As you chart your journey through the Centennial State, the allure of its pristine waters beckons. The best lakes in Colorado are canvases painted with nature’s most vibrant hues, playgrounds for adventurers, and sanctuaries for those seeking tranquility. From hidden alpine treasures to expansive reservoirs, here are the best Colorado lakes that offer unforgettable experiences.
If you’re an avid traveler, you’ve probably heard about Colorado’s most beautiful places, from snow-capped peaks and adrenaline-pumping ski slopes. But here’s a little secret: Colorado’s lakes are where the real magic happens. Tucked between the towering Rockies, these waters are a delightful mix of beauty, activity, and tales waiting to be told.
Ever hiked up to a high-altitude spot and stumbled upon a glacial lake with waters so clear you could see the bottom? Places like Hanging Lake and Sprague do that – they surprise you, take your breath away, and make every step worth it. Further down, reservoirs like Cherry Creek and Horsetooth serve both recreational purposes and as vital water sources for nearby communities.
Beyond stunning views, you’ll find these lakes teeming with life. They house various fish species, from trout to salmon, making them a paradise for anglers. Birdwatchers can spot diverse avian species, while hikers find solace in the intertwining trails that offer panoramic views of the waters and the surrounding landscapes. And for those of you who love a good story, many of these waters have tales that span from ancient indigenous tribes to today’s conservation heroes.
As we dive into this list, we’ll uncover the many layers that make Colorado’s lakes the hidden gems of the Centennial State.
Eager to plunge into the best lakes in Colorado? Beyond the mountain peaks and dense forests, Colorado’s liquid gems await. Each CO lake tells a story, from bustling waterfront activities to serene nature retreats.
So, whether you’re a city explorer hungry for cultural delights or a nature lover seeking a peaceful escape, Colorado lakes have a chapter for you. Dive in, and let’s uncover the most enchanting attractions these waters have to offer.
If you’re wondering what Colorado lake to visit, Bear Lake should undoubtedly be on your list. Tucked away in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake stands as a testament to Colorado’s unparalleled natural beauty. With its mirror-like waters reflecting the grandeur of the surrounding snow-capped peaks, this lake is a haven for nature enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.
One of the coolest activities at Colorado lakes is undoubtedly hiking, and Bear Lake doesn’t disappoint. The lake’s perimeter is adorned with a well-maintained trail, the Bear Lake Loop. This easy, family-friendly hike offers an immersive experience, allowing visitors to drink in the lake’s beauty from all angles. As you walk, the gentle sounds of nature, from the rustling leaves to the distant calls of alpine birds, create a symphony that’s both calming and invigorating.
For those with a bit more energy and curiosity, the trailhead at Bear Lake is a gateway to more challenging treks. Trails branch out, leading intrepid hikers to other mesmerizing spots like Emerald Lake, Dream Lake, and Nymph Lake. Each destination, with its unique allure, promises breathtaking vistas, be it cascading waterfalls, dense forests, or alpine meadows dotted with vibrant wildflowers.
Maroon Lake, set against the backdrop of the iconic Maroon Bells, is one of the most photographed spots in the United States. This pristine lake is located just 10 miles west of the mountain town of Aspen. It offers visitors a visual treat with its shimmering waters and the majestic Maroon Bells looming in the background.
For travelers visiting Colorado, Maroon Lake is a destination that shouldn’t be missed. The lake is accessible year-round, with each season offering a distinct and mesmerizing view. In the spring, wildflowers bloom along the lakeside, painting the landscape in vibrant hues. Come fall, the aspen trees turn golden, creating a striking contrast against the deep blue of the lake.
One of the best lakes to explore in Colorado, Maroon Lake has a well-maintained scenic trail that skirts its perimeter. This trail is perfect for a leisurely stroll, allowing visitors to soak in the panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding peaks. For the more adventurous, the trail serves as a starting point for hikes leading to the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area, where pristine alpine meadows and dense forests await.
