Situated on a scenic red-rock cove of McPhee Reservoir, the House Creek campground is a well-known hangout that continues to attract visitors from Southwestern states and beyond.
A recent tour with newly hired manager Anthony Casillas met with people from Summit Ridge, Cortez, Durango, and Kansas.
"During the weekends and holidays, we fill up to capacity with vacationers mostly from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah," he said. "With 65 campsites, it's one of the largest in Colorado."
Casillas, 35, is an energetic outdoorsman who says being a campground host is a "dream job that's a good fit for me."
Taking a break from a riding mower with his loyal passenger - a friendly Pug named 'One-eyed Rico' - he explained the day-to-day routine of managing the campground.
"I love helping out the campers with whatever they need, and I really take pride in campground maintenance and keeping the bathrooms very clean so that people are comfortable," Casillas said. "Boaters stop in just for that."
Use has been historically low at House Creek, which is under Forest Service jurisdiction, but operated under lease by Rocky Mountain Recreation. Officials are hopeful that a new marina in at the nearby McPhee boat ramp will help boost recreation visitors on the lake.
In 2010, the House Creek campground was 19 percent occupied for July, the busiest month, according to Forest Service data. Occupancy jumped to 25 percent in 2012 for July, then dropped to 17 percent for the same month in 2013, the latest numbers available.
"The people love it here; I've had no problems," Casillas said. "When some cattle wandered through, the city kids were excited. The cowboy came in and rounded them up."
The remote area accessed off the Dolores-Norwood Road is good wildlife habitat for deer, elk, mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats. A bear and her two cubs were recently sighted nearby, but they have avoided the campground.
House Creek also features a large boat dock, ample boat parking, 12 bathrooms, a swimming beach, and nearby trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The new non-motorized McPhee Overlook trail is expected to connect House Creek with Dolores by next summer.
A water-treatment plant provides safe drinking water drawn from wells, there is an RV dump site, and campsites offer electrical hookups, fire pits, and picnic tables.
"One of our great features are the camping sites along the lake shore where you can pull your boat up to," Casillas points out. "The fishing at the head of the cove has been really good."
Locally, there has been a renewed effort to try and promote McPhee Reservoir recreation, which has been historically under-utilized, and suffered from fewer amenities due to Forest Service budget cuts.
"I'm glad to hear they are putting in the marina, it's so beautiful here, but people don't know about it," says newlywed Julie Jacobsen, who arrived with her husband, Rick, for some camping and motor boating. "There's been the perception that it's been neglected."
The Durango couple recently rediscovered the lake, and prefer it to Lake Powell.
"It's cleaner here, and better maintained. It's not overrun with crowds like Navajo or Powell," Rick Jacobsen said. "The lake is much bigger than it looks from the highway with a lot of interesting places to explore."
Forty percent of the campsites at House Creek are first come, first serve. Fees are $19 per night for non-electric sites, and $25 for sites with electric hook-ups. Day use is $5.
To reserve a site, go to www.recreation.gov/housecreek