Colorado is home to some of the most breathtaking alpine lakes in the country – if not the world – but many of these natural beauties are off-limits to boaters.
Whether it be to protect a fragile body of water or protect the public from a dangerous situation, it is important to know which lakes are accessible for water-based recreation and which are not.
But this does not mean that options for boating are limited in the slightest. In fact, Colorado is made up of over four thousand lakes and reservoirs, the largest being Blue Mesa.
Each of these lakes boasts its own unique features but you will almost always be surrounded by breathtaking mountains, vibrant flora, and wildlife galore. Not to mention, the crystal-clear water itself!
The bottom line is that you will enjoy your time regardless of where you decide to launch your boat, but check out this list of the top 12 boating lakes in Colorado to make the most of your time in this beautiful state.
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1. Blue Mesa
Located deep within the Curecanti National Recreation Area, Blue Mesa Reservoir is one of the best places in Colorado to enjoy a variety of outdoor recreation.
Visitors will have over twenty miles of reservoir to explore, and visitors wandering on foot can also enjoy its near hundred miles of shoreline.
You will find people swimming here from time to time, but it is usually only for a quick dip because the reservoir is fed by melting snow, which makes it quite chilly year-round.
However, this can be a blessing on hot summer days after a long excursion up and around the nearby mountains.
If it wasn’t obvious already, most people who visit Blue Mesa come here to spend time out on the water, so you’ll notice people fishing on boats, sailing across the water, and enjoying an exciting day of windsurfing.
Speaking of fishing, this reservoir is known for offering some of the best fishing opportunities in Colorado and is considered the largest Kokanee Salmon fishery in the United States.
If you are still new to the fishing world, there are plenty of local guides that would love to take you out on the water and show you how it’s done.
Just keep in mind that Blue Mesa is prone to some pretty hazardous winds, so it is extremely important to keep an eye on the water to avoid getting yourself into a dangerous situation.
After a long day out on the water, you will be happy to know that the reservoir hosts a variety of lodging accommodations with more than enough availability to pitch a tent or book a room in one of the nearby cabins.
Who wouldn’t want to spend the night along the water and wake up to the breathtaking views of mountains all around you?
With the vibrant town of Fort Collins right at its doorstep, the Horsetooth Reservoir is a great option for boaters who love the remote beauty of the water and the convenience of nearby civilization.
The reservoir gets its name from the interesting rock formation that sits at its center, and while the legend behind it is pretty gruesome, there is no denying the beauty it adds to the area.
The reservoir spans about seven miles and you will find people here enjoying all kinds of water-based recreation like kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and sailing.
Some people will even come here just to sit by the water at one of the many picnic tables and enjoy a scenic lunch with friends or family.
Like most places in Colorado, hiking is in abundance here, and some of the trails are even accessible to equestrians and mountain bikers.
Thrill-seekers will most definitely find themselves drawn to Rotary Park on the eastern edge of the reservoir where they can partake in some of the best bouldering the state has to offer.
You can spend weeks here without getting sick of the place, and locals know that – new options for lodging accommodations are always popping up.
Have your pick between traditional campsites and luxury cabins or opt for something a bit cozier like one of the bed & breakfasts.
You’ll find everything you need to enjoy your time right on the shores of the reservoir and if that’s not enough, there are always watercraft available for rent.
Grand Lake is one of the most iconic in all of Colorado – if not the country – and one visit here will have you agreeing.
The humble town of Grand Lake just further demonstrates how beautiful Colorado really is, and you can spend weeks hopping between different activities and outdoor recreation.
And the lake sits right at the heart of it all. At just minutes from downtown Main Street, you can easily walk between the town and the shoreline at your leisure.
It is also important to note that Grand Lake is the deepest natural lake in the state with some sections reaching a whopping depth of 265 feet.
With so much of this big blue water to explore, the best way to make the most of your first time here is by booking a tour with Headwaters Marina, where you will get to see all of the lake’s highlights and learn about its Native American history.
But if you have time to explore the lake on your own, feel free to rent kayaks or paddleboards for a full day of adventure. Just make sure you get here early because this popular lake has a habit of selling out of its rentals by mid-morning.
The good news is that the Wake Coffee Shop starts serving up freshly brewed coffee at 7 am sharp so you can fuel up for your day while taking in the morning views of the water.
And if you know a thing or two about Colorado, then you know that fly fishing is all the rage. What better place to partake in the state’s favorite pastime than on this famous lake?
