Top Water Sports Lakes in Colorado


Colorado is a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. With over 2,000 lakes and reservoirs dotting its diverse landscape, the state offers endless opportunities for aquatic adventures. Colorado has something to satisfy thrill-seekers of all kinds, from kayaking and sailing on serene high-altitude lakes to whitewater rafting on raging rivers.

This article explores the top destinations in Colorado for popular water sports. Whether you want to relax with stand-up paddleboarding or get your adrenaline pumping while waterskiing, you’ll discover the prime spots to make the most of your time on the water in the Centennial State.


  • Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake offer excellent conditions for waterskiing, wakeboarding, and other motorized sports.
  • Reservoirs like Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir provide calmer waters that are well-suited for sailing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
  • The Arkansas and Colorado Rivers provide world-class whitewater rafting through locations like Royal Gorge and the Numbers.
  • Ice fishing for trophy trout is popular in winter at lakes like Eleven Mile State Park, Spinney Mountain, and Turquoise Lake.

Overview of Water Sports in Colorado

The diversity of Colorado’s waterways allows for an exceptional range of aquatic activities. Motorized sports like waterskiing and jet skiing can be enjoyed on larger bodies of water like Lake Granby and Blue Mesa Lake. Sailors and paddlers prefer reservoirs with less boat traffic, such as Chatfield Lake and Cherry Creek Lake.

Whitewater rafting along rapidly flowing rivers provides an adrenaline rush during summer. Popular stretches include the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River and the Numbers on the Colorado River. Meanwhile, ice fishing is a popular cold-weather activity, with lakes like Eleven Mile and Spinney Mountain holding trophy trout.

Visitors can also go scuba diving to explore underwater wrecks and artifacts throughout the state. And marinas dotting the shores rent out boats, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards, allowing easy access to a variety of water sports.

Top Lakes for Boating Sports

Lake Granby

With over 1,500 miles of shoreline, Lake Granby is one of Colorado’s premier boating and watersports destinations. The lake is located near Rocky Mountain National Park and allows wakeboarding, waterskiing, wake surfing, and tubing. Marinas around the lake rent powerboats, jet skis, and other watercraft.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Home to both Elk Creek Marina and Lake Fork Marina, you will find amenities like boat rentals, guided fishing excursions, pontoon boats, and much more. For a unique and unforgettable glamping trip, rent a Blue Mesa Adventure Pod and enjoy staying near the action.

Shadow Mountain Lake

Neighboring Shadow Mountain Lake connects to Lake Granby via a canal and also has a marina renting out ski boats, wakeboard boats, pontoons, and personal watercraft. The calm morning waters make it ideal for waterskiing and wakeboarding before the afternoon winds pick up.

At high altitudes with stunning mountain backdrops, these Colorado lakes combine incredible scenery with excellent conditions for boating enthusiasts. Four distinct bays and steady afternoon winds provide sailors with a variety of sailing conditions to enjoy. Rentals are available for small craft like Sunfish sailboats, Hobie Cats, paddleboards, and kayaks.

Carter Lake

Carter Lake, situated in the Rocky Mountains northwest of Boulder, is another popular destination for paddling sports. It has a protected cove exclusively for sailboats and paddle craft, keeping them away from motorized boat traffic. Rentals for sailboats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards can be found at the marina store.

These high-altitude reservoirs have rocky shorelines, secluded coves, and interesting canyon geography to explore by paddle or sail. Their cool, pristine waters make for a refreshing break during the summer heat.

Top Spots for Whitewater Rafting

Arkansas River

The mighty Arkansas River delivers some of the country’s best whitewater rafting through the spectacular Royal Gorge near Canon City. Class IV and V rapids like Sunshine Falls and Sledgehammer Rapid provide heart-thumping thrills through the gorge’s 1,000-foot granite cliffs. Half-day, full-day, and multi-day rafting trips are available.

Colorado River

Another premier whitewater destination is the Colorado River, which flows through Glenwood Canyon. Expert rafters flock to the Numbers section of the river, which contains steep drops like those of the class V Gore Canyon Rapid. Full-day advanced rafting trips take on this turbulent stretch from Pumphouse to State Bridge.

These rivers offer breathtaking scenery along with adrenaline-pumping rapids for rafters. Their high snowmelt flows make them perfect for spring through early summer whitewater trips. Just remember to book your adventure with reputable outfitters to ensure safety along these expert-level rapids.

Top Ice Fishing Destinations

Once the chill of winter sets in, trout fishing transitions to the ice at high-altitude lakes and reservoirs across Colorado.

