While Colorado is famous for its rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains, it is also home to numerous lakes that will take your breath away. From large reservoirs near cities to emerald alpine pools surrounded by forests, this state offers plenty of outdoor recreation and relaxation. Below are 10 reasons Colorado has the best lakes in the country based on natural beauty, size and depth, water quality, and more.
1. Natural Beauty
Colorado is notorious for its unique and varied landscape. It’s hard to resist the call of the state’s emerald-green national forests, fields of wildflowers, and pristine crystalline lakes. For example, Emerald Lake lies in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park. While it is not easily accessible, the 4-mile hike from the Bear Lake trailhead is worth it. Firstly, you pass two other stunning bodies of water, Dream Lake and Nymph Lake. And when you get there, the scenery is absolutely spectacular.
2. Size and Depth
Colorado’s lakes vary in size and depth, but the largest and deepest natural lake in the state is Grand Lake. This massive body of water spans over 500 acres, and its maximum depth measures close to 400 feet. Grand Lake, formerly known as Spirit Lake, has been a sacred place for the Ute Tribe for centuries. During the summer, this lake is brought to life by visitors enjoying activities like swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, or enjoying an ice cream while strolling around the waterfront. However, Grand Lake is also a popular destination during winter due to ice fishing, the Pond Hockey Classic, and the Winter Carnival.
3. Water Quality
Colorado’s lakes are mostly safe, with many open for swimmers and recreational activities. But Hanging Lake is one of the cleanest lakes in the state. It is tucked away just northeast of Glenwood Springs in the rocky alcoves. Here, you will find the tranquil sound of tumbling waterfalls over crystal-clear water. Hanging Lake is strictly protected, and rules include no dogs, fishing, drones, or swimming. Furthermore, during peak season, hikers must schedule a timed reservation and obtain a permit.
It’s hard to compare Colorado’s vast biodiversity with other states. With its high mountains, vast prairies, numerous river headwaters, and deep canyons, this state is truly heads above the rest. It provides an incredibly rich environment for abundant plants and wildlife to thrive. One of the most diverse lakes in Colorado is Dream Lake, located in the Rocky Mountain National Park. There are numerous animal species inhabiting areas around the lake, like moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and black bear. Smaller mammals that live near or in the lake include otters, foxes, marmots, and beavers. The best time to visit this lake is in the fall when the elk are mating, and the meadow grasses and Aspen trees turn gold. The elk call to each other during mating season, which is one of the Park’s most memorable experiences.
5. Recreational Activities
Colorado has the best lakes in the country because of the recreational activities; matched with the idyllic scenery, there is no comparison. For example, Grand Lake offers visitors a bit of everything, from boating and swimming to snowmobiling and skiing. Here are some of the recreational activities on offer at Grand Lakes:
- Snowmobile rentals
6. Fishing Opportunities
Colorado provides anglers with plenty of opportunities to cast a line in one of its numerous lakes. There are several places in the state where you can catch trophy-sized fish, especially trout. For example, Twin Lakes Reservoir is one of the best lakes in Colorado for trout fishing. This reservoir is famous for its big rainbow trout, brown trout, and mackinaws. While it’s not as well-known as the lakes around Hartsel, that’s what makes it charming and less crowded.
Twin Lakes Reservoir is located 25 miles from Leadville and around two hours from Denver. This cold-water reservoir is home to some giants. For example, 35-pound mackinaws are common. Anglers catch rainbow trout throughout the year, while they target brown trout in the spring and fall.
You can also enjoy ice fishing on this lake. Mackinaws and rainbow trout are the most commonly caught during the winter. But, the best time to fish on Twin Lakes is during spring when the trout are hungry.
7. Scenic Trails and Parks
There are thousands of miles of trails in Colorado, so hikers have much to choose from. Below are some of the best trails and parks in the state:
Emerald Lake Trail
Emerald Lake Trail is considered a moderately challenging route, taking around an hour and a half to complete. Hikers are treated to stunning scenery while hiking these trails, which will completely distract you from the challenging hike.
Skypond Via Glacier Gorge Trail
The Skypond Via Glacier Gorge Trails is a challenging route, so it is not for beginners. However, it is very popular amongst backpackers looking for a piece of paradise to camp, fish, and hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the most popular parks in the state, Rocky Mountain National Park, boasts incredible mountain scenery. It is famous for its peak hikes, subalpine lakes, and numerous wildlife.
Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Home to the tallest dunes in North America, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve was formed by the Rio Grande sand deposits. Some of them are over 750 feet tall. But the dunes are not the only feature of this Park; it also boasts shrublands, grasslands, alpine lakes, wetlands, ancient forests, and 13,000-foot mountains.
Accessibility and Amenities
One of the most easily accessible lakes in Colorado is Sprague Lake, located in the Rocky Mountain National Park. For example, the trail leading to the lake is wheelchair-friendly, so everyone can enjoy themselves without having to worry about how to get there. In addition, Sprague Lake is one of the best spots to view the sunrise in the state.
Mary’s Lake is a good example of a lake in Colorado with tons of amenities. For example, the campground has 128 sites ranging from basic camping to RV sites for big rigs. Every site has campfire rings and picnic tables. In addition, standard and tent-only sites provide food storage lockers. Other amenities include water and electric sites with 30 amp service, full hookup sites with 50-amp service, drinking water, coin-operated hot showers, flush toilets, dump stations, firewood and ice sales, propane filling station, a heated swimming pool, laundry facilities, a fully stocked camp store, and playground.
9. Cultural and Historical Significance
While most lakes in Colorado have a rich history, the Arapaho National Recreation Area deserves a mention. It was founded in 1978in northern Colorado, near Granby. This area consists of five major reservoirs, often called the Great Lakes of Colorado. They include the Shadow Mountain Lake, Lake Granby, Monarch Lake, Meadow Creek Reservoir, and Willow Creek Reservoir.
10. Community Engagement
With all the outdoor activities and natural beauty Colorado has to offer, it’s hard to think anyone who lives in the state could be grumpy or impatient. Residents of the Centennial State are very friendly, and there is a strong sense of community, even in the larger cities. Locals will have no problem giving directions, recommending a good restaurant, or even showing visitors around town.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Markel Echaburu Bilbao/Shutterstock.com
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.