Beginners can enjoy an informative fly fishing tour through Kirks Fly Shop, and many of the excursions even include meals to keep you energized through your adventures.
Once you have had your fun on the water, take to the lake on foot by going on one of the scenic hikes like Adams Falls, which takes you into the famous Rocky Mountain National Park and lets you gaze at a beautiful 55-foot waterfall.
Spread out across Colorado and New Mexico, the Navajo Lake is a great place to take in diverse geological views while on your boat ride.
The lake stretches out over 25 miles so there is plenty of room for all kinds of travelers to enjoy a day out on their kayak, boat, or stand-up paddleboard.
And if you don’t have a watercraft of your own, the marina will be happy to supply you with your choice of a pontoon, fishing boat, or jet ski.
If launching in Colorado, you will want to head over to the Two River Marina, but you always have New Mexico’s Navajo Lake Marina as an option as well.
While you are out on the water, you’ll notice a variety of luxury cabins peppered along the shoreline and each supplies visitors with a picturesque place to spend the night after a long day.
And there is always the option of setting up a tent at one of the 118 campsites scattered throughout the park.
Fishermen will be overjoyed with the abundance of opportunities that await them on the water, with a plentiful variety of fish to be found both in shallow and deep water.
When you are not on the water, you can be hiking through the wilderness on any of the five trails that circle the lake or exploring the nearby San Juan River.
Located within Chatfield State Park in Littleton, Colorado, the Chatfield Reservoir is a fan favorite for boating – and it’s not hard to figure out why.
For starters, the reservoir stretches out over 1,500 acres, so there is plenty of space to enjoy some quiet time on the water. Plus, it is not too far away from the famous city of Denver, so it is easy to make a quick getaway to the great outdoors.
On the water, you’ll find all kinds of watercraft like sailboats, fishing boats, jet skis, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and more.
And when you find yourself wanting to spend even more time at this beautiful place, you can set up camp at any of the 197 sites nestled along the water.
When you are not exploring the water, you can venture along the park’s many hiking trails offerings a whopping 26 miles of exploration.
Fishing is popular all year round and fishermen can’t get enough of the bass, trout, carp, catfish, and sunfish that inhabit these waters.
Those with horses will be happy to hear that almost all of these trails can also be accessed on horseback, so equestrians pretty much have free range.
Nestled in the foothills of the Gore Mountain Range sits the beautiful Dillon Reservoir – and the many charming nearby towns are just icing on the cake.
There is no feeling quite like going for a swim or relaxing on your boat on hot summer days while admiring the views of snow-capped mountains that tower over 14,000 feet.
Like all alpine lakes, the Dillon Reservoir is as crystal clear as it gets and is constantly being fed by snowmelt, making its waters extremely cold.
While this may feel like a dream come true during the summer months, swimming for long periods of time is not advised.
You’ll find everything you need at the Dillon Marina and a visit there means you can boast that you’ve been to the highest deep-water marina on the continent.
At the marina, you can rent a variety of watercraft like pontoon boats, kayaks, sailboats, and stand-up paddleboards, but you’ll also see people just relaxing out on big inflatable floats.
And when you’re not out enjoying the waters, you can explore the reservoir’s 26 miles of shorelines, dotted with beaches and hiking trails to help you pass the time.
There is even a shuttle boat that transports guests and their bikes across the lake.
7. Cherry Creek
A close runner up to Dillon Reservoir is Cherry Creek Lake, and it’s not just because they are only a short distance away from each other.
While the views are similar, with breathtaking mountains surrounding the pristine waters, Cherry Creek is a great alternative if you want to be closer to the city.
Less than thirty minutes from the mile-high city of Denver, you will be amazed by how remote this lake feels while also being close to everything you could possibly need.
The lake spans over 800 acres and the possibilities for water-based recreation are endless – jet skis, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and fishing boats dominate the area.
All around the lake are hiking trails that lead you through wetlands and thick forestry for the ultimate outdoor experience.
Twelve miles of the trails are completely paved, making them accessible to all, with the remaining 35 miles of trails varying in difficulty.
Plus, there are 135 campsites scattered around the area and along the water so you can turn your day trip into a weekend excursion.
Feel free to bring your furry friends along for the ride because there is a designated off-leash dog area that spans over 100 acres and is known as the best dog park in Colorado.
Hidden below the Continental Divide Mountain Range, Boyd Lake State Park is one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets – but it won’t remain that way forever.
There is just too much natural beauty to keep this pristine lake under wraps, but in the meantime, you can enjoy the peaceful solitude of having this place almost completely to yourself.
