Watson Lake State Wildlife Area

Watson Lake, Colorado

This small State Wildlife Area sits at the base of a cliff that is a traditional nesting site for Golden Eagles, White-throated Swifts, and Canyon Wrens. The lake was formed during construction of Horsetooth Reservoir. It might have served as a borrow pit for various materials needed for Horsetooth’s four dams. The lake now attracts waterfowl in late fall and early spring, including Hooded Mergansers.  Stop by the nearby Bellvue-Watson Fish Hatchery, as self-guided tours, fishing, birdwatching, and nature trails make this an excellent education and recreation destination.

In 2019, a fish ladder was completed on the Poudre River at Watson Lake to improve fish habitat. This area of the Poudre contains important spawning habitat and deep pools that can provide refuge for fish. This project was made possible by Colorado Parks & Wildlife, along with funding partners noosa yoghurt, Northern Water, Morning Fresh Dairy, Poudre Heritage Alliance and Trout Unlimited.

Tourism Information

Open all year, except for the northwest side, access is prohibited as posted.

min. 5,116 ft – max 5,602 ft
44 acres.
Coldwater stream, Warm water
Nature trail, Picnicking


ADA Accessible

Wayside Sign

Interpretive signs facing the Poudre River at the fish ladder structure.


Located 2 miles west of Laporte and 6 miles northwest of Fort Collins. From Fort Collins, go north on highway 287 from highway 14. Stay on "Old 287" (do not take 287 bypass) to the town of LaPorte. From LaPorte, go 1 mile west on County Road 54G (the main road through town) to County Road 52E (Rist Canyon road), then 1 mile west (left) to the property entrance on the west side of the river.

Watson Lake State Wildlife Area