"Two Beautiful Lakes & River in Northern New Mexico" Heron Lake State Park by AlbuqRay

Heron Lake State Park Travel Guide: 9 reviews and 46 photos

Heron Lake

There are two beautiful lakes on the Rio Chama in north central New Mexico, Heron Lake and El Vado Lake. Each has a state park. Also, the Rio Brazos is less than 10 miles northeast of Heron Lake as the crow flies.

Heron Lake is in Rio Arriba County. The lake is part of the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project, which transfers water from the upper reaches of the San Juan River through the 12.8-mile Azotea Tunnel (and under the Continental Divide), into Willow Creek and the Rio Chama (and ultimately into the Rio Grande). Water is impounded in Heron Lake by the 1250-foot long, 263-foot high Heron Dam, which was completed in 1971. The 5900-acre lake is approximately 4 miles long and 3 miles wide, and at an elevation of ~7180 feet (depending on how full the lake is).

The southern shore is the location of Heron Lake State Park, featuring over 200 camping and picnic sites, and two improved boat ramps. The lake is a destination for salmon and trout fishing, as well as for small boat sailing. Boat speeds are restricted by a "no-wake" policy. There is a small island in the middle of the lake. The Heron Lake map indicates the various recreational sites. See also tips on the Heron Lake State Park Visitors' Center and the Rio Chama Overlook.

El Vado Lake

El Vado Lake is located on the Chama River just a couple of miles southeast of Heron Lake. Information and printable maps for El Vado State Park are available online. Although it is not far to either, the Stone House Lodge is actually closer to El Vado Lake than Heron Lake. It is located where the paved part of NM-95 ends on a hill at the north end of the El Vado Lake Peninsula. There is a relatively steep trail down to the water, but it is definitely within walking distance.

The water level in El Vado Lake can vary dramatically. It is a 2100-acre to 3200-acre lake in a spectacular setting on the Chama River at an altitude of close to 7000 feet. Maximum depth is about 170 feet when full. Boaters can camp out overlooking the lake and at a number of scenic primitive sites on both the north peninsula and another section on the west side of the lake. El Vado is popular for water sports after the water warms along the upper portions of the lake on both the east and west sides of the peninsula. See also a tip on El Vado Lake fishing.

Rio Brazos - The "Other" Brazos River

The Rio Brazos is a tributary of the Rio Chama and lies between 7500 and 10,700 feet elevation near the Colorado border southeast of Chama, New Mexico. It joins the Rio Chama near Los Ojos, NM. It is not the same as the Brazos River in Texas. See also a tip on Rio Brazos fishing.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beautiful place with access to two lakes and Rio Brazos
  • Cons:Can get a little crowded at times
  • In a nutshell:Great fishing destination or a great place to just relax
  • Last visit to Heron Lake State Park: Oct 2011
  • Intro Updated Apr 22, 2013
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AlbuqRay

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