Popular Colorado Lakes
Colorado Lakes in the Summer
Summer in Colorado means sunshine, afternoon thunderstorms, and long days perfect for hanging out at any one of the many Colorado lakes. 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 whether you’re enjoying the scenery or dipping your toes in, hanging lake-side is a great way to cool off in the summer. Many Colorado lakes are managed by Colorado State Parks and provide a full gamut of amenities. While others are more secluded, accessible only by hiking. There are way too many to list them all, but here are a few to get you started in your quest to cool off this summer.
Hanging LakeBeautiful Hanging Lake, in Glenwood Canyon, is one of the most well-known Colorado lakes, 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 CristobalAt 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 ReservoirDillon 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).
Ice LakesLocated 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 Colorado lakes, known for their stunning turquoise-blue color and the wildflowers that grow in abundance on the trail.
Horsetooth ReservoirThis 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 ReservoirBlue 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.
Grand LakeBlue 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 Colorado lakes—Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby—which are worth checking out.
McPhee LakeFrom 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 LakeYou 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 LakeSteamboat Lake is a hidden gem. This Colorado 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 LakesDid you know there are over 300 Colorado lakes in Grand Mesa National Forest? At 10k elevation, the Colorado lakes in this northwest region of the state 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.
Boulder ReservoirWith 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.
Monarch LakeJust 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.
Many Colorado Lakes to Choose FromThere are literally hundreds of options when it comes to Colorado Lakes, 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.
by Emily Krempholtz