10 Best Beaches in Colorado
Colorado may be landlocked, but that does not mean it's devoid of beaches. On the contrary, actually. Spending time on the beaches is actually among the best things to do in Colorado. Colorado has more than 4,000 lakes and reservoirs across the state, and that does not even include its creeks, streams, and rivers. Needless to say, Colorado provides ample opportunity in the warm summer months for taking a dip into cool and refreshing bodies of water. But what are the best beaches in Colorado? Read on to find out.
Colorado's big blues are either naturally formed glacial lakes or man-made reservoirs that provide water to many of its cities and communities. All are pristine and beautiful, often with the backdrop of the Colorado Rockies in the distance. What you trade off in waves and seagulls, you make up for in mountain and alpine views.
Of course, the best time to experience the best beaches in Colorado would be the spring and summer, when temperatures are deliciously warm, but not humid, and the water temperature is fresh and energizing. Plus, many of the beaches in Colorado are within larger parks, so you can spend the entire day exploring all that these protected areas have to offer.
Whether you're taking a day trip from Denver, or immersing yourself in the high deserts or the state's many 14ers, plan your day with our list of the best beaches in Colorado.
1. Blue Mesa Reservoir
Meet Colorado's largest body of water. Blue Mesa Reservoir, located in Gunnison County near the Gunnison River, was created thanks to the Blue Mesa Dam, a nearly 400-foot dam that was constructed in the 1960s and created the largest lake that is entirely within Colorado. The reservoir was created from the Gunnison River, which is also responsible for sculpting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
It also happens to be home to some of the best beaches in Colorado, which is not surprising considering it has nearly 100 miles of shoreline. The reservoir itself is 29 miles long, which lends itself to long, leisurely boat rides; kitesurfing; or paddleboard sessions. It also features some pretty impressive views of mesas and volcanic spires. A lot of the shoreline is rocky, but the best beaches on the lake are found at the Bay of Chickens, Dry Creek, and Old Highway 50.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, as well as two other lakes, are part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. The area is best known for its salmon and trout fishing, as well as hiking, boating, and camping.
2. Medano Creek
Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the highlights of Colorado. And if you happen to make the visit, be sure to pack a bathing suit because where there's sand (often) means beach follows – even in this unlikely location.
Thanks to snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo mountains, rivers flow down to the dunes and create beautiful natural beaches in the process. The beach at Medano Creek is one of the best beaches in Colorado.
The best time to visit the beach is when the river is experiencing "surge flow," which is when snowmelt is at its peak (typically in the spring). This creates a churning (but safe) wave pool, which is always fun for taking a dip.
Just remember that the river is highly dependent on snowmelt, so don't expect to have the same experience twice. The river also tends to dry up by the end of summer, so you'll have to time your visit just right. Peak season is between May and June, which is when the water is at its highest. Bring an inner tube because the floating conditions are superb.
3. Chatfield Reservoir
Located just outside Littleton, Colorado is Chatfield State Park. Within the park, which is within a stone's throw from Denver, is the 1,500-acre Chatfield Reservoir, a massive body of water that sets the stage for summer activities for residents and visitors to the capital city.
Located on the South Platte River, the reservoir was created because of a dam as a means to control flooding. Today it is one of the water supplies for Denver, but is also a focal point for Chatfield State Park, and all the outdoor activities that visitors can do there – swimming included.
The beach area at the reservoir is open all summer long, showing off its wide, sandy beach; grills; and picnic tables. It is a wonderful place to slip away from the city, take a dip, and be surrounded by nature, all relatively close to the creature comforts of Denver and Littleton.
But the reservoir is also a top spot for fishing for rainbow trout, as well as bass, perch, and catfish. Boaters constantly skim across the lake, as well, and nearly 200 campsites across four campgrounds are located within the park.
4. Grand Lake
The town of Grand Lake is often referred to as the "Western Gateway" to Rocky Mountain National Park, which is one of the biggest reasons to visit this part of Colorado. However, near the town, you'll also find its namesake: Grand Lake. The beautiful, deep, and striking Grand Lake is one of the largest and deepest natural bodies of water in Colorado and is fed by the Colorado River and the snowmelt that streams from the Continental Divide.
The serene 500-acre lake enjoys one of the very best views in the state, with the backdrop of Rocky Mountain National Park surrounding it on three sides. The beach at Grand Lake is undoubtedly one of the biggest attractions in the area during the summer months. You'll always find locals and visitors sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding across its glassy surface.
The lake is also where you'll find Grand Lake Marina. This is the one-stop shop for renting water equipment, just in case you did not bring your own. You'll also find the Grand Lake Yacht Club, known as one of the highest yacht anchorages in the world.
5. Boulder Reservoir
If you're looking for one of the largest and most beautiful beaches in Colorado, look no further than the Boulder Reservoir. This 700-acre lake was created in the 1950s, primarily as a water supply for Boulder. And while it still does play a part in providing Boulder with potable water, the lake has blossomed to become one of the best spots in Colorado for summer swimming.
