Pueblo State Park hiking below.
About Lake Pueblo State Park
Situated in Pueblo County, Colorado, Lake Pueblo State Park is a wide-open recreation space in a semi-arid desert climate.
It’s no surprise that Lake Pueblo State Park’s main feature is its sizeable reservoir. The lake’s surface area of this body of water is 6.8 square miles (4,646 acres, 1880 ha), with an astounding 64 miles (103 k) of shoreline.
Lake Pueblo State Park and its reservoir came into existence with the completion of the Pueblo Dam in 1975. The dam, built across the Arkansas River, is just one part of the much larger Fryingpan-Arkansas Project for increasing and managing water resources in this dry landscape. In addition to storing reservoir water for irrigation, drinking, and other municipal and industrial uses, the dam is also a flood control structure; the Arkansas river tends to flood every ten years or so.
Lake Pueblo State Park is a 15-20 minute drive from downtown Pueblo, Colorado. Pueblo is approximately 115 miles (185 k) south of Denver, making drive time about two hours from Denver and one hour from Colorado Springs.
Lake Pueblo State Park Hiking-Finding a Trail
The Official Trail Map for Lake Pueblo State Park hiking and biking isn’t very inspiring. It shows about 14 miles (22.5 k) of paved trails around the lake and campground areas and the 1.5 mile (2.4 k) Arkansas Point Trail.
Yet, there are miles and miles of much more exciting trails in this 10,000-acre park, with the south side of the lake being particularly notable. The Southern Colorado Trail Builders Lake Pueblo Trails Map shows just how much is missing from the official source.
Even with this map, it may not be clear how to approach the trail system. The two-dimensional guide shows a maze-like network of trails on the south shore but no topography.
To better understand the landscape, use a resource like AllTrails to check the elevation profile for any given route. AllTrails shows over 20 different trail combinations to encourage exploration in short or long distances. For example, this loop combining four named trails is 2.6 miles (4.2 k). It descends through a canyon from a high point down toward the lake, then completes the loop by climbing up a different canyon. The elevation gain is about 275 feet (84 m).
Turning to a place to start, venturing out to Arkansas Point is a “must-do” hike in Lake Pueblo State Park. This overlook provides sweeping views of the park, including the reservoir. Because there are no tall trees, the visibility is exceptional.
To get there, park at the South Shore Trailhead on Arkansas Point Rd near the camper registration building (and a restroom). The trailhead is a little confusing since there are at least three trails to take, and the signs marking the trails have seen better days. The route to Arkansas Point begins with the Conduit Trail and then moves onto the Staircase Trail. After climbing the Staircase Trail to the top of the bluff, the trail name changes to the Arkansas Point Trail. Take this trail between two steep slopes to Arkansas Point at the end. The total distance to get there is only about a kilometer (0.6 miles).
The Arkansas Point trail is wide enough for at least three or four people to walk comfortably side by side, and there is also plenty of space on either side of the trail. Heading out to the overlook, however, I experienced a rapid onset “fight or flight” sensation once the sheer drops from the sides of the bluff became apparent. The primitive part of my brain perceived the height above the ground as a dangerous threat, even though it was perfectly safe on the trail!
Stop at the end of the trail to take in some epic views. Pike’s Peak, topping out at 14,115 feet (4,302 m), is visible to the north. Toward the south and west, look for the Wet mountain range and its highest peak, Greenhorn mountain (12,352′, 3,765 m).
From this overlook, it’s also easy to see why geologists travel to Pueblo. Imagine everything underwater in an inland sea large enough to cut the North American continent in two. That actually happened here in the Cretaceous geological period. The different rock layers result from various sediments collecting, then being compressed over time. As I’m not a geologist, I can’t speak about the specifics. I’ll only say that it’s an impressive sight.
Rock Canyon Trail
Once I’d had my fill of the landscape from Arkansas Point, I backtracked past the intersection with the Staircase Trail and kept moving along the Arkansas Point Trail. This path is relatively flat. However, the temperature was unseasonably warm on the late spring day I visited. It did feel very desert-like with the relentless sun, no shade, and miles of visibility in all directions.
Along this stretch, there are numerous branching trails, with names like Skull Canyon and Rollercoaster. These trails travel down through mini-canyons and eventually connect to the South Shore Trail that roughly parallels the lake’s edge.
I selected the Rock Canyon trail to explore. As I descended, the rock formations that appeared began to awe me. The course went from crushed rock to flat stones and back again more than once. As it twisted and turned, the canyon seemed to be a demonstration lab for geological processes showing cliffs, rock layers, and the effects of erosion.
The most intriguing thing on this trail was finding some concretions. Concretions are hard masses embedded in a “host rock.” They take shape when minerals such as calcium, acting as cement, form deposits around a core particle in sediment. Concretions often end up being disk-shaped or spherical in this mineral deposition process. The sediment around the concretion eventually turns to stone, trapping the concretion. The concretions I found on the Rock Canyon trail are textbook examples.
The South Shore Trail
At the bottom of the Rock Canyon Trail is an intersection with the South Shore Trail, which returns to the start at the Arkansas Point parking lot.
The South Shore trail intersects with several other canyon trails, so it’s possible to climb up a different canyon and return to the Arkansas Point Trail.
