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Curecanti National Recreation Area/Cimarron


The Cimarron National Recreation Area is made up of a series of 3 reservoirs, Blue Mesa, Crystal, and Morrow Point. These reservoirs are all located along the Gunnison River. The Curecanti National Recreation Area/Cimarron is located off US-50 approx 47 miles east of the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park. This is the one we will focus on today.

No Way To Build A Railroad

In 1853, John Gunnison and his group of explorers had an extremely difficult time navigating the Gunnison River. They made their way east until reaching Blue Mesa and then started heading west finding valuable minerals along the way. After crossing Cimarron Creek and climbing over Cerro Summit, Gunnison decided that trying to put in a railroad through this area would be impossible.

Valuable Minerals

With finding the valuable minerals and the idea of a railroad being built shot down, another way to move about the area was needed and roads started being built. Parts of the roadway ran near a cattle ranch and over time raising cattle and eventually sheep became popular in the area. This time frame was around the 1970’s.

Enter The D&RG

In the early 1880s, the Denver And Rio Grand Railroad owned by General William Jackson Palmer was covering more area as it started making it’s way west across Colorado. General Palmer decided he was going to take on the challenge of building railroad tracks through an area that was previously thought impossible by Gunnison and his explorers.

Cerro Summit

As construction was completed around 1882 and the trains started moving, they realized they faced one more big challenge. The hill at Cerro Summit was steep and the trains would need “helper” engines to get over it. Cimarron was starting to become known as a railroad town.

Although the original purpose of this railroad was to move the valuable minerals that were located along the banks of the river, it also started providing scenic tours in the latter part of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Over time mining started slowing down and cattle ranching was starting to increase. Cimarron became a major cattle and sheep shipping hub. Cimarron had corrals (cattle gathering points) that covered over 7500 square feet.

No Feeding Facilities

Since there were no feeding facilities at these corrals, people would time their drives to get to the loading centers shortly before the trains would be pulling out. This way they would be loaded onto the trains almost immediately. Over time the roadways improved drastically and trucks to move cattle became larger, and the need for the train was dwindling.

In 1949 the last scenic train ride was given. It ran from Gunnison to Cimarron. Shortly after that, the dismantling of the railroad, corrals, and railroad ties began.

The Morrow Dam

When we visited the Cimarron Rec center, the visitor center was closed. We were able to take a ride through the campground and continue to the parking lot down near the Morrow dam.

About halfway between the visitor center and the parking lot is an awesome display of the old locomotive, Engine 278, it’s coal tender, a boxcar, and caboose that sits atop a section of tacks above the Gunnison River. We were lucky enough to have visited after it had just been restored.

The Parking Lot

Continuing to the end of the road will bring you to the parking lot. From here you will notice a few things. First off directly past the end of the parking lot is the restroom building which houses 2 pit toilets.

If you look down further you will see the Morrow Dam which stands 468 feet high and is constructed as a concrete double arch dam. It sits between the Blue Mesa Dam (check out our Blue Mesa Dam ride) and the Crystal Dam. The dam is used to supply hydroelectric power.

Beyond that is a display area that features signs explaining the dam, geology, and general history of Morrow Lake and the dam. Anything you would possibly want to know about the structure and history can be found by reading the signs.

Scenic Overlook

If you look to the side of the parking lot that faces the water, you will see an overlook area that features 2 covered picnic tables. This is a great place to take a break and either enjoy your lunch or a quick snack. One thing we should mention is that we were here at two separate times. We used the tables both times for snacking and enjoying the incredible views.

The first time which was towards the beginning of the summer there were no problems. The second time was towards the end of the summer and for whatever reason there were a lot of yellow jacket bees. If you are coming towards the end of the summer you may want to bring bee spray.

The Water’s Edge

Once your snack is completed there are some hiking trails along the river you can check out. You will need to hike down a moderate hillside. There is an actual path to walk down so it is not terrible. Once down the hillside, you are now at the water’s edge. There is an awesome view of the Morrow Dam.

You can follow along the trails as far as you like. We just went down to a bridge, crossed over the river, and went about another mile down the trail before turning back. The scenery was just incredible. Just remember not to tire yourself out too much as you will have to get back up the hill to return to the parking lot area…lol.

Final Thoughts

The Curecanti Rec area was a great little find. The scenery was beautiful and the displays of the area history were cool. The picnic tables and hiking along the Gunnison River have added bonuses. If you are looking for a quick place to stop and see some area history, have a snack, and rest this is a great little stop. You could either make this a quick stop or spend an afternoon here. Should we ever find ourselves back in the area, this will be a definite stop.

Date Of Visit: Spring & Summer 2019
Cost To Enter: $0
Pet Friendly: Yes

8 thoughts on “Curecanti National Recreation Area/Cimarron”

  1. Hello, I enjoyed watching and reading About your trip on Curecanti National Recreation Area and find it very helpful for travellers like me. Now due to covid-19 everything is lockdown. After lockdown we will plan to visit such wonderful and lovely area. You are really doing an awesome work for everyone. Keep it up.

    • Prithvi Raj- We are glad you enjoyed our article. COVID-19 has shut down many places. Hopefully things will start to reopen soon. Once things start opening up we highly recommend you visit this recreation area. Dennis

  2. Hi there, this is quite an interesting article you got here. First I must commend General William Jackson for his courage to build a railway despite all odds. As I go through the review, I discovered that the Curecanti National Recreation Area/Cimarron is a perfect place for an adventure. 

    thanks for sharing this with me.

    • Awinikistevie- We love checking out the history of each place we visit. When we were reading about General Jackson it seemed as if he were almost doing it just because everyone said it couldn’t be done. If you are ever in Cimarron we definitely recommend you check this place out… Dennis

  3. Hi! Well that was a wonderful Article. You described it very well – the oldest railways. Do you know if there are more than just this one? I think its awesome to experience railroads as they once were. Like route 66, once you drive through you could just feel history and how was it all back then



    • primos Pitcairn- There are all kinds of old railway displays throughout the country. We have written about some but there are plenty more. We even have one mentioned in our “Rt 66 Kingman Arizona” article…Dennis

  4. Hey nice article you have there. Your review about  Curecanti National Recreation area is quite fascinating, I have heard so much about the Curecanti, but this article has really given me more insight to what it entails. Choosing Curecanti recreation for my Family picnic during summer holiday will be the perfect gift for them.

    • edahnewton1- We are glad you enjoyed the article. If your family likes a little history and hiking this is the perfect place to visit. The surrounding scenery is amazing!!! … Dennis


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