View of Grand Lake, one of the best lakes in Colorado

19 Best Lakes in Colorado for 2023 (By a Local)

I’m a Denver local who loves exploring the great outdoors, and in this guide, I go over the best lakes in Colorado. These include popular and lesser-known destinations, plus one of my family’s favorite mountain getaways. 

From large reservoirs to small alpine lakes, these scenic areas offer countless activities. Discover what to do in the water and on land, as well as the best places to stay nearby. 

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. See our Advertising Policy for further explanation. Thank you!

19 Best Lakes In Colorado

Grand Lake

Colorado’s largest natural lake has boating, swimming, fishing, and breathtaking views.

Rocky mountain covered with snow in Grand Lake

📍 Google Maps | Grand Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: Free, can be crowded summer weekends & holidays | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Grand Lake Lodge

Grand Lake, one of the best places to visit in Colorado, lies on the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the largest and deepest natural lake in the state. 

In summer, it’s a popular Colorado lake for boating, swimming, fishing, and more. In winter, there’s an ice fishing tournament and a Winter Carnival with fireworks over the lake. The town of Grand Lake has plenty to do as well, so you could easily spend a weekend or more here. 

Hanging Lake

Hike to this geological wonder in Glenwood Canyon.

View of waterfalls at the Hanging Lake

📍 Google Maps | Hanging Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: Included in permit cost, $12 per hiker | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Glenwood Hot Springs Resort

Hanging Lake’s unusual green color comes from minerals in the water. Because of the delicate nature of the rocks and minerals, you can’t go in Hanging Lake. But there’s a boardwalk you can stroll to get some great pictures.

Reaching the lake requires a strenuous hike, accessible only with a permit which you must reserve online in advance. Nearby Glenwood Springs, one of Colorado’s best mountain towns, also has lots of activities like hot springs and guided excursions

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Boat and fish in Colorado’s largest manmade lake.

Clear blue sky over the Blue Mesa Reservoir

📍 Google Maps | Blue Mesa Reservoir Website | 🅿️ Parking: Free | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Inn at Tomichi Village

Blue Mesa Reservoir is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, one of the best national parks in Colorado. Motorized boats, kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards are all allowed on the reservoir. The reservoir is near Gunnison and has more than 96 miles of shoreline, which you can explore by fishing, hiking, or on a guided horseback ride.

Sprague Lake

Take an easy stroll around this Rocky Mountain National Park beauty.

Colorful sky over the Sprague Lake at sunset
This is one of our favorite walks with little kids!

📍 Google Maps | Rocky Mountain National Park Website | 🅿️ Parking: $30 vehicle entrance fee, timed permit required | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Boulder Brook on Fall River

Set in Rocky Mountain National Park, this crystal-clear lake is breathtakingly beautiful. Although you can’t boat or swim here, it’s well worth exploring solo or on a guided tour. A short, level walk around the lake is easy for hikers of any level. Moose and other wildlife are known to frequent this area as well.

Echo Lake

Beautiful views on the way to Mount Blue Sky.

Clear blue sky over the Echo Lake in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | Echo Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: Free, but a $12 vehicle reservation is required if continuing to the Mount Blue Sky summit | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: JC Suites

This is one of the more famous Colorado lakes and though in the mountains, it’s not too far from Denver. Echo Lake makes a great stop on the drive up to Mount Blue Sky, or a great destination on its own. Boats are not allowed on the lake, but you can fish and hike.

🚗 Pro Tip: Because many of these lakes are in the mountains and not near public transportation, you’re going to want a car to get around. Discover Cars compares rental prices to help you get the best deal!

Crater Lake

A gorgeous hike leads to this lake near Maroon Bells.

The author's kids having fun in Crater Lake
A lovely spot for a snack!

📍 Google Maps | Maroon Bells Website | 🅿️ Parking: $10/vehicle, or $16 per person for shuttle | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Little Nell

After you’ve admired the Maroon Bells from the entry area, the hike to Crater Lake is a can’t-miss activity. It’s one of the most beautiful things to do in Aspen. Kids can manage the 3.5-mile hike, although it’s pretty consistently uphill most of the way to the lake. The trail continues on from Crater Lake if you’re up for more of a challenge!

