Colorado is the headwaters state of the American West, with major river systems originating in the high mountains. One of America’s most popular trout fishing destinations, the state boasts more than 66 million acres of public lands, a host of iconic rivers, and and three species of native trout: the greenback cutthroat, the Rio Grande cutthroat, and the Colorado River cutthroat, including the blue, green and San Juan lineages of this important fish. TU’s Priority Waters include to name a few, the Yampa and the Roaring Fork, the Gunnison and the San Juan, the Animas, and the South Platte. All of them support robust populations of wild trout. With tens of thousands of members and supporters in Colorado who contribute more than 44,000 volunteer hours annually to restoration, education, and other local conservation projects, we are restoring and reconnecting rivers, cleaning up abandoned mines, working with farmers and ranchers to keep more water in streams, advancing important water policies, building coalitions, and serving as trusted local experts in the effort to combat historic drought and overuse of the lifeblood of the West, the Colorado River.
Fish We're Protecting
Threats & Opportunities
With multiple federal funding opportunities made available by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, TU is ramping up the number of projects we have across the entire region to meet the challenges posed by our increasingly drier climate and the devastating, historic drought along the entire Colorado River Basin.
How We Work
Championed for years by TU, the $33 million Colorado River Headwaters Connectivity Channel project will, when complete, build a natural stream channel around the Windy Gap Reservoir, reconnecting the Colorado River, reducing the dam’s impacts on the river’s aquatic species and habitat for dozens of miles, and created a mile of publicly accessible Gold Medal trout water for anglers.
On National Forest lands scarred by catastrophic 2020 wildfires in Colorado, we are restoring streams and river valleys, replacing fish passage barriers, and cleaning up abandoned mines. Through a $10 million agreement with the Forest Service, we are restoring healthy riverscapes, hastening the recovery of burned landscapes, and making wildfires less likely in the future.
In the Cache la Poudre Headwaters, we are launching Colorado’s largest-ever restoration effort for native trout in partnership with the Forest Service, Rocky Mountain National Park, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado State University. This multi-year project is restoring Greenback cutthroat trout to nearly 40 miles of connected streams and multiple lakes, including Long Draw Reservoir, creating a new stronghold for Colorado’s state fish.
Meanwhile, after more than a decade of intensive efforts by TU, the state, and partners to rescue the Greenback cutthroat trout from the brink of extinction, the state fish is now naturally reproducing in the South Platte River drainage following reintroduction by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
After more than a decade of intensive efforts involving TU and partners to rescue the greenback cutthroat trout from the brink of extinction, it was discovered in 2022 that the state fish is naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch, one of the first places the agency stocked it in its native South Platte River drainage.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of Western headwaters, which supply drinking water and provide critical habitat for trout, are degraded by acid mine drainage. TU is advocating for federal legislation to provide “Good Samaritans” with the liability protections they need to clean up abandoned mines and for reforms to the General Mining Law of 1872.
How You Can Help
Help us care for and recover Colorado’s Priority WatersVOLUNTEER
Stay up to date about what we’re doing to protect and restore Colorado’s rivers and native trout.
Colorado River Basin
Already facing historic drought and overuse, the Colorado is one of America’s iconic waterways and provides drinking water for 40 million people across seven states and 30 Tribal Nations.
Upper Rio Grande Basin
With more than two decades of experience working in the Rio Grande region, TU has formed multiple partnerships to protect and restore the watershed’s most critical landscapes and coldwater ecosystems and recover Rio Grande cutthroat trout. We are reinforcing the stewardship practices that have served the region’s tribal and rural communities for untold generations.
Arkansas River Basin
With its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, the Arkansas River stretches nearly 1,500 miles to the Mississippi River. From Leadville to Canon City, the Arkansas River offers nearly 80 miles of public access and boasts robust populations of wild brown trout and rainbows. In 2014, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission declared 102 miles of the river as Gold Medal water, the longest stretch in the state. One of the few fisheries in Colorado supporting a strong brown trout population, the Arkansas River is extremely popular with fly fishermen.
North Platte River Basin
The headwaters of the North Platte begin flowing in North Park near the Colorado-Wyoming border. An underrated fishing area in the state, a 4.5-mile stretch of river near Northgate Canyon holds Gold Medal quality fishing with wild trout.
South Platte River Basin
With some of the best fishing areas of the state—the Dream Stream, Elevenmile Canyon, Cheesman Canyon, Deckers, Waterton Canyon, and other locations—the South Platte offers notable brown and rainbow trout year-round.