Geography of La Plata County, Colorado

By | April 4, 2024

Geography of La Plata County, Colorado

La Plata County, located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, is a region of breathtaking natural beauty, diverse landscapes, and rich cultural heritage. From its towering mountain peaks and dense forests to its high desert plateaus and winding rivers, La Plata County offers residents and visitors alike a wealth of outdoor recreational opportunities and scenic wonders.

Topography and Landforms:

According to Wholevehicles, La Plata County’s geography is predominantly characterized by its rugged terrain and diverse landscapes. The county is situated within the Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateau, resulting in a unique blend of mountain ranges, mesas, and valleys.

The terrain in La Plata County varies from high mountain peaks in the San Juan Mountains to rolling hills and plateaus in the southern part of the county. Elevations range from around 5,000 feet above sea level in the valleys to over 14,000 feet at the summit of Mount Eolus, one of the highest peaks in the region. The landscape is shaped by erosion, glaciation, and volcanic activity, resulting in a diverse array of landforms, including canyons, ridges, and alpine meadows.

In addition to its natural features, La Plata County is also home to several man-made landmarks and historic sites, including Mesa Verde National Park, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and the town of Durango, all of which provide insight into the county’s rich history and cultural heritage.


La Plata County experiences a semi-arid climate, characterized by hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. The region’s climate is influenced by its elevation, latitude, and proximity to the Rocky Mountains, resulting in wide temperature variations and limited precipitation.

Summers in La Plata County are typically warm and sunny, with average temperatures ranging from the 70s to the 80s Fahrenheit (21-27 degrees Celsius). Thunderstorms are common during the summer months, bringing brief but intense rainfall and occasional flash flooding to the area.

Winters in La Plata County are cold and snowy, with temperatures often dropping below freezing and occasional snowstorms blanketing the landscape with several inches of snow. Average temperatures in the winter months range from the 20s to the 30s Fahrenheit (-6 to -1 degrees Celsius), although temperatures can plummet to sub-zero levels during cold snaps.

Spring and fall are transitional seasons in La Plata County, marked by fluctuating temperatures, blooming wildflowers, and changing weather patterns. These seasons offer ideal opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and exploring the county’s scenic countryside.

Rivers and Lakes:

La Plata County is traversed by several important rivers and waterways, which play a vital role in shaping the landscape and providing water resources for the region. The Animas River, one of the major rivers in the area, flows through the heart of the county from north to south, offering excellent opportunities for fishing, rafting, and kayaking.

In addition to the Animas River, La Plata County is also home to several smaller rivers and streams, including the Pine River, Los Pinos River, and Florida River, which meander their way through the countryside and provide habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species.

While natural lakes are relatively scarce in La Plata County, the region is home to several man-made reservoirs and recreational lakes, including Vallecito Reservoir, Lemon Reservoir, and Navajo Lake, which provide opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, and water recreation. These water bodies also serve as important habitat for waterfowl and other aquatic species.

Ecology and Biodiversity:

La Plata County’s diverse geography supports a rich array of plant and animal life, from alpine meadows and pine forests to desert scrublands and riparian habitats. The region’s diverse ecosystems are home to a variety of species, including elk, mule deer, black bears, and birds of prey.

Efforts to conserve and protect La Plata County’s natural heritage are ongoing, with organizations such as the Colorado Division of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and local land trusts working to preserve critical habitats, restore riparian areas, and promote sustainable land management practices.


La Plata County, Colorado, is a region of diverse geography, rich natural resources, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Its semi-arid climate, abundant water resources, and diverse ecosystems make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those seeking a peaceful retreat in nature.

Whether hiking through the mountains of Mesa Verde National Park, rafting down the Animas River, or exploring the historic streets of Durango, visitors to La Plata County are sure to be captivated by its natural beauty and cultural heritage.