Lake Estes 

Fish, kayak, and walk the 3.75-mile trail around the lake.

A fisherman fly fishing in Lake Estes

📍 Google Maps | Lake Estes Website | 🅿️ Parking: $5 daily fee at marina; free parking at Estes Park Visitor Center | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Rams Horn Village Resort

Paddleboarding, fishing, and taking a pontoon boat out on Lake Estes are all great things to do in Estes Park! If you don’t want to go out on the lake, there’s a path around the perimeter you can walk as well. You’ll get a view of the Stanley Hotel, the Rocky Mountains, and some of the charming town of Estes Park. When visiting, take a guided tour to experience more of the area.

Horsetooth Reservoir

A large Fort Collins reservoir perfect for boating, sailing, fishing, water skiing, and swimming.

A sandstone cliff in Horsetooth Reservoir

📍 Google Maps | Horsetooth Reservoir Website | 🅿️ Parking: $9 vehicle pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Armstrong Hotel

In the summer, visiting Horsetooth Reservoir is one of the best things to do in Fort Collins. Motorized boating and paddle sports are popular pastimes. There’s also lots of hiking, mountain biking, and fishing. After a day playing outdoors, cool off with a cold beer at one of downtown Fort Collins’ breweries!

Steamboat Lake 

Fun water activities and amazing views just outside of Steamboat Springs.

Two people paddleboarding in Steamboat Lake 

📍 Google Maps | Steamboat Lake State Park Website | 🅿️ Parking: $9 vehicle pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Bristol Hotel

Steamboat Lake is one of Colorado’s best state parks, and is a great destination for enjoying lake activities! Motorized boats are allowed, along with canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. Boat rentals are available at the Steamboat Lake Marina. Nearby, you’ll also find plenty of stuff to do in Steamboat Springs

Twin Lakes

Fish and paddle with views of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive.

The author's family skipping rocks in Twin Lakes
My family skipping rocks at Twin Lakes, one of our favorite Colorado getaways

📍 Google Maps | Twin Lakes Website | 🅿️ Parking: Free parking at Interlaken trailhead or Sunnyside Fishing Site | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Delaware Hotel

You can fish and paddle on these lovely Colorado lakes, which are about halfway between Leadville and Buena Vista. The hike to the old Interlaken Resort is also an interesting one, and follows alongside the beautiful lake most of the way. 

Boulder Reservoir

Waterski, fish, and swim at this popular reservoir.

A rocky shoreline at the Boulder Reservoir

📍 Google Maps | Boulder Reservoir Website | 🅿️ Parking: $11/person in summer | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Hotel Boulderado

Visiting the Boulder Reservoir is one of the best things to do around Boulder! It’s a go-to spot for boating, fishing, swimming, cycling, and exploring hiking trails. Various races are held here, including a marathon and triathlon. 

Lake Granby

Enjoy a Grand County treasure that’s big on boating.

Aerial view of the Lake Granby

📍 Google Maps | Lake Granby Website | 🅿️ Parking: Free parking at several marinas | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Grand Lake Lodge

Located near Grand Lake, Lake Granby is known for boating and fishing. The Lake Granby Yacht Club holds races during the summer. You can also go swimming and sailing in summer, and in winter it’s a good spot for cross-country skiing. 

Bear Lake

Visit one of the most photographed lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Scenic view of Bear Lake during sunrise

📍 Google Maps | Rocky Mountain National Park Website | 🅿️ Parking: $30 vehicle entrance fee, timed permit required | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Estes Park Resort

Bear Lake is another beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park lake that’s easy to access. There’s a trail around the lake, and many hiking trails in the area begin at the Bear Lake trailhead, including some to other high alpine lakes. The Bear Lake parking lot can get crowded, and during busy seasons, you may have to park elsewhere and take the park shuttle. 

Lake Dillon

Waterski, paddle, and fish on this Frisco reservoir.

Clear blue sky over the overlooking view of Lake Dillon

📍 Google Maps | Lake Dillon Website | 🅿️ Parking: $10-15 paid parking at Frisco Marina in summer, free in off-season | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Frisco Inn on Galena

This lake is officially called the Dillon Reservoir, but just about everyone refers to it as Lake Dillon. Exploring the lake is one of the fun things to do in Frisco, and you can rent and store boats at the Frisco Bay Marina. There are campgrounds around the lake and places to stay in Frisco as well.  

