Little Gem Reservoir and Rim Rock Lake a great place for a hike

More than 100 lakes and 25 streams on Grand Mesa are monitored or managed by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.  Almost all of them lie between 8,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation, like this one flowing between Little Gem and Rim Rock Lake.

More than 100 lakes and 25 streams on Grand Mesa are monitored or managed by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.  Almost all of them lie between 8,000 and 11,000 feet in elevation, like this one flowing between Little Gem and Rim Rock Lake.

photo of a wildflower near Little Gem Reservoir


Little Gem Reservoir 
and Rim Rock Lake

Drive time and distance: 1 hour, 13 minutes; 52.2 miles.

Elevation: 10,000 feet.

Length: Varies.

Hiking time:  2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Difficulty: easy to moderate; slippery when wet.

Nestled in a thick forest of mature spruce beneath the largest lake on Grand Mesa, Island Lake, is a little gem of a reservoir named Little Gem Reservoir.

Below Little Gem is yet another, smaller gem named Rim Rock Lake.

Neither are far from Island Lake, yet neither see the humanoid pressure that Island Lake sees, mainly because you have to hike to get to them.

It’s odd that with so many people visiting the Grand Mesa National Forest each year, you rarely see anyone out of a vehicle unless they’re fishing at one of the roadside lakes.

The hike into Little Gem is only a few hundred yards, really, but a hike in the woods is more than most people can handle — apparently.

Freak that I am, I actually was looking for a hike in the woods last week and planned a much longer hike along the old, rugged four-wheel-drive road into the Granbys. Rain, however, changed my plans.

The Granby Reservoir area includes seven of the most productive fishing reservoirs on Grand Mesa, according to Colorado fisheries biologists. These lakes and one stream offer outstanding fishing in a spectacular backcountry setting.

Access is limited to four-wheel drive, ATV, foot or horseback. Frankly, the hike along this six-mile-long road is much easier than the drive. It’s that rugged. 

Because of the rain, however, I settled for a much shorter hike down to Rim Rock Lake, before hiking back up and all the way around the 40-acre Little Gem. It rained on an off most of the day, but the coolness of the mountains, the freshness of the air, the beauty of the scenery, coupled with the intense heat we’ve had here in the happy valley, all made this hike that much more pleasant.

To reach Little Gem Reservoir and Rim Rock Lake, travel east from Grand Junction on Interstate 70 for 20 miles to the Grand Mesa/Powderhorn exit (No. 49). That’s Colorado Highway 65, a National Scenic and Historic Byway. Go through the town of Mesa, past Powderhorn Ski Area and head into the forest.

Cruise over the top of Grand Mesa, then travel 1.6 miles past the Mesa/Delta County line. Just before you reach the Grand Mesa Lodge at Island Lake, turn right (south) and take Forest Road 116 around the southwest end of Island Lake. In another seven-tenths of a mile, you’ll find Island Lake Campground. 

From Cedaredge, travel north on Colorado 65 for 16 miles and turn left onto Forest Road 116 (across from Carp Lake). Then follow this smooth, graveled road along the south shore of Island Lake. Continue 0.7 miles and turn left onto Forest Road 115. If you come to the Island Lake Campground, you’ve gone one-tenth of a mile too far.

This campground is one of the few in Grand Mesa National Forest not located on a lake. Most of the sites are situated in that thick grove of mature spruce that leads all the way down to Little Gem and Rim Rock. A few sites have a panoramic vista of the Grand Valley and several of the lakes below. The 144-acre Island Lake is located one-tenth of a mile east of the campground on Forest Road 116. Firewood is available for a fee.

If you travel another one-tenth of a mile past this campground, you’ll find a turnoff to the Granbys on Forest Service Road 115. Drive about a tenth of a mile down this road and park your vehicle, unless you want to “enjoy” that kidney-jarring ride all the way into the Granbys.

Here, you can either hike that six-mile-long road to the Granbys, or simply hike downhill a few hundred yards to Little Gem.

There’s an outlet stream at the bottom of Little Gem leading into Rim Rock Lake. This diminutive stream is loaded with brook trout, rainbows and cutthroats, if you’re interested in fishing. There are no fishing restrictions on these lakes or this outlet stream other than the regular statewide limits. 

All reservoirs within Grand Mesa National Forest boundaries are operated under special-use permits issued by the U.S. Forest Service. These permits allow the construction of dams and storage of water, but the reservoirs essentially are controlled by the permittee. Rim Rock Lake, for example, is owned and operated by the Surface Creek Ditch and Reservoir Company.

Most Grand Mesa reservoirs serve to store irrigation water. Therefore, water levels drop as the reservoirs are called upon to supplement diminishing summer stream flows. Because these reservoirs receive most of their water from spring snow melt, water levels may be low as fall approaches, especially following years of meager winter snowpack. 

There’s still water now, though, so it’s a good time to check out one of these little gems on Grand Mesa.


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