The sweltering summer heat has a lot of us searching for spots where we can cool off. These are some of my favorite cool Colorado lakes for aqua adventures. Some take a little effort to get to and other are easy access.
Close to Denver: Barr Lake State Park
This is one of my favorite lakes year-round because of its nature preserve. It’s one of best places in state to see eagles. The north half is open to boating and fishing. *Paddle boarding is temporarily not allowed because of increased algae bloom due to hot temperatures and light winds. You can walk, run, or ride the 8.8-mile lake loop. I love to do out-and-back hikes along the nature preserve side. The boardwalks, gazebos, and views of rookery are wonderful.
RMNP: Sandbeach Lake and Irene Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with beautiful lakes like Bear Lake, which is super popular. Here are two lesser-known lakes. Sandbeach Lake is in Wild Basin area of RMNP. The 9-mile round trip hike has an almost 2,000 foot elevation gain. Because of the distance you won’t encounter crowds along its wide and sandy shoreline. You can camp, fish, and swim here. Lake Irene is much easier to get to since its right off Trail Ridge Road close to Milner Pass. It’s a wonderful picnic area with an easy 0.5-mile loop around the lake. Look for moose in the ponds on Milner Pass. I often see moose there espeically at dawn and dusk.
Iconic Lake Destination: Grand Lake
Grand Lake is an iconic Colorado lake destination. It’s the deepest and largest natural lake in Colorado. It is also very close to the west entrance of RMNP, which is the best side to see moose. I’ve seen moose, elk, and deer in Grand Lake. Rent a kayak from Mountain Paddlers shack at marina. Paddle around the lake and enjoy epic views of the Never Summer Mountains and peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Lesser Known Lake Destination: Lake Isabel
I just discovered Lake Isabel in the San Isabel National Forest between Rye and Beulah. Non-motorized boats are allowed on this picturesque lake in the Wet Mountains, a sub-range of the Sanger de Cristo Mountains. You can picnic, fish, and walk along the lake. It’s high on my list to go back.
Hike to a Lake: Easy, Moderate, and Hard Options
I love hiking to a mountain lakes. Putting in some sweat effort makes a relaxing stop at an alpine even more refreshing. For an easy hike that’s great for families go to Lily Pad Lake in Silverthorne. The hardest part is the initial incline. It’s a great hike with wildflowers, creek crossings, and two small lakes. One of those lakes is filled with lily pads. For a moderate lake hike near Vail, head to Whitney Lake. I did this hike with Walking Mountains while staying at Antlers at Vail during their 50th anniversary season. It’s doable for families but it is steep. For a hard lake hike tackle the trail to Cathedral Lake near Aspen. It’s bursting with wildflowers in July through early August, but the switchbacks that are about 15-20 minutes from the lake are brutal.
Ride to an Alpine Lake: OHV Adventure in Silverton
While staying at The Wyman Hotel in Silverton, I rented a UTV from Rock Pirates and took off on a 27-mile solo ride along the Alpine Loop. You go through Animas Forks ghost town, go over two mountain passes, and see multiple pristine alpine lakes. My favorite alpine lake is one that looks like a heart between the two passes.