Beyond its scenic beauty, Maroon Lake is also a hub for recreational activities. Kayaking, fishing, and wildlife spotting are popular among visitors, making it a versatile destination for all.
Grand Lake, aptly named for its expansive waters, stands as the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado. Situated at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, this lake is a hub of history, recreation, and unparalleled beauty.
The town of Grand Lake, perched on the lake’s northern shore, is a blend of rustic charm and modern amenities. Here, wooden boardwalks lead visitors to quaint shops, restaurants, and theaters, offering a glimpse into the region’s rich cultural heritage. For those looking for the best lake in Colorado, a trip to Grand Lake provides a unique blend of nature and culture.
The lake itself is a paradise for water enthusiasts. From boating and fishing to paddleboarding and kayaking, the options are endless. The clear waters, teeming with trout and salmon, make it a favorite among anglers. And if you’re more of a land lover, the surrounding trails offer breathtaking views of both the lake and the majestic Rockies.
In the winter, Grand Lake transforms into a snowy wonderland. From rustic winter vacation cabins, to ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing. No matter the season, Grand Lake promises a memorable experience.
Nestled in the heart of Gunnison County, Blue Mesa Reservoir is a sprawling aquatic playground that beckons visitors from all corners of the country. As the crown jewel of the Curecanti National Recreation Area and Colorado’s largest body of water, this reservoir spans a staggering 20 miles, with a shoreline that meanders for over 96 miles.
The diverse ecosystem complements the vastness of Blue Mesa Reservoir. The waters are teeming with a variety of fish species, including kokanee salmon and trout. This makes it a paradise for anglers. Numerous fishing tournaments are held here annually, drawing enthusiasts eager to make the catch of the day.
For travelers looking for a must-see lake in Colorado, overlooking Blue Mesa Reservoir would be a grave oversight. The reservoir’s azure waters, set against the backdrop of the West Elk Mountains, offer a visual treat that’s unparalleled. For active travelers, there’s plenty to do. From thrilling jet skiing adventures to serene kayaking excursions, there’s something for every water lover.
Beyond the aquatic allure, the surrounding Curecanti National Recreation Area is a treasure trove of natural wonders. Hiking trails weave through diverse landscapes, from dense forests to rugged cliffs, offering panoramic views at every turn. Historical sites, like the Dillon Pinnacles, stand as silent witnesses to the region’s rich geological past, adding another layer to the reservoir’s multifaceted charm.
Situated just west of Leadville, Turquoise Lake is a shimmering gem that offers a serene escape from the daily grind. Its name, derived from the stunning turquoise hue of its waters, paints a vivid picture even before one sets eyes on it. The lake’s expansive waters are bordered by dense forests, creating a harmonious blend of aquatic and terrestrial beauty.
For those who are passionate about outdoor adventures, Turquoise Lake is a prime spot. The lake’s perimeter is adorned with a series of trails, perfect for hiking and mountain biking. As you traverse these paths, you’re treated to breathtaking views of the lake and the towering Mount Massive looming in the distance. It’s no wonder many consider the best lake in Colorado for a holistic nature experience.
Now, if you’re on the hunt for unique lakes in Colorado, Turquoise Lake should undoubtedly feature. Beyond its scenic charm, the lake is a hub for recreational activities. Anglers will find the waters rich with trout, while campers have several sites to choose from, each offering its own unique vantage point of the lake and the surrounding wilderness.
Nestled within the Pike’s Peak region, Crystal Reservoir offers visitors a captivating blend of alpine beauty and recreational opportunities. The reservoir, with its clear waters reflecting the majesty of the surrounding peaks, provides a serene backdrop for a day of relaxation or adventure.
The reservoir is a popular spot for fishing, with its waters teeming with trout. Anglers often find themselves lost in the tranquility of the setting, with the gentle lapping of the waters and the distant chirping of alpine birds providing a calming soundtrack. For those looking to stretch their legs, a well-maintained trail skirts the reservoir, offering panoramic views and opportunities to spot local wildlife.