Dream Lake

Hike from Bear Lake to more alpine lakes.

View from the rocky Dream Lake in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | Rocky Mountain National Park Website | 🅿️ Parking: $30 vehicle entrance fee, timed permit required | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The Estes Park Resort

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is a high alpine lake that can be accessed from the Bear Lake trailhead. Hands down, it’s one of the best hikes in Colorado. The easy 2-mile trail also makes a great snowshoe trek in winter. You’ll pass Nymph Lake on the way, and get great views of Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain.

Cherry Creek Reservoir

An urban lake with lots of outdoor activities.

Sunrise over the Cherry Creek Reservoir

📍 Google Maps | Cherry Creek State Park Website | 🅿️ Parking: $11 vehicle entrance fee | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Denver Marriott Tech Center

Cherry Creek Reservoir is one of the best day trips from Denver. Given it is one of the closest lakes near Denver, you’ll find many people biking, walking, and boating on the lake. There is a popular swimming beach, drawing crowds on weekends and holidays. 

Motorized and paddling boats are allowed, and the reservoir is a great escape from nearby city life. The park is also home to some of the best camping near Denver

Lake San Cristobal

Go boating or ice fishing on Colorado’s second-largest natural lake.

View from the Lake San Cristobal in Colorado

📍 Google Maps | Lake San Cristobal Website | 🅿️ Parking: Free parking on west side or at Red Mountain Gulch Day Use Area | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: The North Face Lodge

Lake San Cristobal is tucked in the San Juan Mountains in Lake City. It was formed by the delightfully-named Slumgullion Slide, which was an earthflow that blocked a fork of the Gunnison River. You can fish and rent canoes, kayaks, or fishing boats to spend time on the lake. 

Shadow Mountain Lake

Enjoy another large, picturesque Grand County lake.

A boat on a dock in Shadow Mountain Lake

📍 Google Maps | Shadow Mountain Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: Parking at the Pine Beach Picnic Site requires a $5 daily pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Grand Lake Lodge

Shadow Mountain Lake is one of the large Grand County lakes located near Grand Lake and Lake Granby. Many of the activities here are similar, too — you can go boating, swimming, fishing, and sailing. You can also go hiking and horseback riding nearby. 

Monarch Lake 

See one of the prettiest destinations in Grand Lake.

A moose wandering in the Monarch Lake 

📍 Google Maps | Monarch Lake Website | 🅿️ Parking: Parking at the Monarch Lake trailhead requires a $5 daily pass | 🛎️ Where to Stay Nearby: Clover Lane Casa

Monarch Lake in Granby is smaller than the better-known Grand County lakes, but it’s quite beautiful! You can paddle non-motorized boats, hike the Monarch Lake loop trail, fish, or access a number of trails in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. 

FAQs About Lakes in Colorado

What major lakes are in Colorado?

Major lakes in Colorado include Grand Lake, Navajo Reservoir, and Blue Mesa Reservoir. Colorado is also known for mountain lakes like Echo Lake, Lake Granby, and Steamboat Lake.

What’s Colorado’s biggest lake?

Colorado’s biggest lake is Grand Lake, and it’s also the state’s deepest natural lake. In terms of manmade reservoirs, Blue Mesa Reservoir ranks as Colorado’s largest. 

What is the nicest lake in Colorado?

The nicest lake in Colorado is Grand Lake, in my opinion. The size of the lake means there’s plenty of room for boating, swimming, fishing, and sailing. The marina rents motorized and paddling boats, and you can enjoy amazing views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains. 


Hopefully, this list has given you plenty of ideas for lakes in Colorado to visit! Many of these lakes are near quaint towns and scenic campgrounds, so you can spend a few days exploring. For more help planning your trip, check out our Ultimate Colorado Travel Guide

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate (you can leave feedback after clicking submit)

Help us help you travel better!

Your feedback really helps ...

What did you like about this post? Or how can we improve it to help you travel better?

Leave a Reply

All comments are moderated for compliance with our community guidelines. Most importantly be kind & be helpful!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.