Heading away from the reservoir, the South Shore Trail also connects to other Lake Pueblo State Park trails.
The Arkansas River Trail
On a separate visit to Lake Pueblo State Park, I walked into the park on the Arkansas River Trail, a paved path following the Arkansas River. It stretches from Runyon Lake, west of Interstate-25 in Pueblo, for about 8.5 miles (13.7 k) before reaching the park boundary.
Since this path follows the river, there are a few sections lined with trees. The majority of the hike, however, will be without shade. Walking toward the park, the river is on the left, and rocky cliffs are right. Following the river, the route is relatively flat.
The path passes by the park’s Anticline Fishing Pond, followed by the Rock Canyon swim beach area.
Between these two landmarks in Rock Canyon is an observation area for a geologically significant rock wall. This wall contains a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point or GSSP. A GSSP designates a rock layer representing the lower boundary of a geologic stage. An international committee only ratifies a GSSP after researchers provide considerable evidence that the rock represents a boundary and conforms to other standards. In the world of geology, this is a Really Big Deal: the GSSP in Pueblo Lake State Park is one of only 76 in the world.
GSSP’s are marked with a so-called “golden spike,” which is usually made of bronze or metal other than gold. The GSSP in Pueblo Lake State Park marks the Cenomanian-Turonian transition in the Cretaceous period, which happened about 94 million years ago. What does that even mean? I didn’t know precisely, but I learned that during this transition, low oxygen levels in the inland sea, along with other aberrations, caused a mass extinction.
Just look at the well-preserved sedimentary rock in this photo to understand why geologists are so excited about Pueblo. Can you find the “golden spike” for the GSSP?
Past the GSSP site and the swim beach, the massive Pueblo Dam comes into better view. The dam is 10,500 feet long (1.98 miles, 3.2 k) and 250 feet (76.2 m) high, with its overflow sections supported with concrete buttresses.
Custom Map of my Lake Pueblo State Park Hikes
Don’t see the map or want to see the original? Click here to go to the map page on AllTrails.
Lake Pueblo State Park Hiking Trail Connections
As mentioned above, one can walk into the park on the Arkansas River Trail on the north shore of the Arkansas River. Close to Lake Pueblo State Park, the Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center (River Campus) is a convenient place to start. Parking here is $5; pay through an app as directed in the parking lot. Keep an eye out for nesting raptors, as the Center also includes a Raptor Center.
There is no park entrance fee if entering Lake Pueblo State Park on foot or by bike.
More about Lake Pueblo State Park
The Colorado State Parks Passport
I was excited to have my Colorado State Parks Passport stamped by a ranger at the Lake Pueblo State Park visitor center. The Passport is a convenient and fun tool to encourage visits to Colorado’s 42 state parks. Each park’s stamp is different, and the image for Lake Pueblo features an angler in a boat on the water.
Other things to do in Lake Pueblo State Park
Mountain biking is very popular in the park, and hikers share the trails with mountain bikers.
The park’s two marinas and a fishing pier support recreational boating and fishing. Other lake-centric activities include water-skiing, jet-skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking, for example. In addition, the anticline fishing pond mentioned above has an accessible fishing pier.
A pond not connected to the main reservoir hosts a swim beach open during the regular summer season of Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Check the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Page for Lake Pueblo State Park for hours and rules. By the way, dogs on leash are allowed everywhere in the park except the swim beach.
On land, parts of the park are open for hunting in certain months, and the Bighorn Archery Range is just inside the park entrance.
Finally, the Pueblo State Fish Hatchery is within the park. It produces both warm and coldwater fish for stocking in Colorado’s lakes and streams. Take a self-guided tour using the signs on the building.
Food and Drink
There are no food vendors in Pueblo Lake State Park, but snack foods may be available at the marina shops. Stock up on supplies in Pueblo and take advantage of the 150 picnic sites throughout the park.
If nothing else, make sure to bring adequate amounts of water, especially in warmer weather, to manage the dry climate and desert sun.
Outside of the park, try one of the many excellent coffee shops, cafes, or restaurants in Pueblo.
Lake Pueblo State Park has three campgrounds with a total of 400 campsites available year-round. The majority (281) have electric hook-ups, while 112 do not and are designated “basic.” Additionally, there are seven walk-in, tent-only, primitive campsites. Each of the campground areas has several sites marked as accessible. Water faucets are available in all campgrounds.
Reservations are required for camping in Colorado State Parks and can be made online at the CPW shop. Fees vary based on the site type.
Not a camper? Nearby Pueblo has a range of hotel options from major chains as well as independent properties.
Daily Vehicle Pass: $10
Annual Affixed Pass (for one vehicle): $83
Family Annual Pass (one address, any vehicle): $123
For more information on these passes, multiple vehicles passes, or other specialty passes available (such as 64+, disabled, veteran, or military), see the CPW Park Pass page.
Use the Park Office address of 640 Pueblo Reservoir Road Pueblo, CO, 81005 to find your way to Lake Pueblo State Park.
Pin it for later!
Pueblo Lake State Park hiking comes with a geology lesson. While lake activities may dominate this arid state recreation area, there are plentiful hiking opportunities among bluffs and rock formations.
What trail will you take in Pueblo Lake State Park? Leave a comment below!