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, located just west of Lake George, is considered one of the top ice fishing destinations in the state. It is stocked annually with over 175,000 trout, including cutthroats, rainbows, and browns. Late winter is the best time to drill through the ice here and try jigging for the lunker trout.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir

Spinney Mountain Reservoir near Florissant is another prime ice fishing lake known for producing massive rainbow and brown trout weighing over 10 pounds.

Other Top Picks

Lake Pueblo and Turquoise Lake near Leadville both contain plenty of huge lake trout lurking under their frozen surfaces. During the colder months, these lakes let anglers escape into peaceful, snow-covered landscapes in search of trophy trout. Be sure to check ice conditions carefully when planning outings.

Best Lakes for Families

Many lakes in Colorado provide kid-friendly beaches, calm waters, and shallow areas perfect for families to enjoy the water. With so many great choices, it may be hard to pick the best lake for your trip, but you can rest assured no matter where you go, it will be full of family fun.

Chatfield Lake

South of Denver, Chatfield Lake features a swim beach that has lifeguards, playgrounds, and gently sloping banks ideal for children. Canoe, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and pedal boat rentals are available for leisurely paddling.

Boulder Reservoir

Boulder Reservoir is perfect for families. It has one of the largest Colorado beaches monitored by a lifeguard. Facilities include lockers, showers, restrooms, and changing areas.

Cherry Creek Lake

Cherry Creek Lake, also near Denver, is another top pick. It has a swimming area and wakeless zones for stand-up paddleboarding.

Rifle Gap Lake

Rifle Gap Lake on the Western Slope has a shallow section for kids to wade and play in, as well as sailboat, paddleboard, kayak, and canoe rentals.

These lakes make it easy to enjoy the water with little ones in tow. Their swimming beaches, splash parks, picnic areas, and smooth water zones cater well to families looking to make some fun summertime memories.

Planning Your Lakeside Adventure

To make the most of your Colorado water sports vacation, be sure to plan ahead. Research to find the lakes best suited for your chosen activities, then call ahead to inquire about conditions, permits, and rentals.

Many lakes have marinas that provide boat slips and rentals of motorboats, sailboats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. Depending on the location, guests can enjoy water skiing, fishing, and almost any other imaginable water sport. Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Lake, Horsetooth Reservoir, and Carter Lake have extensive rental fleets and launch ramps.

Overnight visitors can usually find campgrounds near popular lakes, like Eleven Mile Canyon, Spinney Mountain State Park, and Turquoise Lake. They can also book lodging at the many statewide lakefront resorts and vacation rentals.

Be sure to check regulations, wear life jackets, and respect safety protocols on Colorado’s beautiful waterways. With preparation and responsibility, enjoy the endless adventures available across the Centennial State!


What are the best lakes in Colorado for waterskiing and wakeboarding?

Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir provide over 40 miles of shoreline and ideal conditions for waterskiing, wakeboarding, wake surfing, and tubing behind powerboats. Their marinas rent out the necessary boats and equipment to enjoy these sports.

Where are the top spots to go whitewater rafting in Colorado?

The Arkansas River, running through Royal Gorge, and the Colorado River along the Numbers near Glenwood Canyon offer expert class IV and V rapids during peak runoff in late spring and early summer. Reputable outfitters provide guided rafting trips in these locations.

Which lakes in Colorado are best for ice fishing?

Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir, Spinney Mountain Reservoir, Lake Pueblo, and Turquoise Lake produce trophy-sized trout through the ice in winter. They are renowned as top destinations to jig for massive rainbow, brown, and lake trout.

What are the most family-friendly lakes for water activities in Colorado?

Chatfield Lake, Cherry Creek Lake, and Rifle Gap Lake have kid-friendly swim beaches, calm paddle zones, and boat and paddleboard rentals. Their shallow areas and smooth waters make enjoying the water with children easy.

How should I prepare to spend time on Colorado’s lakes?

Research lake conditions, regulations, and rentals available at your chosen destination ahead of time. Reserve boat slips or camping spots early. Pack appropriate gear for your activities, like life jackets, fishing rods, or wetsuits. Review safety best practices for recreating responsibly on the water.

Avatar photo

About the author

Simone Weisman

My deep appreciation for nature and active living strongly aligns with the vibrant outdoor culture of Colorado. My enjoyment of yoga, hiking, and exploring scenic trails provides me with a unique perspective that I bring to This personal passion enriches my ability to connect with and inspire our audience, whether they’re local residents or visitors seeking to explore all that Colorado has to offer.