Top 6 Lakes to Visit in Colorado: Fishing, Camping, Swimming & More

Best Lakes in Colorado to Visit

Colorado's diverse landscape boasts an array of stunning lakes, each with its own charm and allure. From the vast expanse of Grand Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to the recreational opportunities at Lake Nighthorse in Durango, there is no shortage of natural beauty to explore. But what truly sets these lakes apart and makes them the best in Colorado? Let's uncover the unique features and experiences that make these bodies of water stand out among the rest.

Grand Lake

Grand Lake, Colorado

Grand Lake holds the distinction of being the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado, spanning over 500 acres and reaching depths of nearly 400 feet. Situated at an elevation of 8,369 feet in a high alpine setting, Grand Lake offers visitors a unique experience surrounded by dense forests and rising peaks.

Visitors to Grand Lake can partake in a variety of activities throughout the year, from boating and fishing to stand-up paddleboarding and other water sports. The lake's picturesque setting provides an ideal backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the great outdoors. Those looking to relax can enjoy one of the best beaches in Colorado, a designated swimming area complete with picnic tables, perfect for a leisurely day by the water.

Grand Lake also boasts a historic boardwalk and Grand Lake Marina, making it convenient for visitors to access watercraft rentals and explore the lake. The town surrounding Grand Lake offers local eateries and shops, adding to the charm of this natural gem in Colorado. With its year-round season and a wide range of activities, Grand Lake truly stands out as a must-visit destination among Colorado lakes.

Lake Nighthorse

Located less than five miles from Historic Downtown Durango, Lake Nighthorse offers a variety of recreational activities and scenic beauty, making it one of the best lakes in the region. The 1,500-acre lake is perfect for water sports, fishing, and picnicking.

Boating is a popular activity at Lake Nighthorse, with options for both motorized and non-motorized boats. The lake is open for motorized boating from mid-May to mid-November, while non-motorized boats are allowed from April through mid-November. For those who enjoy fishing, Lake Nighthorse is stocked with kokanee salmon and rainbow trout, providing a great spot for anglers.

The Lake Nighthorse Trail offers a scenic 2.3-mile out-and-back hike along the shore, suitable for families and leashed pets. One of the best hiking trails in Durango, it provides beautiful views of the lake and surrounding nature. Additionally, swimming is a favorite activity at the lake's Wibit Aqua Park, open from June to early September. The inflatable water park is great for kids and adults, with lifeguards on duty to ensure safety.

Picnicking is also a highlight at Lake Nighthorse, with a shaded pavilion and plenty of open spaces to relax and enjoy a meal. Visitors should be mindful of the park rules, such as no glass bottles and requiring proper disposal of trash due to the area's wildlife.

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake, Colorado Rocky Mountains

Heading nearly 400 miles northwest of Lake Nighthorse and the Durango community, Emerald Lake offers a serene and picturesque destination for visitors seeking a high-altitude adventure. Accessible via a 4-mile hike from the Bear Lake trailhead, this stunning alpine lake sits at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks. The trail leading to Emerald Lake passes by two other beautiful lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, adding to the allure of the journey.

Hiking to Emerald Lake is a popular activity, so it's advisable to start early in the day to avoid crowds, especially on weekends. The pristine waters of Emerald Lake are often calm, reflecting the towering mountains and lush greenery that encircle it. Visitors can bask in the tranquility of the area, surrounded by the sounds of nature and the crisp mountain air.

Boulder Reservoir

Nestled within a 700-acre recreation area near Boulder, one of the best cities in Colorado, the vibrant Boulder Reservoir beckons outdoor enthusiasts with its array of water skiing, fishing, and sandy beaches. Lifeguards are on duty, ensuring a safe environment for visitors to enjoy the water activities. The presence of a playground adds to the family-friendly atmosphere of the reservoir. One of the highlights of Boulder Reservoir is the spectacular views it offers of the iconic Flatiron Mountains, providing a picturesque backdrop for a day of outdoor fun.

Whether seeking an adrenaline rush or a relaxing day by the water, the reservoir caters to a diverse range of preferences. Its year-round season further enhances its appeal, allowing visitors to experience its beauty and recreational offerings whenever they'd like.

Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake, Colorado

Visitors must embark on a challenging 1.2-mile hike to reach the crystal-clear turquoise waters of Hanging Lake, a National Natural Landmark located 50 miles north of Aspen. The trail to Hanging Lake, starting at the Hanging Lake Rest Area off I-70, offers a strenuous but rewarding experience through a steep ascent that showcases stunning waterfalls and lush vegetation. Swimming and fishing are strictly prohibited to preserve the lake's pristine environment. Additionally, dogs, drones, and any form of contact with the water aren't allowed.

During peak seasons, timed reservations and permits are mandatory for those wishing to visit Hanging Lake, ensuring that the delicate ecosystem remains protected from overuse. This reservation system helps manage the flow of visitors, preventing overcrowding and allowing each guest to appreciate the natural beauty of Hanging Lake undisturbed.

Elkhead Reservoir

Located in northwest Colorado near Craig, Elkhead Reservoir is a 900-acre recreational area offering various outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy. The surrounding Elkhead Reservoir State Park provides picnic sites where families and friends can gather for a relaxing day out. Boating enthusiasts can take to the water, whether for a peaceful cruise or some exciting jet skiing. Additionally, horseback riding trails around the reservoir offer a unique way to explore the scenic surroundings.

A standout feature of Elkhead Reservoir is its pet-friendly policy, allowing visitors to bring along their leashed dogs to enjoy the outdoor fun. For those looking to extend their stay, Elkhead Reservoir offers some of the best places to camp in Colorado, including the Pronghorn and Bears Ears campsites, providing opportunities for overnight adventures under the starlit skies. Moreover, moderately priced hotels in Craig cater to those seeking more traditional accommodation options while exploring the reservoir and its neighboring attractions.

Visit Colorado's Best Lakes

Overall, Colorado's lakes offer a diverse range of experiences for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you're seeking a peaceful escape near Denver or an adventurous challenge in Southwest Colorado, the best lakes in Colorado provide the perfect backdrop for memorable experiences in the great outdoors. Don't miss out on exploring these stunning natural gems in the Centennial State.

If you're ready to move to Colorado, call Colorado Property Group of RE/MAX with Durango Homes for Sale at (970) 946-0601 to reach a local real estate agent who can help you find your dream home.

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