12 Reasons We Love Paddle Boarding In Colorado

Jeff Hale | Travel

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12 Reasons We Love Paddle Boarding In Colorado

Colorado should be called the adventure state. From snow-capped mountains and dry deserts to beautifully clean rivers and lakes with miles of shoreline, the 38th U.S State has everything an outdoor-loving adventurer with a paddle board could desire. But with so many great bodies of water, finding the best spots for paddle boarding in Colorado without some local knowledge can be difficult.

We’ve picked the brains of our ambassadors and locals to bring you the 12 most obvious reasons why paddle boarding in Colorado is something everyone needs to add to their bucket list. Enjoy the adventure!

paddle boarding Colorado Alta Lakes
@reinventingournormal exploring Alta with her rescue pup Kai.

Alta Lakes

These three alpine lakes located on the backside of the Telluride Ski Resort have the majesty to make you feel like you're in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The backdrop makes this a stunning destination for stand up paddle boarding, fishing, hiking, and exploration of the historic structures in the Alta Lakes Ghost Town. We recommend bringing your inflatable stand up paddle board (iSUP) for an easy trek to the shoreline with your favorite SUP pup.

  • Cost of Admission: Free
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado horsetooth reservoir
Underwater photographer @brentdurant's SUP scuba setup on his ISLE Megalodon

Horsetooth Reservoir

Travel about 15 miles due west of Fort Collins and you’ll find yourself staring straight into the center of Horsetooth Reservoir. This 6.5-mile-long man-made body of water is open year-round for adventure-hungry visitors to enjoy all of your standard water sports and the added bonus of rock climbing and scuba diving. We love Horsetooth Reservoir for its seemingly endless shoreline and proximity to the Class I to Class V rapids on Cache la Poudre River that’s a short drive away. If you're going to paddle board on the nearby river, we definitely recommend researching the best inflatable SUPs for rivers before you hit the water.

  • Cost of Admission: $9/vehicle
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado big soda lake

Big Soda Lake

This gorgeous SUP destination is one of two bodies of water within Bear Creek Lake Park. Big Soda is one of our favorite beginner paddling destinations in Colorado because the lake does not allow motorized watercraft, making it a calm and easy-going paddling experience. We also love the close proximity to the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Visitors can expect to pay $10 for entrance to the park that’s open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If you're unable to bring your own board, you’ll be able to find rental locations -- but it's a first-come, first-served operation, so be sure to call ahead if you’re planning to rent a board.

  • Cost of Admission: $10/day
  • No pets allowed
Cherry Creek Reservoir

Cherry Creek Reservoir

Cherry State Park is another scenic oasis for Denver residents who can drive to the shoreline in less than one hour. The 4,200-acre park and 850-acre reservoir is a nature lover’s paradise thriving with bald eagles, prairie dogs, white-tailed deer, and a huge ecosystem of over two-dozen fish species. Due to the park’s popularity, we highly recommend planning a visit on weekdays or non-holidays -- the park sees over 2 million visitors each year. And don’t forget your SUP pup, there are over 100 acres of off-leash area for dogs to roam wild and free for a minimal entrance fee. While dogs aren’t allowed in the swimming area, if you know how to paddle board with your dog, you’ll be able to enjoy some time on the water together.

  • Cost of Admission: $9/day
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado

Lake Estes

Lake Estes is a SUP fishing wonderland where anglers of every skill level can find their fair share of trout. In fact, they've been hosting an annual fishing derby here since 1986, so you can imagine the lake is well-stocked. Lakes Estes is best for a weekday visit as the park can get very crowded on weekends, especially during the summer months. We recommend visiting in the fall for the best chance of uncrowded waters -- the marina stops renting motorized vessels at the end of summer, leaving the water calmer for paddling and fishing. Local regulations do require you to launch your SUP from the marina as well.

  • Cost of Admission: $5 per vessel and $5 per vehicle day-use fee
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado little lake molas

Little Molas Lake

Silverton’s Little Molas Lake is a 137-acre waterfront campground where you can find an on-site rental for stand up paddle boards. The 25-acre lake is stocked with Rainbow Trout, so make sure to arrive with your fishing SUP, paddle board fishing accessories, and the proper license. With so much coastline to explore and tons of convenient amenities like picnic tables, fire rings, BBQs, and even a campground store, Little Molas Lake is an ideal place to try SUP camping for a few nights. It’s worth noting that the campground is close to a highway, so if the sound of passing trucks would ruin your experience, you might want to look elsewhere for your next SUP camping adventure.

