Water Safety on the Rivers, Lakes, and Beaches

Durango, Colorado is a Water Town

Durangoans love to be on the water! Relaxing at a beach, fishing, kayaking and paddleboarding are just a few ways to experience the beauty of Durango from the water. All of the water features in Durango provide excellent opportunities to cool off, listen to the calming flow of the river, observe wildlife, and spend quality time with friends and family. Lake Nighthorse, Lemon Reservoir, Vallecito Reservoir, and Haviland Lake are all within a 45-minute drive from Durango.

The Animas River is even closer, running through the heart of downtown featuring several different beaches and access points to the river. With unmatched access to rivers, lakes and reservoirs, everyone can find a way to enjoy the water! 

The best way to experience the water in Durango is to do it safely! By following a few simple tips, you can have a fun and safe adventure with your friends and family!

River Safety

The Animas River provides riverbed beaches, flatwater and whitewater sections. However, you choose to recreate on the river, make sure you are prepared!

  • Always wear a life jacket when rafting, kayaking, paddleboarding, or tubing.

  • Wear a helmet if you will be riding the rapids.

  • Enjoy the river in a group of two or more people.

  • Be aware of hazards such as strainers, which are tree branches or rocks that can trap you and your vessel.

  • Familiarize yourself with the water features of the river such as waves, holes, and eddys.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.

  • Always scout the Santa Rita Whitewater Park before going through that section of the river.

  • Consider the water temperature and dress for the temperature to avoid hypothermia - water pulls heat from the body 25 times faster than air.

  • Know the ability levels of yourself and others in your party.

  • Keep a headcount.

  • Look at the water level and stay off the river during high flows.

  • Know the weather forecast.

  • Be mindful of your alcohol consumption.

  •  Make sure you are fit for your activity by consulting your doctor.

  •  Let someone know your plan of where you will be and when you plan to return.

Lake Safety

The many lakes and reservoirs around Durango provide miles of water to be explored. Use these safety recommendations to get the most out of your time on the water!

Motorized Vessels

  • Wear a U.S. Coastguard-approved life jacket or have one easily accessible.

  • If at Lake Nighthorse, request a boat inspection and look over all equipment before getting on the water.

  • Familiarize yourself with Colorado boat and water laws.

  • Follow signs for no-wake zones and speed limits.

  • Limit consumption of alcohol or don’t drink at all.

  • Ensure you clean, drain and let your boat dry in between each use.

  • Choose footwear with anti-slip soles to prevent slipping on wet surfaces.

Kayaks and Paddleboards

  • Always wear a life jacket.

  • Start in shallow waters or near the shore if you are a beginner.

  • Stay alert of wind currents that can make returning to shore very challenging.

  • Avoid exhausting yourself by resting frequently.

  • Wear a leash when paddleboarding.

  • If you are out when it is dark, display a white light that is visible 360 degrees around your kayak or paddleboard.

Beach & Swimming Safety

The beaches along the Animas River, Lake Nighthorse, and other local areas are fantastic places to spend a mellow day, test the water temperature with your toes, or swim until the sun sets behind the mountains. Optimize the fun with these tips!

  • Learn to swim and wear a life jacket if you are not a strong swimmer.

  • Use the buddy system.

  • Make sure children 12 and under are being supervised by an adult.

  • Check water depth before diving - don’t dive into shallow water.

  • Wear shoes to protect your feet from hot sand and sharp debris.

  • Wear sun-protective clothing and sunscreen - remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours.

  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

  • Repackage items in glass containers to a plastic container.

  • Carry out all your trash, including food remains like orange peels and apple cores.

  • Respect the people and wildlife around you by keeping noise at a courteous volume.

There is no shortage of water to enjoy in Durango. Spending time on the Animas River, Lake Nighthorse, Vallecito Reservoir, Lemon Reservoir, or Haviland Lake is a key part of experiencing everything that the area has to offer!