Technically the lake is open year-round, but you'll find the majority of people here during the summer season, which is from mid-April to mid-October. The beach is open every day until 6pm. It's a perfect spot for families to visit together, as it has a shallow section for the little ones, and floating platforms out towards the middle of the lake, which are great for sunbathing.
In addition to tanning and swimming, visitors to the lake can stop by Rocky Mountain Paddleboard to rent pontoon boats, sailboats, and stand up paddleboards. The Boulder Reservoir Loop Trail provides access to wonderful fishing within the lake. The area is teeming with rainbow trout, bass, saugeye, and others.
Of course, you can also hike, run, and bike around the lake, as well.
6. Jackson Lake
Northeastern Colorado may be known for its high desert topography, but it also harbors one of the best beaches in Colorado. Jackson Lake is a 2,700-acre reservoir within Jackson Lake State Park, and is outlined with wide, sandy beaches that are always humming with swimmers and sunbathers in the warmer months.
In addition to the reservoir, visitors to the park will find more than 200 campsites and facilities like toilets, showers, electrical hookups, and a marina. In fact, for those staying overnight, they will be treated to one of the best evening star shows in the country, as the park was named an International Dark Skies Park – one of the first in Colorado to earn the designation.
Still, the most popular feature of the park is the lake and its beaches, providing a perfect aquatic playground for anglers, boaters, and those who enjoy relaxing and cooling off during the heat of summer. The lake is fed by the South Platte River and has two swimmable beaches. Regulars love the beaches for their comfortable temperatures and the shallowness of the surrounding water.
7. Horsetooth Reservoir
Within the 1,900 acres of public lands in Larimer County sits the 6.5-mile Horsetooth Reservoir – a next-level aquatic playground for visitors to Colorado. When we say next level, we mean it, as this body of water in Colorado provides a backdrop for swimming and boating, as well as water skiing, rock climbing, camping, and even scuba diving.
The reservoir's South Bay is one of the best spots within the protected land to swim, spend the day, or even spend the night. The South Bay Day Use Area and Swim Beach provides everything you need to have the best beach day, from fire rings and picnic tables to outdoor showers and a boat ramp. A nearby campground provides a comfortable place to make camp, should you want to spend the night.
The lake reaches a depth of 200 feet and has visibility of up to 10 feet, which means that scuba divers will actually be able to hone their skills at this particular Colorado beach.
Summer is undoubtedly the most popular time to visit Horsetooth Reservoir, so expect the majority of visitors to be filling the beaches when the temperatures warm up. Get there early to secure a spot, or, better yet, get there the night before.
8. Ridgway Reservoir
Not far from Telluride and Ouray, in the town of Ridgway, Colorado, is Ridgway State Park, one of the best state parks in Colorado. It's here that you'll also find one of the state's best beaches, on the banks of the Ridgway Reservoir.
Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, Ridgway State Park is a gorgeous spot cut by the Uncompahgre River. Within the park is the five-mile reservoir that features 1,030 acres of water. The reservoir has two dedicated swimmable beaches: Dutch Charlie and Dallas Creek.
In addition to gorgeous swimming conditions, the beaches are hopping with activity, like volleyball, waterskiing, sailboarding, paddleboarding, and boating.
But the park has more water activities to offer, like fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and even camping. Ridgway State Park has year-round camping and even yurts that are available to rent, which include small kitchenettes.
9. Steamboat Lake
At the center of Steamboat Lake State Park is the famous Steamboat Lake, just 27 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The lake is one of the highlights of the park, with more than 1,000 acres of water for splashing, boating, and swimming. Plus, the lake has a beautiful view of Hahns Peak.
The lake sits at 8,100 feet, which makes for spectacular mountain views in all directions. The lake exists year-round, but is open for recreation from May through the end of October. This is when you'll find the swim beach and full-service marina absolutely buzzing with activity.
Near the lake are trails for hiking, picnic areas, and even campgrounds, which happen to be open year-round, even when the lake is not.
10. Twin Lakes
Leadville, Colorado is known best for one thing: its altitude. In fact, it is the highest populated town on the entire continent, sitting at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. But it's in Leadville that you'll also find Twin Lakes, two glacial lakes that are set to the backdrop of the highest peak in Colorado, Mount Elbert.
Twin Lakes has some of the best swimming and boating in Colorado. They were formed by glacial activity but were later widened to be used as reservoirs for the Front Range mountains. Today the lakes have 2,700 surface acres, as well as two boat ramps, making activity on the water rather easy.
You'll find paddlers in the lake, too, on stand up paddle boards, canoes, or kayaks.. Anglers flock every year to fish for the rainbow and cutthroat trout. But the beach access and swimming remains the easiest and most popular summer activity when visiting Twin Lakes.