  • Cost of Admission: Free
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado Lake San Cristobal

Lake San Cristobal

It’s pretty easy to imagine why the second-largest natural lake in Colorado made our list. This 2.1-mile-long lake was formed roughly 700 years ago, making it a long-standing home for a wide variety of permanent and visiting wildlife. Its cold water and 89-foot depth make it an excellent location for trout fishing, so be sure to get your SUP fishing board and license up-to-date if you plan to make the most of your visit. But if you prefer to limit your wildlife experience to sight alone, you won’t be disappointed by the bevvy of migratory birds, beavers, and much larger animals like moose and elk that call this area home during the warmer months.

  • Cost of Admission: Free
  • Pets allowed
Boulder Reservoir

Boulder Reservoir

The 700-acre lake known as “the Rez” by locals supplies 20% of the city’s drinking water. Why does that matter for stand up paddle boarding? Because it’s usually a great indication that a body of water and its surroundings get some serious attention from local officials. The Rez is a great place for beginner stand up paddle boarders in the summer season. Here, you can rent boards, book your first paddling lesson, and take a private or group SUP yoga class. Please note that all watercraft (including your SUP) are required to have a Boulder Reservoir permit, but applications are not required for smaller vessels like paddle boards. We highly recommend calling in advance of your visit because permits are subject to availability.

  • Cost of Admission: Free after Labor Day, $7 for adults May 24 through Sept. 2
  • No dogs permitted May 15 through Labor Day
paddle boarding colorado

Vallecito Lake

While it may not be the biggest body of water on our list, that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in adventure potential. Nestled in a breathtaking valley, Vallecito Lake (Spanish for “little valley” lake) offers 12 miles of shoreline and sparkling clear waters to explore -- it’s widely considered one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the state. Visitors in the summer can expect world-class fishing while the fall offers exceptional fly fishing opportunities -- both of which can be enjoyed from a paddle board. If you’re a craft beer fan, you can end a long and rewarding day on the lake with a visit to one of nearby Durango’s numerous breweries.

  • Cost of Admission: $3
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado blue mesa reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir

This massive 29-mile-long reservoir is Colorado’s largest body of water. But its size isn’t what makes it so appealing -- it’s the multitude of arms that lead into secluded canyons ripe for exploration from the top of your stand up paddle board. In fact, there’s so much to see and explore that even die-hard paddle boarders like us would be tempted to rent a boat or do some horseback riding to see it all.

  • Cost of Admission: Free
  • Pets allowed
Dillion Reservoir
@holly.mandarich tempting the icy lake with her trusty coil leash

Lake Dillon

Fall is absolutely breathtaking from the top of a paddle board on Lake Dillon where the tree-lined valley comes alive with color every autumn. This magnificent reservoir offers 360-degree views of mountains that are thriving with bald eagles, hawks, dear, elk, and even bears for much of the year. It’s easily one of the best SUP touring destinations on our list thanks to its 26.8 miles of shoreline. Make sure to plan you visit during the warmer seasons, as this body of water in Summit County is close to a number of world-class ski mountains that get no shortage of winter snowfall. 

  • Cost of Admission: Free
  • Pets allowed
paddle boarding colorado grand lake

Grand Lake

Colorado’s largest natural lake is indeed grand, offering some of the world’s best mountain views from the top of a paddle board. The quaint town of Grand Lake is home to less than 500 residents, which means you’ll have ample space to yourself on this tranquil body of water. Visitors can rent a SUP at the marina for a steep $20/hour, but you won’t be able to paddle with your pet unless you bring your own board.

  • Cost of Admission: $35/vehicle (good for 7 days) for Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Pets allowed but highly restricted

Wrapping Up

Regardless of your stand up paddle board experience or the type of paddling you love to do, you’ll find a seemingly endless list of reasons to add paddle boarding Colorado to your bucket list. From the miles of shoreline, vast array of wildlife, and breathtaking mountain views, this is one dreamy SUP destination that can’t be overlooked.

best places to paddle board

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