The high plains of Eastern Colorado might not offer much in the way of watering holes, but head toward the mountains and suddenly you’ll find that there’s plenty of lakes, rivers, and streams where you can take a dip. The northern half of the state is a kayaker’s dream, offering incredible waterways alongside some of the best and most relaxing views in the country.
Horsetooth Reservoir is a massive, man-made lake that spans seven miles just outside the town of Fort Collins. It’s a wonderful combination of sandy shores and the large, granite rocks the region is known for. You’ll also spot plenty of wildlife, including deer, mountain goats, moose, and the occasional bear stopping by for a drink. Kayakers who appreciate rough waters will enjoy Horsetooth Reservoir, as it’s not uncommon to experience one to four-inch waves. The reservoir is one of the largest recreational spots in northern Colorado, so expect to share the waters with swimmers, fisherman, and boats.
Cache la Poudre River
The Cache la Poudre River is the only designated National and Wild Scenic River in Colorado, meaning it offers some of the best, unspoiled views in the entire state. The scenic backdrop alongside the raging waters begins at the Rocky Mountain National Forest and ends up at the Roosevelt National Forest. Kayakers looking for a little adrenaline rush will love the Class III and IV rapids that make up the bulk of the river. The lower half of the river is made of almost entirely whitewater and technical rapids. Once you reach Pineview Falls, it tapers off for a more relaxing experience.
Boyd Lake State Park boats a 1,700-acre inlet marina that is the perfect option for kayakers seeking something family-friendly. The park has just under 150 campsites, easy access to dozens of hiking trails, a swimming beach and, of course, plenty of water to paddle on. While you won’t find much of a challenge on these waters, it’s a wonderful option for those seeking a place to paddle just a short drive from Denver. The views of the Front Range are topnotch and the vibrant atmosphere make it an excellent place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for a weekend. You’ll find easy access to the water on the left side of the lake at the marina, along with plenty of rental options. Be aware, though, that the lake does get crowded in the summer.
Big Thompson River
The Big Thompson River is famous for the Big Tommy Run, a blistering whitewater trail that boasts V/V+ rapids alongside plenty of clean rides. It’s one of the more challenging options for kayakers in the state, and a must for those seeking a thrill. The Big Tommy Run is short, at under two miles, but packs a wallop with three huge drops in such a short time. The downside is that the run is entirely dependent upon the opening and closure of the dam, so check ahead to make sure you’re in for a good time. The rest of the Big Thompson River doesn’t provide quite as much thrill, but still contains some class II rapids and incredible views.
Lake Estes Marina
Lake Estes is the de facto gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and prominently displays Colorado’s famed beauty better than almost any mountain town. The spectacular views, family-friendly atmosphere and 185 acres of lake make it perfect for kayakers. Though not as huge as other spots on the list, Lake Estes Marina is jaw-dropping in its beauty, and just a short distance from Lily and Sprague Lakes inside the park, so you can feasibly paddle all three in one day. The short distance from town means you can take in all the sights and food of one of the state’s most popular destinations and get in a little kayak in one trip.