Outdoor adventures are plentiful in Colorado from the Rockies to river canyons and desert terrain. The Centennial State’s diverse terrain offers kayakers of every skill level a great paddling experience. At lakes and rivers across the state and in national and state parks, you’ll find trails that range from a gentle, easy paddle to rigorous whitewater. The opportunities are almost infinite in the Rocky Mountains, and you can even go kayaking along the front range plains.
While we obviously can’t cover them all due to the huge amount of great kayaking spots, in this post we’re going to list 10 of the best places to kayak in Colorado to help inspire you for your next paddling trip.
1. Eleven Mile Reservoir, CO
The Eleven Mile Reservoir is a large lake an hour west of Colorado Springs. The alpine-style lake has a surface area of 7,662, so even on a busy weekends kayakers have few worries about motor boats on the water.
The lake has beautiful views of distant mountains and sunsets that are especially stunning. Kayakers will paddle past unusual rock formations on calm, flat water. There is plenty of camping nearby for an overnight stay or longer, and kayaks and other equipment are available for rent at the Eleven Mile Marina.
2. Colorado River, CO
Any list of top kayaking locations in Colorado wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the great Colorado River. It begins high in the Rockies and flows for nearly 1,500 miles to the Gulf of California in Northwest Mexico.
Kayakers will find a variety of paddling experiences on the Upper and Lower Colorado River passages. Sections of the river range from easy paddling to rigorous. Kayakers can choose a section to paddle and park at either end. Athletic and adventurous types can hike to sections of the river that are high up in the mountains. Several sections fall within the Colorado River State Park with camping and picnicking.
3. Sylvan Lake, CO
Sylvan Lake is only 30 minutes from Eagle, CO and is easily accessed from I-70. The 42-acre lake is surrounded by the White River National Forest which gives kayakers a secluded feel. Only non-motorized crafts and boats with trolling motors are allowed so there will be minimal wake for paddlers to deal with.
For those that are partial to bring a rod and some bait, fishing is permitted on the lake and at nearby East and West Brush Creek. It’s also a popular spot with campers with plenty of RV and tent camping is available in Sylvan Lake State Park, and you can rent a cabin from May to mid-November. Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats are also available for rent at plenty of outfitters around the lake.
4. Clear Creek, CO
The Clear Creek Whitewater Park is an 800-foot course on a 1.5-mile stretch of the Clear Creek River near the city of Golden. The park was created in 1998 and is now one of the area’s best recreational attractions. The course is divided into sections with a series of drops, varying experience levels, amd fast eddies. The middle section features shallow surf waves with large boulders, and the lower section has more wave drops and a rougher surf. Paddlers should be skillful on fast-moving water during the high flow season. Drop-in usage and nearby parking are free.
5. Dillon Reservoir, CO
Beginning kayakers can practice their skills with views of three mountain ranges in the background at the Dillon Reservoir. Often referred to as Lake Dillon, it’s located in Summit County south of I-70 and is a reservoir for the city of Denver.
The reservoir has 27 miles of shoreline for an all-day paddle on flat water that’s perfect for first-time kayaking. Stop and explore islands and look for wildlife such as deer, bald eagle, ospreys, and perhaps even a black bear.
6. Arkansas River, CO
The Rocky Mountains are the source of the Arkansas River, a major tributary of the Mighty Mississippi that flows near the town of Leadville. The water trail is divided into five sections that can be paddled in one day. Riverside camping is available for multi-day kayaking excursions.
For some exciting whitewater thrills, paddle the section in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area from late spring to the early fall. It’s very popular for kayaking, so you must first register. With class 4 and 5 rapids, this water trail is for experienced paddlers and shouldn’t be attempted by beginners.
7. Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park, CO
Glenwood Springs in Colorado was voted the Most Fun Town in America in 2011 due to its many attractions. One such attraction that makes it so popular is the Whitewater Park which features a G-wave (standing wave) and is the first whitewater trail to be built on any part of the Colorado River.
The water flow changes throughout the year and different skills are needed for each season. Expert paddlers will find the waterpark challenging from late May through the middle of June. Beginners will enjoy kayaking here during July and August when the flow is slower. Kayakers paddle at their own risk, and helmets and personal flotation devices must be used.
8. Yampa River, CO
The Steamboat Whitewater Park is on a 3/4-mile stretch of the Yampa River. The river is the Colorado Basin’s last free flowing river and runs through the heart of the town of Steamboat. The water trail is a great paddle for both beginners and experts depending on the season.
Heavy flow begins in May and lasts until early July. That’s when features like the Depot Hole and Charlie’s Hole make the water an exciting paddle for experts. Beginning paddlers are more welcomed as the water level drops in late summer. The easiest launching point is at the Doctor Rich Weiss Park.
9. Grand Lake, CO
For lots of room and gorgeous views of the Rockies, Grand Lake is unsurpassed. Located a short distance from the Rocky Mountain National Park, the lake is Colorado’s largest and deepest body of water. Take an early morning kayak run to take advantage of smooth-as-glass waters.
The lake is only a two-hour drive from Denver, or you can opt to stay at one of around 260 campsites near the shoreline. If you don’t have your own kayak, you can rent one at the Grand Lake Marina.
10. Pueblo Lake, CO
Last, but not least we have Pueble Lake in the Colorado town of Pueblo. It’s a 4,000-acre lake with more than 60 miles of shoreline that is beginner-friendly for kayakers. The lake is very popular for fishing, and the picturesque scenery and clear water attracts visitors for a variety of activities.
Beginners should consider taking the first run during the week when less crowding makes navigating the lake easier. Plan a multi-day stay at the nearby Pueblo State Park and enjoy scenic hiking along with kayaking. The lake has two marinas for putting in and renting a kayak if needed.
Summing Up Kayaking In Colorado
As far as US states go, Colorado is definitely one that shouldn’t be missed and has a huge variety of different options depending on your ability. Whether you’re looking for whitewater rapids or just a quiet paddle, it has something for you. The iconic rivers such as the Colorado river are American treasures and should be on the bucket list of any keen paddler.
Thanks to the great Rocky Mountains, kayakers in Colorado are immersed in some of the country’s best natural beauty. Many of the rivers, lakes, and waterparks are in or near gorgeous places that turn into ski resorts in winter. But paddling in Colorado is much more than beautiful scenery. Huge lakes lakes and reservoirs are placid, and manmade waterparks and rushing natural rivers offer kayaking for all skill levels.
It’s also a great option if you don’t have your own kayak as rentals are plentiful anywhere around the popular paddling spots.