It is not the largest of Colorado’s lakes, but it is plenty big enough to spend the day boating out on the water or enjoying other watercraft like jet skis and kayaks.
There are 148 campsites to choose from, many of which can accommodate RVs with full hookups, and the campground has other amenities like showers and a playground.
The park also happens to be home to an extensive list of bird species, so bird watchers will be in their own personal heaven as they spot one unique species after another.
Multiple beaches make it easy to lay out your towel, go for a quick swim, or challenge your friends to a game of beach volleyball.
And since the lake is located right at the heart of Loveland, there are endless options for food ranging from quick bites to fine dining.
Known for being one of the largest bodies of water in Colorado, there is much fun to be had on Lake Granby whether it be boating, hiking, camping, or just hanging out.
The lake is made up of 7,256 acres with over 40 miles of shoreline so there is always something new to admire and explore.
This popular lake gets thousands of visitors a year but thanks to its massive size it never feels crowded despite the many kayaks, boats, paddleboards.
Serious boaters may consider joining the Lake Granby Yacht Club, but anyone can make use of the three other boat launches scattered around the lake.
Plus, the lake is constantly being supplied with trout and kokanee salmon to keep the fishermen happy all throughout the season.
With multiple outlets for outdoor recreation in the surrounding area, you’ll definitely want to pack your hiking shoes for this adventure.
Have your pick of hiking trails between the Arapaho National Forest, the Arapaho National Recreation Area, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
After a long day, head into the charming town of Granby where you can pick between a variety of cuisine with plenty of outdoor seating overlooking the mountains.
End your night at one of 260 campsites and if you’re lucky, you will have one of the spots that are right on the lake.
10. John Martin
Nicknamed the “Sapphire on the Plains”, the John Martin Reservoir is a remote wonderland of blue waters, thriving wildlife, and outdoor recreation.
The reservoir has a surface area of over twenty-five miles, so there is plenty of water to explore, and the lack of crowds makes it easy to have this entire lake all to yourself.
When you are not out on the water via boat, kayak, or paddleboard, you can be visiting some of the historic landmarks that are located in the surrounding area.
Highlights include Bent’s Old Fort, where fur was once traded, and the Sand Creek Massacre memorial which stands in remembrance of the Native Americans that were slaughtered there.
Make sure to keep your eyes out for birds, as this reservoir is home to over 350 species, and don’t forget to take the Red Shin Trial around the reservoir to get up close and personal with ancient wall carvings.
As the sun sets, head over to any of the 213 campsites that are scattered around the lake and enjoy amenities like on-site laundry and showers.
Tucked away in a quiet part of Loveland, Colorado, Carter Lake is a great option for boaters looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life without having to go very far.
You’d never guess that city-like conveniences are waiting for you just down the road as you sit out on the lake and take in the beauty of its still water and thriving wildlife.
The lake stretches out about three miles long and one mile wide to create a whopping 1,100 acres of waterfront fun for boaters, kayakers, fishermen, and sailors to enjoy.
And at an elevation of 5,760 feet, it is hard not to feel high above it all.
You’ll find everything you need at the Carter Lake Marina including watercraft rentals, supplies for fishing, and even a waterfront restaurant.
The lake has a magical way of never appearing too busy, but you may spot the occasional couple watching for birds or enjoying a picnic by the water.
The Sundance Trail is perfect for hikers, bikers, and equestrians alike, and the waterfront views along the way are almost impossible to beat.
Spend the night at one of the hundred campsites spread across five campgrounds, many of them providing stellar views of the lake to wake up to each morning.
Just outside of the vibrant town of Leadville sits Turquoise Lake – and it has become one of the best places in the state to enjoy a day of water-based recreation.
While the waters are colorful enough to warrant the name Turquoise Lake, the real reason behind this name revolves around the turquoise mine that once thrived here.
Regardless, this alpine lake is a gem in its own right, with crystal clear waters that stay cool even on the hottest days thanks to its high elevation and frequent snowmelt.
There are two boat launches on the lake and you can easily spend the entire day on its 1,800 acres, whether it be by using a watercraft of your own or a rented one from the marina.
Fishing is a popular activity on Turquoise Lake, regardless of the season, and fishermen pride themselves on the variety of trout they catch in these waters.
Hop on your bike or put on your hiking shoes to explore one of the many trails that circle the beach, or opt for the paved road that climbs up the mountainside and overlooks Mt. Elbert, Mt. Massive, and the Upper Arkansas River Valley.