One of the standout activities at Colorado lakes is picnicking, and Crystal Reservoir offers numerous spots for families and groups to set up and enjoy a meal amidst nature. The reservoir also serves as a starting point for hikes leading to higher altitudes, including the challenging trek to Pike’s Peak.
In the colder months, the reservoir transforms, with its waters freezing over and the surrounding landscape blanketed in snow. This opens up opportunities for ice fishing and snowshoeing, making Crystal Reservoir a year-round destination.
Perched high in Summit County, Dillon Reservoir is more than a body of water. It’s a hub of activity, nature, and scenic vistas. With the towns of Dillon and Frisco on its shores, this reservoir offers a unique blend of natural beauty and urban conveniences.
Dillon Reservoir is perfect for people who love water sports. Its expansive waters are perfect for sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. The marinas dotting the shoreline offer boat rentals and tours, ensuring visitors can fully explore the reservoir’s expanse. And for those keen on fishing, the waters are rich with brown trout, rainbow trout, and kokanee salmon. This makes it one of the coolest Colorado lake destinations for anglers.
Beyond the water-based activities, the Dillon Reservoir is surrounded by a plethora of Colorado lake attractions. The nearby Arapaho National Forest offers miles of hiking and biking trails, each providing breathtaking views of the reservoir and the surrounding mountains. The region transforms into a snowy wonderland, with nearby ski resorts offering a range of winter sports. This makes it a must-visit during winter.
The towns of Dillon and Frisco further enhance the reservoir’s appeal. With a range of restaurants, shops, and cultural events, they offer a taste of urban life amidst the wilderness.
Tucked away in Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake is a marvel of nature that showcases the pristine beauty and delicate ecosystems of Colorado. This geologic wonder, with its cascading waterfalls and crystal-clear waters, is a testament to nature’s artistry and one of the unique activities at Colorado lakes.
The journey to Hanging Lake is an adventure in itself. A moderately challenging hike leads visitors through lush forests and rugged terrains, culminating in the breathtaking view of the lake. The trail, though steep at times, is well-maintained and offers several vantage points to rest and soak in the surrounding beauty.
Among the best lakes in Colorado, Hanging Lake stands out not just for its scenic allure but also for its ecological significance. The lake’s fragile shoreline is home to a unique limestone deposit. This creates a delicate travertine barrier that’s rare in the U.S. Visitors are urged to tread lightly, ensuring the preservation of this natural wonder for future generations.
In the vicinity of the lake, the Spouting Rock waterfall adds to the area’s charm. Water gushes from a hole in the limestone cliff, creating a refreshing mist that’s especially welcome on warm days.
Nestled within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, Sprague Lake offers visitors a tranquil alpine experience. With an elevation of 8,200 feet, the lake provides breathtaking views of the Continental Divide. This makes it a favorite spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.
For those seeking a gentle introduction to the park’s diverse landscapes, Sprague Lake is the perfect starting point. The lake’s easy, half-mile trail is wheelchair accessible and offers uninterrupted views of the water against a backdrop of towering peaks. It’s one of the coolest activities at Colorado lakes, especially for families and those with limited mobility.
Sprague Lake is renowned as one of the best lakes in Colorado for birdwatching. The dense forests and marshy areas surrounding the lake are home to a variety of bird species, including the American dipper, mountain bluebird, and several types of ducks. Anglers, too, find solace here, with the lake’s waters teeming with brook and rainbow trout.
In the winter, Sprague Lake transforms into a snowy wonderland. The frozen lake surface becomes a playground for ice-skating and snowshoeing, while the surrounding meadows are perfect for cross-country skiing.
Tucked away within the confines of Rocky Mountain National Park, Lake Haiyaha is a lesser-known treasure that promises solitude and scenic beauty in abundance. Its name, derived from the Native American term for “big rocks,” aptly describes the boulder-strewn landscape surrounding the lake.
