Discover The Best Lakes in Colorado for Paddleboarding

Discover The Best Lakes in Colorado for Paddleboarding

Discover The Best Lakes in Colorado for Paddleboarding

While Badfish was founded back in 2010 in Salida, Colorado, inspired by two friends’ love for river surfing; once we were introduced to Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) we were immediately hooked. We saw the potential for paddleboards to be a vehicle for limitless adventures and exploration on the water.

This included getting out and exploring the best lakes in Colorado on a paddleboard. Paddleboards allow you to have a truly unique experience on lakes in Colorado and access areas that would otherwise be inaccessible to many. From exploring the largest lakes in Colorado to hiking into alpine lakes in the high country to just getting out on a local lake or reservoir for an outdoor experience with your family — Colorado is truly an underrated destination for epic paddleboarding experiences. 

From Rivers to Alpine Lakes Colorado Has More Opportunities for Paddleboarding Than You’d Think

Two paddleboarders on a Lake in Colorado with mountains in the background.

When you think of getting out on the water Colorado isn’t the first place that jumps to mind… 

A headwaters state with the highest concentration of peaks over 14,000’ in the lower 48, Colorado is not a tropical destination like Hawaii or a place with an extended warm season like the Southeast. However, what Colorado has going for it for paddlers is an impressive diversity of bodies of water and mindblowing landscapes.

While not highly publicized (due to often being overlooked beside the massive Rocky Mountains) Colorado has a variety of scenic lakes and pristine rivers that flow from the mountain tops. You just have to know where to look! (Hint: keep reading.)

In this post, we’ll illuminate the best lakes for paddleboarding in Colorado. Large, small, hard to find, and easy to access. Something for every paddler. 

Colorado has some natural lakes but many of the best bodies of water for paddling are reservoirs built to supply water to downstream farms, ranches, and cities. Almost all reservoirs in Colorado have programs for recreation and allow access to paddleboards. Reservoirs and many lakes can be accessed by vehicle, but a truly unique experience can be had in Colorado by hiking an inflatable paddleboard into high alpine lakes. 

One thing most people — even many locals — don’t realize? There are several large lakes in Colorado. We’re talking large by any standard. 

These provide an opportunity for longer paddles and, on a paddleboard, you can even explore areas rendered inaccessible to traditional boats due to shallow depths, trees and foliage, and narrow passages. Paddleboards give you the freedom to experience lakes, rivers, and reservoirs in a more intimate way that traditional boating can’t match. 

Read on to discover the 5 best lakes in Colorado for paddleboarding. However, there are too many bodies of water to mention all of them. Be sure to explore your local opportunities and get out on the water wherever you can this season! 

Where to Find The Largest Lakes in Colorado

The bulk of Colorado’s population resides in the front range. For this reason, even many locals don’t realize Colorado has some big, wild lakes to explore! The largest lakes in Colorado require you to venture away from the population hubs of Denver and Colorado Springs. Head west into the mountains and you’ll find the two largest lakes in Colorado. 

Grand Lake, Colorado 

Technically the largest natural lake in Colorado, Grand Lake is located in the northeastern mountains, north of Winter Park in the town of the same name. Directly adjacent to Grand Lake are two reservoirs Shadow Mountain and Lake Granby. Lake Granby is one of the three largest reservoirs in Colorado. 

A person paddleboarding on Lake Granby in Colorado.

Grand Lake is a town built around lake life and has all the amenities. Lake Granby has some fantastic beaches and backcountry camping opportunities. If you want to rent boards the Grand Lake Marina and Boater’s Choice has rental boards.

Blue Mesa Reservoir 

A lone paddleboarder on Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado at sunset.

The largest body of water in Colorado is Blue Mesa Reservoir just west of Gunnison, Colorado. Blue Mesa is formed by the Blue Mesa Dam on the Gunnison River. It’s a beautiful high desert environment with several fingers and bays to explore. 

The Lake Fork arm of Blue Mesa Reservoir, just past Sapinero, is a fun narrow canyon to explore via paddleboard. You can paddle all the way up the arm until you reach the river flowing into the Lake. It’s also a great place to hide out if there are afternoon winds. 

If you want to paddle some distance, Blue Mesa offers the opportunity to make miles on either a point to point or out and back route. 

Safety Considerations for Paddleboarding on Large Lakes and Bodies of Water

When paddling on a larger body of water in Colorado always be aware of the weather forecast — especially at high elevations. The weather can be unpredictable. 

Mornings are typically a safer bet for calm conditions. Very often in the summer, the rising heat from the valley floors causes afternoon thunderstorms and winds. The water temps in Colorado lakes can remain chilly throughout the summer. Consider packing a dry bag with some layers in case someone falls in and you need to warm them up. 

Remember that life jackets are required by state law and a leash can be a really good idea in case you get separated from your board. 

The 5 Best Lakes for Paddleboarding in Colorado

Colorado has an incredible diversity of opportunities for adventure and Stand Up Paddleboarding provides a unique platform to explore the lakes of Colorado. Without further ado, these are our Top 5 Lakes for Paddleboarding in Colorado. 

#1 Twin Lakes

A person paddling a SUP on Twin Lakes in Colorado.

Twin Lakes is in the Upper Arkansas River Valley between Leadville and Buena Vista. It sits at the eastern base of Independence Pass. Twin Lakes is, as it sounds, two lakes that are connected by a small channel. There’s a nice campground on the lake and the village of Twin Lakes has several seasonal businesses and lodging opportunities. 

Twin Lakes is a spectacular alpine valley with stunning views of high peaks. The Interlaken historic site sits on the opposite side of the lake from Twin Lakes and has some historic buildings to explore. 

