Dolores River, Colorado

Rafting the lower Dolores River. Photo by Kate Thompson


We might as well begin with the classic joke, “Who’s On First?” when describing the Dolores River. Some people identify with the Upper Dolores, others with the Lower Dolores—which also happens to be the stretch “up north.” And then there’s the Dolores below McPhee Dam, but upstream of the San Miguel. Part of the Dolores flows west into Utah. And did we mention it feeds the Colorado River?

The most important thing to know is that while there may be confusion over naming sections of the river, there is no confusion about the need to better protect it.

The Dolores River flows in a rough U-shape from its headwaters near Lizard Head Pass all the way to the Colorado River in Utah—some 246 miles. It is an important piece of the Colorado River system, which provides water for millions of people and agricultural acres in the southwest.

Opportunities for better protecting the Dolores River

  • There are grassroots campaigns underway to ask Congress to designate the river and lands surrounding it as National Conservation Areas and Wilderness, which would make it one of the newest additions to the National Conservation Lands. These legislative campaigns are spearheaded by citizens and groups that are members of the Dolores River Coalition and participants in the Dolores River Dialogue.
  • Water in the Dolores feeds the Colorado River system, as well as sustains the people and wildlife living in the Dolores River watershed. The Dolores River Restoration Partnership formed in 2008 to do on-the-ground work that will result in sustainable and healthy riparian plant communities that will help native fish populations.

Who’s doing what, where, on the Dolores River?

Maps, Video and Stories

Take a Google Earth tour of the Dolores River.

Here is a 3.5-minute video about the Dolores River and efforts to designate it as a National Conservation Area.

“The River Trip” is a monthly radio show produced and hosted by the Dolores River Boating Advocates on public radio station KSJD, 91.5 fm. They talk river issues, tell river stories, play music and celebrate all those who love to float and fish its whitewater.
Click here.

The same station, KSJD 91.5 fm, produced a five-part series called “In the Current: Dolores River Water Issues” to examine the history and hydrology of the Dolores River.
Click here.

The Hanging Flume, “The Best Kept Secret of the Wild West.”  Intrigued?


News articles

A Cortez Journal article describing Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists who monitor three native fish species, the bonytail chub, bluehead sucker and flannelmouth sucker, in the Dolores River downstream of the McPhee Reservoir.

Kokanee salmon, freshwater cousins of coastal sockeye salmon, run up the Dolores to spawn every spring.

Construction of McPhee Reservoir on the Dolores River in the 1980s changed the river and surrounding communities. Plans for “The Dolores Project,” as it was called, began long before.

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