The journey to Lake Haiyaha is as enchanting as the destination itself. A moderately challenging trail leads adventurers through dense forests, past cascading waterfalls, and offers glimpses of other alpine lakes. As you approach Haiyaha, the landscape transforms, with colossal boulders dotting the terrain. This makes it one of the unique activities at Colorado lakes.
For those seeking fun things to do at Colorado lakes, Lake Haiyaha offers plenty. While its chilly waters might deter swimmers, they’re a haven for anglers. The lake’s clear waters are home to a variety of trout, and the surrounding boulders provide perfect perches for a day of fishing. Additionally, the lake’s unique landscape makes it a favorite for photographers, especially during sunrise and sunset when the play of light on water and rock creates a magical tableau.
Just west of Fort Collins, Horsetooth Reservoir stretches out, a vast expanse of water set against the backdrop of the undulating Horsetooth Mountain. This 6.5-mile long reservoir is not only a vital water source for the region but also a hotspot for recreational activities, drawing both locals and tourists to its shores.
Horsetooth Reservoir’s clear waters are perfect for a range of water sports. Kayaking, paddleboarding, and jet skiing are popular choices, with several rental shops nearby catering to visitors’ needs. The reservoir’s numerous coves and inlets provide ample opportunities for exploration and quiet relaxation. For those who prefer to stay dry, the surrounding landscape offers hiking and mountain biking trails with panoramic views of the water and the Front Range.
One of the coolest activities at Colorado lakes is camping, and Horsetooth Reservoir excels in this regard. Several campgrounds dot its shores, each offering unique vistas and easy access to the water. It’s no wonder many consider it one of the best lakes in Colorado for a comprehensive outdoor experience.
Located within the sprawling Cherry Creek State Park, Cherry Creek Reservoir stands as a testament to nature’s ability to thrive amidst urban surroundings. This 880-acre body of water, encircled by rolling hills and verdant meadows, offers a refreshing escape from the hustle of Denver’s city life. This makes it one of the unique activities at Colorado lakes.
The reservoir’s calm waters beckon visitors with a plethora of water-based activities. From sailing and windsurfing to paddleboarding and fishing, there’s no shortage of ways to immerse oneself in the aquatic delights of Cherry Creek. The surrounding park further enhances the experience, with its extensive network of trails perfect for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Plus, Denver has the best spa hotels which offers travelers the perfect blend of city excitement and serene retreat.
For those who rank Cherry Creek among the best lakes in Colorado, it’s not just the water that draws them in. The park’s model airplane field, family shooting range, and spacious campgrounds add diverse recreational options. Wildlife enthusiasts will also find joy here, with the park’s wetlands serving as a sanctuary for various bird species.
Looking for more content on the best lakes in Colorado? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Colorado.
Colorado is home to thousands of lakes, both natural and man-made. From high alpine lakes in the Rocky Mountains to reservoirs on the plains, there’s a vast array of water bodies to explore.
Many of the larger reservoirs, such as Cherry Creek, Horsetooth, and Grand Lake, have marinas and allow motorized boating. Always check local regulations before heading out.
What is the nicest lake in Colorado?
Colorado is home to numerous stunning lakes, each offering unique beauty and recreational opportunities. Below are some lakes in Colorado that are often considered among the most beautiful:
1. Maroon Lake: Known for its stunning reflections of the Maroon Bells, two of Colorado’s most famous peaks. The lake is surrounded by wildflowers and aspen trees, making it exceptionally picturesque, especially in the fall.
2. Hanging Lake: A National Natural Landmark, this lake is known for its clear turquoise waters and the lush vegetation that hangs from the cliffs surrounding it. Note that swimming is not allowed to preserve its ecosystem.
3. Grand Lake: Colorado’s largest natural lake, offering clear waters and a mountainous backdrop. It’s a popular destination for boating, fishing, and hiking.
4. Bear Lake: Easily accessible, this alpine lake offers stunning views of surrounding mountains and is a starting point for several hiking trails.
5. Blue Mesa Reservoir: The largest body of water in Colorado, known for its clear waters. It also offers various water activities and camping options.
