13 Best Lakes in Colorado that You Can’t Miss

written by local expert Laura Byrne

After losing her office job at the start of the pandemic and unable to travel, Laura decided to Get Serious. While locked down she wrote more, hiked the mountains near her home, and learned how to make the best garlic and coriander naan bread in Ireland. She is still trying to work out which is her best achievement (probably the bread, it's awesome).

It’s tough to pick the best lakes in Colorado when there are over 4,000 natural and man-made ones to choose from!  

Despite being known more for its land based wonders such as mountain ranges, forests and  canyons, Colorado is also home to lush alpine lakes and extensive reservoirs that offer visitors an opportunity for every type of outdoor activity.  

And if one thing has become clear over the last eighteen months, it’s that we have all rediscovered the value of being outside in natural outdoor settings.  It’s no wonder that more and more of us now wish to incorporate the outside world into our vacations!

However, it can be difficult to pick a spot to base yourself during your Centennial State vacation.  But don’t worry – if you’re feeling unsure, you can relax because we’ve done the research for you.  Here are our choices for the best lakes in Colorado for swimming, boating, camping, and fishing.

Best Lakes in Colorado for Swimming

Grand Lake

Location: Grand Lake

As the largest natural lake in Colorado, Grand Lake has plenty of room for swimming.  Situated next to the historic town of Grand Lake, with its famous picturesque boardwalk of shops and restaurants, there’s lots to do here.  

Take a walk to Grand Lake Marina, where you’ll find a sandy beach open to the public, and enjoy a cooling dip.  Make sure you bring a blanket to lay down on afterwards because you’ll want to take in the views!  

The Rocky Mountain National Park surrounds Grand Lake on three sides and provides a spectacular backdrop all year round.  Make use of the picnic tables or grab lunch at one of the many restaurants.  

There’s even a grassy area for more play!  You can access Grand Lake at the western entrance of the Rocky Mountain National Park, and walk downtown towards the lake for your first glimpses of this sensational body of water.

Grand Lake Boulder Reservoir

Location: Northern Boulder

If you’re swimming with children you will appreciate the safety measures at Boulder Reservoir.  Located in the northern part of Boulder, it spans 700 acres and boasts great views of the Flatiron Mountains.  

Known tenderly as ‘The Rez’ by locals, the designated swimming and beach areas are watched over by American Red Cross lifeguards.   You’ll also find several roped off swimming areas, with the one closest to the shore reserved for young children.  

To go through to the next roped section, children over 12 must pass a swim test first.  For even more peace of mind, amenities based near the Visitor Centre include restrooms, showers, and lockers.  

And when everyone has built up an appetite there are picnic tables for a packed lunch and even a new coffee shop which opened in 2021.  What’s not to love about Boulder Reservoir?

Horsetooth Reservoir

Location: Fort Collins

With 1,900 acres of public lands holding over six miles of water, Horsetooth Reservoir County Park stretches from the base of the Rocky Mountains to Horsetooth Mountain.  The reservoir is named after the mountain which derives it’s name from looking like a giant horse’s tooth!   

Next to the South Bay Campground is a sandy swim beach, which is the only sandy shore open for day use in the Reservoir.  

Here, you’ll find picnic tables and fire rings, outdoor showers and a covered picnic shelter, perfect for those hot summer days.  This is a good sized beach but it does get busy – as with a lot of the more popular lakes arrive early to avoid missing this great spot to dip a toe! Horsetooth Reservoir-min

Cherry Creek Reservoir

Location: Aurora

Located just 30 minutes out of downtown Denver, Cherry Creek Reservoir in Cherry Creek State Park is a great option for a relaxing swim.  Make your way towards the marina at the north-western side of the water to find the swim beach.  

Imagine lots of white sand on a spacious bank, broken up by picnic tables and broadleaf trees.  The view is of calm waters, and in the distance, the peaks of The Front Range and the Denver Tech Center.  

As you can probably guess with that convenient location, this park gets really busy on the weekends.  So arrive early and get that natural lake feeling close to the city!

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Best Lakes in Colorado for Boating

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Location: Gunnison 

If you’re going to explore by boat, you’ll need a lot of lake.  How does a 20 mile long reservoir, with 96 miles of shoreline sound?  We think that sounds pretty good!  Welcome to the Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest lake.  

Located in Western Colorado near the town of Gunnison, the Blue Mesa Reservoir rests within the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Private boats are welcome (subject to state permits and inspections) or you can rent one at Elk Creek Marina.  

If that sounds like too much work to you, there’s also the option of a guided tour led by a Park Ranger, which covers the waters near Black Canyon during the summer.   Whatever you choose to do, boating at Blue Mesa provides plenty of room to explore and enjoy the adventure! Blue Mesa Reservoir

Chatfield Lake

Location: Littleton

For a boating vacation spot that recognizes the importance of not overwhelming the water (and visitors!), look no further than Chatfield Lake.  You’ll find this lake southwest of Denver in Chatfield State Park.  

During the busy summer months, the lake is divided into usage zones depending on the activity being undertaken.  Those who wish to enjoy general boating and water skiing will find themselves within the Power Zone, travelling in a counter-clockwise direction.  

If you want to have a quieter life as you fish, canoe, or just chill out, you’ll find yourself in one of two designated No Wake Zones where peace is assured.  If things get super busy, the rangers at the boat docks will not launch any new vessels until another one leaves the reservoir.  The same rules apply for car park capacity, so come early and enjoy all that this beautiful lake has to offer. Chatfield Lake

Lake Granby

Location:  Granby

Full of little coves and marinas, Lake Granby is justly loved by boaters and water enthusiasts.  With 7,000 acres and 40 miles of shoreline on the Colorado River, this is the third largest lake in the state.  