There are several access points along Twin Lakes. One of the most fun places to explore is the bottom of the lake just above the dam where several smaller channels provide some shelter from winds.

Feeling ambitious? You can paddle both lakes in a loop. It's about 11 miles of paddling. If you start at the dam and paddle in an up valley direction you might get lucky and get a downwind ride home back to your starting point. 

Check out SUP and Cycle in Twin Lakes for rentals. 

#2 Morrow Point Reservoir

Some paddleboards sitting on the bank in a narrow canyon at Morrow Point reservoir.

Morrow Point is one of the more unique reservoirs in Colorado for stand up paddleboarding. Morrow Point Reservoir begins immediately below the Blue Mesa Dam just downstream of Blue Mesa Reservoir. It looks like a river canyon with steep walls, but it’s actually an impoundment on the Gunnison River. 

There are no motorboats allowed on Morrow Point. However, for paddleboarding, you can access the lake from the Pine Creek Trailhead which is right below the Blue Mesa Dam and can be accessed from a parking lot off of Hwy 50. You then descend approximately 200 steps down to a trail that runs along the reservoir.

The walk in makes Morrow Point an ideal lake for inflatable paddle boards. 

Depending on the elevation of the lake on a given day there can be a very short section of flowing water below the Blue Mesa Dam. If you’re uncomfortable paddling flowing water, just continue walking downstream until you get to flat water. Morrow Point is spectacular and has backcountry camping opportunities. 

Bring a tent and some backpacking meals. Morrow Point is a fantastic place to spend a night or two. Keep in mind, Morrow Point requires a backcountry permit which can be obtained at the Pine Creek Trailhead. 

#3 Cottonwood Lake 

Two people sitting on their paddleboards with mountains in the background on Cottonwood Lake in Buena Vista, Colorado.

Just outside of Buena Vista Colorado at the base of Cottonwood Pass is the beautiful Cottonwood Lake. Surrounded by high peaks, Cottonwood Lake is stunning and is slightly smaller than some of the large mountain reservoirs — making it a little less intimidating if you’re new to paddling. 

There’s a campground and picnic area with amenities and Cottonwood Lake is a short drive west of Buena Vista.

Buena Vista is one of the truly great and iconic paddling towns in Colorado. CKS River Supply on Main Street is the local resource for rentals, local expertise, or any paddling gear you might need for a day out on Cottonwood Lake. BV can also serve as a great base for other adventures including hiking 14,000’ peaks or whitewater rafting in Browns Canyon National Monument. 

# 4 Lake Nighthorse 

An image of Lake Nighthorse in Durango, Colorado.

Lake Nighthorse is only 2 miles from downtown Durango, Colorado. Nestled in a valley above the Animas River, Lake Nighthorse is easy to access and has great views of the San Juan Mountains. 

Durango is a paddler's paradise and a town with more outdoor recreation enthusiasts per square foot than almost any place in America. The Animas River runs right through town and there’s a long tradition of river running in Durango. You can often catch really strong paddlers out on Lake Nighthorse getting in an early morning workout, but it's also a great place to cool off on a summer afternoon with a casual paddle excursion. 

For a bonus paddling adventure in Durango head up to 32nd Street to the Animas River. This is a unique place where the river is so flat above 32nd Street that you can put in here, paddle as far upstream as you care to, and float back down to your vehicle. On summer days this section of the Animas is full of folks out enjoying the river on paddleboards and if you’re new to river paddling this is a great spot to have your first outing. 

Four Corners River Sports is an epic local paddling shop and can help you out with rentals and local information. 

#5 Union Reservoir 

A mother with her two kids on paddleboards at Union Reservoir in Longmont, Colorado.


Looking for something closer to Denver or Colorado Springs? The Front Range of Colorado has many large reservoirs and small neighborhood ponds, many of which allow paddleboards. 

Union Reservoir near Longmont is a favorite because it only allows wakeless boating so you can head out for a paddle without worrying about dodging fast-moving boats. Union Reservoir has an on-site rental operation, Rocky Mountain Paddleboard

Other popular Front Range Reservoirs include Boulder Reservoir, Bear Creek Lake Park in Lakewood, Cherry Creek Reservoir in Denver, and Pueblo Reservoir. 

Bonus: Paddleboarding Colorado’s Alpine Lakes

People sitting around a high alpine lake with a paddleboard on the shore.

Colorado is home to many high alpine lakes. With inflatable paddleboards like the Badifsh Flyweight which weighs less than 20lbs, hiking into an alpine lake is very attainable and makes for an incredible day in the high country. 

There are more lakes than we could list here, but look for a lake with a reasonable hike in (2-4 miles) and, of course, plan for all the unpredictable weather that the high country can deliver in the summertime. But for those with a taste for adventure, paddling a high mountain lake is an unforgettable experience and Colorado’s alpine environments offer some of the most pristine, scenic lakes you’ll find anywhere in the U.S. 

Stand Up Paddleboarding Has Leveled Up the Experience of Lake Life in Colorado

Ready to get to know Colorado’s lakes and rivers on a deeper level? If you’re tired of sitting on the beach and only swimming as far as your arms can take you, it may be time to try stand up paddleboarding. 

Standing up gives you an amazing perspective and with the advent of inflatable paddleboards all sorts of adventures can be opened up to areas that were never accessible by boat. Inflatable stand up paddleboards can access places that even a kayak or canoe cannot… Try hiking with a kayak on your back!

Colorado is famous for snowy slopes and incredible alpine hikes, but our home state is also a destination for paddling and epic lake life culture if you know where to look. We are always here to help you plan your paddling adventure. Email us at or stop into our Flagship surf shop in Downtown Salida, Colorado. We can help point you to some of the best lakes in Colorado! 

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