Popular Colorado Lakes
by Emily Krempholtz
Summer in Colorado means sunshine, afternoon thunderstorms, and long days perfect for sipping craft beer on a patio. Despite occasional complaints from outsiders, transplants, and disgruntled beach bums that Colorado is a landlocked state, Colorado is home to thousands of lakes, both natural and man-made, and wether you’re enjoying the scenery or dipping your toes in, hanging lake-side is a great way to cool off in the summer. Some of Colorado’s lakes are accessible by car, with opportunities for boating, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding, while others are more secluded, accessible only by hiking. There are way too many to list them all, but here’s a few to get you started in your quest to cool off this summer.
We’ll start with a no brainer. Beautiful Hanging Lake, in Glenwood Canyon, is one of the most well known lakes in Colorado, so much so that hiking to it can sometimes feel more like waiting in line at an amusement park than a serene nature hike. But there’s a reason for its popularity, and that reason is Hanging Lake’s wispy waterfalls, emerald green waters, and unique geological formations, which come together to form one of the most breathtakingly beautiful lakes you’ve ever seen. Please note that you cannot swim in this lake, but the hike to see it is worth the effort.
Lake San Cristobal
At 2.1 miles long and almost 90 feet deep at its deepest point, Lake San Cristobal is the second largest natural lake in Colorado. Located near Lake City in the San Juan Mountains, Lake San Cristobal is full of trout and is popular for fishing, boating, kayaking, and canoeing. At the south end of the lake, in the Red Gulch Day Use Area, there’s even pavilions and picnic tables for scenic parties and gatherings.
Dillon Reservoir is an easily accessible lake in the I-70 corridor, bordering the towns of Dillon, Frisco, and Silverthorne, and has almost 30 miles of shoreline. At Frisco Bay Marina, you’ll find rental companies for kayaks and stand up paddleboards, as well as fishing equipment rentals and guided fishing tour companies, and a launch ramp for those who want to BYOB (bring your own boat).
Located in the San Juans near Silverton, you’ll have to hike a couple of miles to get to Ice Lakes, but you will definitely not regret it. The Ice Lakes are some of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado, known for their stunning turquoise blue color and the wildflowers that grow in abundance on the trail.
This long reservoir near Fort Collins is surrounded on all sides by steep red rock formations, including Horsetooth Rock, for which it is named. Popular with locals for boating, kayaking, swimming, and stand up paddleboarding, Horsetooth Reservoir can get crowded on hot days during the summer, but there’s plenty of water for everyone.
Blue Mesa Reservoir
Blue Mesa Reservoir is located near Gunnison, and it’s the largest body of water in Colorado. When you visit Blue Mesa Reservoir, you’ll have your pick of activities, from boating and kayaking to swimming and fishing, and at the water’s edge you’ll find gorgeous mountain views and some fun local shops and restaurants.
Blue Mesa might be the largest body of water in Colorado, but Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in the state. The Western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter wonderland during the colder months, but in the summer, Grand Lake offers sailing, fishing, and swimming, not to mention an impressive and scenic boardwalk full of local businesses. The waters of Grand Lake are also connected to two other lakes—Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby—which are worth checking out.
From the McPhee Lake scenic overlook, you can see not only the incredible beauty of the Rocky Mountains, but a 360 degree view that offers you a look at four states. Where else can you find that?
Maroon Lake & Crater Lake
You might not know them by name, but if you saw a picture of Maroon Lake or Crater Lake, framed in the background by the gorgeous Maroon Bells, you’d probably recognize them. These two lakes are some of the most photographed scenery in a state that’s full of photo-worthy scenery, and if you take a hike near Aspen or Crested Butte, you might just figure out for yourself why.
Steamboat Lake is a hidden gem, though locals in the Steamboat Springs area take full advantage. This lake has beautiful Hahn’s Peak rising up in the background, and it’s part of Steamboat Lake State Park. There’s plenty of opportunity for hiking, camping, picnics, and water activities like boating, fishing, and swimming.
The Grand Mesa Lakes
Did you know there are over 300 lakes in Grand Mesa National Forest? At 10k elevation, the lakes in this northwest Colorado region stay pretty chilly in the summertime, and there’s enough of a variety of lakes that some of them can be reached with ATVs or four-wheel drive, but others are only accessible via hiking, biking, or horseback riding. Embark on an adventure to find fishing, camping, and other opportunities in the Mesa Lakes.
With the Flatirons in full view behind it, and its easy location just north of Boulder, Boulder Reservoir—and its two sister lakes, Sixmile Reservoir and Coot Lake—are a convenient place for Boulder residents and other Front Rangers to cool off on a hot summer day. Dog friendly, with trails, beaches, and lots of places to stop and picnic, Boulder Reservoir has opportunities for swimming, boating, and more.
Just southeast of Lake Granby is Monarch Lake, a small but stunning slice of what Colorado has to offer. The Monarch Lake Loop Trail is 4 miles packed with wildflowers and wildlife—locals call it one of the most surefire places to find a moose anywhere in the state.
There are literally hundreds of options when it comes to lakes in Colorado, so whether you’re looking for a challenging hike with a lake-centric view or a place to cool off when the temperature starts to creep up toward the triple digits, you are more than covered.