6. Emerald Lake: A popular hiking destination, this alpine lake is surrounded by towering peaks and lush forests.
7. Crystal Lake: A high-altitude lake known for its clear, blue waters and scenic mountain surroundings.
Absolutely! Fishing is a popular activity in Colorado lakes. Species like trout, salmon, and bass are common catches. However, ensure you have the appropriate fishing license and are aware of any specific regulations for the lake you’re visiting.
Yes, lakes like Turquoise Lake, Twin Lakes, and Horsetooth Reservoir have campgrounds nearby. This makes them perfect for a lakeside camping experience.
While beauty is subjective, many consider Maroon Lake, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake among the most scenic. Their stunning backdrops of mountain peaks and dense forests make them some of the best lakes in Colorado for picturesque views.
What are the 2 major lakes in Colorado?
The two major lakes in Colorado are Grand Lake and Blue Mesa Reservoir.
- Grand Lake: Located in the Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake. It’s a popular destination for boating, fishing, and other water activities. The town of Grand Lake, situated on the lake’s shores, serves as a gateway to the national park and offers a range of recreational and cultural amenities.
- Blue Mesa Reservoir: Part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in Colorado. It’s a man-made reservoir created by the Blue Mesa Dam on the Gunnison River. The reservoir is known for its fishing opportunities, especially for kokanee salmon and various trout species. It’s also a popular spot for boating, camping, and other outdoor activities.
Most lakes in state parks and national forests allow pets, but they must be on a leash. However, some protected areas or nature reserves might have restrictions. It’s always a good idea to check beforehand.
What is the cleanest lake in Colorado?
Colorado lakes are known for their clear and clean waters. But one that stands out is Blue Mesa Reservoir. It’s the largest body of water in Colorado and is known for its pristine conditions and beautiful surroundings.
What is the most beautiful lake in Colorado?
Colorado is home to numerous stunning lakes, but what is the most beautiful? Here are some of the prettiest lakes in CO that you should know about:
- Maroon Lake: Located near Aspen, Maroon Lake offers a breathtaking view of the Maroon Bells, two of the most photographed peaks in North America. The reflection of the peaks on the clear waters of the lake, especially during the fall when the aspen trees turn golden, is iconic.
- Hanging Lake: Situated in Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake is a unique and fragile ecosystem. The turquoise-colored waters and the waterfalls that spill into the lake make it a popular hiking destination. The trail to the lake is relatively short but steep, and the reward at the end is a view of one of Colorado’s most beautiful natural wonders.
- Bear Lake: Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake is easily accessible and offers panoramic views of surrounding peaks. The lake serves as a starting point for several hiking trails.
- Emerald Lake: Also in Rocky Mountain National Park, a hike from Bear Lake will take you to Nymph Lake and Dream Lake before reaching the stunning Emerald Lake, surrounded by high peaks.
- Saint Mary’s Glacier: While not a traditional lake, this semi-permanent snowfield located near Idaho Springs melts into a beautiful glacial lake. The hike to the glacier and lake is relatively short, making it a popular day trip from Denver.
Many lakes allow swimming. However, be prepared for cold water, especially in high-altitude alpine lakes. Always prioritize safety and be aware of sudden weather changes.
Colorado, with its majestic Rocky Mountains, sprawling forests, and vast plains, is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Among its natural treasures, the lakes stand out, each offering a unique blend of beauty and adventure. From the serene waters of Sprague Lake to the bustling shores of Cherry Creek Reservoir, there’s a lake for every kind of traveler.
The best lakes in Colorado are not just about the water. They’re gateways to broader experiences: hiking through alpine meadows, coolest places to stay, camping under starlit skies, or simply sitting by the shore, lost in thought. Each visit promises memories that last a lifetime, stories to share, and a deeper connection with nature.
So, whether you’re an angler looking for your next big catch, a photographer chasing the perfect sunrise, or a family seeking a memorable vacation, Colorado’s lakes await. Pack your bags, set your spirit free, and dive into the myriad experiences these watery wonders offer.