Of all the stunning features in Colorado’s beautiful outdoor landscape, we think its picturesque mountain lakes are what truly sets it apart. So we’ve decided to share our 10 favorites, in the hopes that you can get out there this summer and take them all in. Here they are!
1. Hanging Lake
- Location: Glenwood Springs, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Day Hiking
The combination of beauty and accessibility makes Hanging Lake our Best Lake in Colorado for Day Hikes. The trailhead is located off I-70 about 10 miles east of Glenwood Springs, making it easily accessible from both Aspen and the Vail area. The hike itself is a relatively short 3-mile out-and-back route but has over 1,000 ft of vertical gain that adds a bit of exercise to the day.
The payoff is one of the most gorgeous lakes in all of Colorado and includes a beautiful waterfall as well. The route can get crowded during peak season but is worth it for the Instagram photo.
Pro tip: Check out PeakSeason’s 10 Best Hikes in Colorado for other great hikes just like Hanging Lake in the Colorado area.
2. Monarch Lake & Crater Lake
- Location: Granby, CO
- Activity: Best Lake(s) for a Long Hike
Why settle for just one when you can have two lakes? (Actually, it’s three counting Mirror Lake along the way.) These two lakes sit on opposite ends of a 14.9-mile out-and-back hike located west of Boulder near Granby, CO.
The hike begins at Monarch Lake on the Cascade Trail and passes several large waterfalls. After about six miles, hikers turn onto the Crater Lake Trail and ends with a beautiful view of that lake and Lone Eagle Peak in the background.
Although this route can be completed in a day, it makes for a perfect overnight backpacking trip as well.
3. Twin Lakes
- Location: Twin Lakes, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Stand Up Paddleboarding
The tiny town of Twin Lakes is located in a quiet area of Colorado near Leadville and the Arkansas River, below Independence Pass. The two glacial lakes are almost always eerily quiet, making them perfect for a SUP jaunt.
While you’re there, check out a boat tour of the abandoned Interlaken Resort and travel back in time to a wealthy retreat that was built in 1879.
Pro Tip: If you’re into rafting, some of Colorado’s finest whitewater rafting is located nearby on the Arkansas River. Combine a whitewater trip down The Numbers with an overnight at Twin Lakes for an experience you’ll never forget.
4. Blue Mesa Reservoir
- Location: Gunnison, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Boating
The Blue Mesa Reservoir is Colorado’s largest body of water, spanning over 20 miles. The abundance of space, as well as two full-service marinas, makes Blue Mesa Colorado’s best lake for boating.
There’s plenty of space for towing water skiers or wakeboarders, or just heading out to catch some local trout. Blue Mesa also offers numerous camping options for boaters. What more could you need?
5. Ruedi Reservoir:
- Location: Basalt, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Fishing
Ruedi Reservoir is located in the Fryingpan River Valley, about 14 miles east of Basalt, CO. The Fryingpan River and the Reservoir offer some of the best fishing in all of Colorado. Local anglers come out in droves looking for rainbow and lake trout, as well as the occasional kokanee.
Ice fishing is also allowed, but you won’t find us out there in the cold!
6. Jackson Lake State Park:
- Location: Orchard, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Beaching
Beaching may not be the first thing you think of in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. And sometimes you need a rest from all the hiking and biking. Our favorite beach in Colorado is located in Jackson Lake State Park, about an hour northeast of Denver.
Aside from just liming out on the beach, you can also boat, jet ski, and fish on the lake. In fact, the park is even a popular location for birdwatching. Campsites are by reservation only, so make yours in advance.
7. Trappers Lake
- Location: Flat Tops Wilderness Area, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Camping
If you check other lists for Best Lakes in Colorado for Camping, you may not see Trappers Lake on there at all and that’s the point. Trappers is located in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, a place not easily accessible from the closest major resort areas. The payoff is perfection, a 300-acre lake beneath picturesque volcanic cliffs that is now the cornerstone of a 235,000 protected wilderness area.
Pro Tip: Bring a fishing rod. Trappers Lake is renowned as the state’s top breeding ground for native Colorado River cutthroat trout.
8. Maroon Lake
- Location: Aspen, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Photographing
Maroon Lake (and the Bells behind it) is likely to be the most photographed location in all of Colorado. But the truth is, it is even more beautiful in person. While there are dozens of hikes in the area and campsites are plentiful, the ease of accessibility draws dozens of photographers to Maroon Lake every day.
During the summer, a shuttle from Aspen Highlands takes riders on a 20-minute ride up the valley to Maroon Lake at the base of the Bells. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children aged 6-16.
9. Chatfield State Park:
- Location: Littleton, CO
- Activity: Best Lake near Denver
If you must live in a big city, live in Denver. Then you can take advantage of outdoor offerings like Chatfield Park and its 1,423 acre Chatfield Reservoir. The park is located on the southern reaches of Denver’s outskirts (a.k.a. Littleton), still less than an hours drive from downtown.
Once there, you can engage in any number of outdoor activities usually reserved for wilderness areas. Fishing, birdwatching, camping, and even horseback riding are all popular.
- Location: Boulder, CO
- Activity: Best Lake for Windsurfing
Boulder Reservoir is another large (700 acre) multi-use recreation area and is conveniently located just outside Boulder, CO. A new visitors center is currently under construction, but everything except concessions will be available through temporary facilities.
Boulder Reservoir is also one of the Best Lakes in Colorado for Windsurfing, due to consistent afternoon winds and easy accessibility. You’ll need a permit though.
Colorado Has Some of the Best Lakes in the USA
With all the focus on mountains and skiing, most people don’t realize that Colorado’s lakes are second to none. During the summer, the lakes are the main attraction and provide hubs for all the best outdoor activities in the state. But don’t just take our word for it. Get on out there and jump in!