Colorado State Parks: Paonia

Next up in our series exploring Colorado’s state parks is Paonia! Paonia State Park is located in the Gunnison National Forest and is home to the long and narrow Paonia Reservoir.

The Paonia Reservoir with a grassy hillside and mountains in the background.
Photo from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

The Bureau of Reclamation began planning the construction of the Paonia Reservoir in the mid-1950s. A 1957 report about the Paonia Project provides background information about the intended reservoir, including the necessity of storing water for crop irrigation. The project came to fruition and an earthen dam was completed between 1959-1962 that created a 334 square-acre lake. The reservoir and surrounding area has been managed by Colorado State Parks since 1965. The park now features two campgrounds, a public boat ramp, and several scenic picnic areas. You can read all about the activities and amenities available at Paonia in the park’s brochure.

Paonia State Park is tucked into steep mountains near the Raggeds Wilderness, making it a fantastic place to explore the area’s geology. The Surficial geology: Hotchkiss-Paonia Reservoir Area map provides an overview of the geologic setting of the park, describing the processes of erosion that shaped the surrounding canyon. Keen-eyed observers will even be able to find fossilized palm fronds and leaf imprints along the mountainsides.

Paonia’s mountainous surroundings also present dangers that are outlined in the Geologic hazards: Hotchkiss-Paonia Reservoir Area map. This map highlights areas that are at risk for rockfalls and landslides, many of which are close to the reservoir. When spending time in any mountainous area, it’s important to be aware of the conditions that lead to rockfalls and landslides and to learn rockfall and landslide safety tips.

There are no formal hiking trails in Paonia, so many visitors focus on aquatic activities like boating, fishing, and waterskiing – because the reservoir is so long, waterskiiers can ski two full miles without needing to turn around! Regardless of your reasons for a visit, the shimmering reservoir and stunning mountain scenery of Paonia State Park are sure to provide an unforgettable experience.