Home » 2002 Cross Country Road Trip

Heron Lake State Park, NM

Monday, August 5, 2002 - 8:30am by Lolo
120 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Rafting across Heron LakeRafting across Heron LakeTo this day, Herb's eyes glaze over with a dreamy look at the mere mention of Heron Lake. First, there was its natural beauty--picture a gorgeous mountain lake set among tall pine trees. Then there was the incredible cocktail opportunities--sunset views over the lake right from our campsite. Lastly, and probably most importantly, was the solitude and tranquility--we shared the entire lake with only one other camper, and he was always out on his sailboat. Heron Lake is not for those that need a lot of excitement and activities (which is probably why it wasn't crowded), but for us, at this point in time, it was paradise. My only problem was going to be convincing Herb to ever leave.

The lake had a no-wake regulation (which probably accounted for its tranquility), making it a perfect place for us to use our Avon inflatable boat with its 6 h.p. motor. We launched the boat right from our campsite, which was set back from the lake about 100 yards. Our campsite should have been right on the lake, but a multi-year drought had made the lake levels terribly low. This, unfortunately, made the approach to the lake quite difficult because the new shoreline was solid muck. We managed to get the boat in without too much mess and putted over to the island in the middle of the lake.

Boys on uninhabited islandBoys on uninhabited islandIt was great just being out on the lake--big vistas, crystal blue New Mexico sky, and just one sailboat in sight (our neighbor). We did swim, although the lake waters were cool. After all, we were over 7,000 feet above sea level.

That night we barbecued while the kids gathered twigs and branches for a campfire. After watching a perfect sunset over the lake, we ate our dinner by the fire which the kids had built. It was just so unbelievably peaceful here--a pleasant respite from our normally hectic lives.

Lolo of Heron LakeLolo of Heron LakeThat night we were awakened by the most incredible thunderstorm I have ever experienced in my life. After one particularly loud crash of thunder, Herb and I bolted upright and looked out the back window behind our bed, which happened to look out over the lake. We were mesmerized. Across the entire sky, there were simultaneous bursts of lightning, more impressive than any fireworks display I have seen. We woke the boys up, and they jumped in bed with us to watch the show. I wish we had thought to film the storm because it's too difficult to describe. Maybe this is what thunderstorms are like out here because of the panoramic vistas, but we New Jerseyians were certainly impressed.

The next morning we rode our bikes about 2 miles down the hill to the Heron Dam--I was not looking forward to the 2 mile uphill climb later. Near the dam, we turned off on a road with signs for the Rio Chama Trail and eventually came to a rock staircase that led down to the river. Leaving our bikes behind, we went down the stairs and walked across a suspension bridge over the river. This was the beginning of the 5 ½ mile Rio Chama Trail that followed the river connecting Heron and El Vado Lake. Probably a great hike, but not on our program for today. We returned to our bikes and road up the steep hill to the campground.

We reluctantly said goodbye to Heron Lake and headed west towards Monument Valley.


Heron Lake is a 5,900-acre reservoir in northern New Mexico's forested mountain country (elevation 7,200 feet). The state has designated it a "quiet lake" requiring boaters to operate at no-wake speeds. Nearby El Vado Lake has no restrictions on boating speed limits, thereby attracting many more power boaters and jet skiers. As a result, Heron Lake is a very peaceful and tranquil place.

Lone neighbor sailing at dusk on Heron LakeLone neighbor sailing at dusk on Heron LakeThe no-wake regulation, combined with the lake's steady breezes, make it a premier spot for sailing and windsurfing. Swimming and fishing for salmon and trout (especially below the dam) are also popular activities in the park.

A 5.5 mile fishing and hiking trail along the Rio Chama River connects Heron and El Vado Lakes. The trail starts at a caprock stairway near the Heron Dam, crosses the river on a suspension bridge, and meanders along the river canyon to El Vado Lake.

The park has 139 RV sites along its eastern shores, some of them with hookups.


  • Heron Lake State Park Boating and Camping
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Heron Lake State Park location map in "high definition"

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