The lake was created by the construction of the Granby Dam in 1950 and is home to The Lake Granby Yacht Club which at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, is one of the highest in the US!   

Navigating a boat here is a must-do and there are several marinas where you can rent a boat.  You can also bring your own and with permission, use the ramp access points at the Stillwater Campground or the recreation area at Sunset Point.   

With beautiful Rocky Mountain views, a day spent on Lake Granby might be just what the doctor ordered. You’ll find Lake Granby just five miles outside the town of Granby and close to our other list favorite, Grand Lake! Lake Granby

Best Lakes in Colorado for Camping

Indian Peaks Wilderness

Location: Near Denver/Boulder metro area

Okay so this isn’t strictly one lake, but we had to mention this stunning location because it’s home to so many alpine lakes!  AND it’s close to the city – a 45 minute drive west of Boulder and an hour northwest from Denver.  

Just south of the Rocky Mountain National Park you will find miles of trails, pristine nature, recreational areas and some pretty amazing campsites.   One of the most popular is located in Brainard Lake Recreation Area, and you can camp there with permission obtained online.  

Amenities are basic – vault toilets and a campfire ring, but that’s pretty good for the wilderness!  You’ll also have access to drinking water, picnic tables and views to die for from your elevated position of over 10,000 feet.  Don’t forget you can also avail of many water sports at Brainard Lake too, including fishing and kayaking, and there’s always a woodland trail nearby to hike.  

Indian Peaks Wilderness-min Shadow Mountain Lake

Location:  Grand Lake

North from Granby on Highway 34 and close to Grand Lake, you’ll find your next camping adventure at Shadow Mountain Lake.  With 8 miles of shoreline there’s plenty to explore here before settling down for the night.  

The Green Ridge campground has 80 campsites (and a couple of boat launch ramps should you wish to fish for trout or salmon!) with room for tents, trailers and RVs.  You’ll also find drinking water, toilets and picnic tables for your convenience.  

At an elevation of 8,300 feet, amazing views of the Rocky Mountains National Park peaks are guaranteed too.

Green Mountain Reservoir

Location: Heeney

If you’re after quieter campgrounds with beautiful lake views, pack your tent for Green Mountain Reservoir.  It runs for miles along Highway 9, north of Silverthorne and south of Kremmling.  

Stop at either of these locations to pick up supplies as you’ll only find one general store around the lake (in Heeney).  Originally constructed in1943, the Reservoir provides water to the local community but also happens to be a great location for campers who appreciate a quieter atmosphere.  

Vault toilets and fire grates are the main amenities but hey, that’s what keeps the crowds away!  Before putting your head down for the night though, consider the many activities you can take part in.  

You might want to rent a boat and motor around the lake, or hike one of the trails and photograph the dazzling views around you.  Then again, putting your feet up and embracing the tranquil atmosphere could be the ultimate way to unwind at Green Mountain Reservoir!

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Best Lakes in Colorado for Fishing

Lake Pueblo State Park

Location:  Pueblo

If you’re after year-round fishing – with mild winters that DO NOT freeze the water! – then you need to check out Lake Pueblo State Park.  That warmer weather provides plenty of fishing opportunities within the 5,000 surface acres of water all year round, whether from a boat or propped up alongside the 60 miles of shoreline!  

Once you have a valid fishing license with you, the river corridors and ponds are yours to explore.  You will find plenty of game fish such as Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass, along with catfish and wiper (which can be caught by spear fishing).  

Trout is plentiful in the river east of the dam and in some of the ponds.  Check first with Colorado Parks and Wildlife for restrictions on catch quantities, and enjoy responsible fishing at this stunning location in any season!

Lake Pueblo State Park Lake John

Location:  Walden area

How do an extensive stock of Snake River cutthroat and rainbow trout sound?  If the answer is ‘just sensational!’ then Lake John should be at the top of your fishing destination list.   

Even though it can get quite busy, there’s room for everyone.  Lake John’s 565 surface acres are on state land – so there is a lot of public space to fish in.  And if you take your fishing even more seriously, you might be interested in the several tournaments held during the summer months.  

In winter, it’s all about quietly fly fishing in this peaceful, pristine environment.  You’ll find this natural lake located some 15 miles northwest of Walden in north central Colorado.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir

Location:  South Park 

World class Gold Medal trout fishing.  2500 surface acres of shoreline.  It could only be Spinney Mountain Reservoir where you can fish from the shoreline or catch rainbow trout, northern pike and yellow perch from a boat (with permission and inspection).   

Spinney Mountain Reservoir is closed when the water freezes, so no ice fishing here.  But come spring time, crowds of fly fishers come back and you can see why.  Trout is large and plentiful, especially in those first few days of re-opening.  

A fall trout stocking program coupled with hungry fish looking for food in the shallows just after the ice melts brings fantastic fishing conditions, even from the shore.  

Once you’re done catching, you can hit one of the dozen picnic sites on either side of the reservoir and cook up a storm on one of the grills provided!

Colorado is home to thousands of lakes and reservoirs that offer something to visitors all year round and we hope we’ve made a good case for you to spend your holiday in this western star.   

Who’d have thought it – a landlocked state with so much amazing shoreline and wide sandy beaches!  You’ll also find awesome scenery that includes mountain peaks, high plains, desert land, and charming old-fashioned towns with every modern amenity. 

 If you’re coming outside to play during your next vacation, the best lakes in Colorado are ready to welcome you! 

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