Paddleboarding has become a quintessential summer experience in Colorado.
But before you head out for a day on the water, plan ahead. Here are some things to consider:
- Can you use your own board, or must you rent a board at the site?
- Where are the best places to paddleboard? We’ve listed some of the best below. (Note that this is not a complete list of every body of water where a paddleboard is allowed in Colorado, but can provide some ideas for getting started with the sport.)
- When is a good time to go? The best times to paddleboard are similar to hiking: in the morning to avoid summer’s afternoon thunderstorms and when there will be decent parking.
- What about safety precautions? Note that “people are legally required to have one life jacket available for every person aboard a vessel, including a paddleboard,” according to Joey Livingston, statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We would recommend wearing it at all times. With our cold, deep Colorado waters, cold shock can set in before you can swim back to your paddleboard” if you fall off. And, as with any water activity, keep an eye on the weather and be off the water if there is lightning in the area.
Renting a paddleboard
There are advantages and disadvantages to renting a paddleboard. During peak days and times, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance to secure one. There also is a time limit to your rental. In general, rental companies open at about 10 a.m. on weekdays or 8 a.m. on weekends, closing at about 6 p.m. or earlier. If you expect to get a rental without a reservation, it’s a good idea to get to the rental office early in the day.
Renting can help you decide if you like the sport enough to invest in all of the gear: board, paddle, life vest, possibly a wetsuit, and either a rack to transport your board or a pump to inflate it when you arrive at the water.
At most rental companies in Colorado, you can sign up for lessons and combine that with the rental cost, or get a quick safety lesson about things like how to wear your life vest and use the leash, or ankle attachment, with the board. Many outfits also have inflatable kayaks and canoes so you can try other water activities, too. Many rental companies also offer lessons for river paddleboarding, which is a vastly different experience from gliding around on a lake.
Many outfitters are conveniently located at reservoirs and lakes, while other outdoor gear stores offer paddleboard rentals for pickup or drop-off. Costs range from $25 to $45 for a one-hour rental, but be aware that some companies have a two-hour minimum.
At some locations, you will need to have secured a boat permit in advance of paddleboarding, and boat permits can sell out seasonally. In these instances, you may need to rent from an on-site company or find a different location. Always check before heading out to avoid disappointment.
Where to go along the Front Range
While it’s something special to paddleboard in mountain lakes, you can try the sport at a handful of city parks. In Denver, paddleboarding is allowed at Sloan’s Lake, Rocky Mountain Lake, Berkeley Lake, Smith Lake in Washington Park, and Ferril Lake in City Park. Here are more spots to check out:
Barr Lake State Park in Brighton has a $9 per vehicle per day cost in addition to the board rentals. If you want to bring your own board to Barr Lake, you must have a boat permit. Paddleboarding is limited to the north half of the lake. 5280 Paddle Sports rents here.
Big Soda Lake in Bear Creek Lake Park. Plan to pay $10 to enter the park. Note that the beach area is at Little Soda Lake. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard rents here. You can bring your own paddleboard as well.
Boulder Reservoir in Boulder. No dogs allowed in summer. Expect to pay $9-$11 to enter the park. There is little beach or shady spots. Unless you snagged a boat permit in the spring, you cannot bring your own paddleboard or other watercraft to use here in the summer. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard rents here.
Chatfield Reservoir in Chatfield State Park, which has an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle per day. Leashed dogs are allowed in the park. You can bring your own paddleboard or rent from Rocky Mountain Paddleboard or 5280 Paddle Sports on-site.
Cherry Creek Reservoir in east Denver. Dogs are welcome. You will pay $11 at the entrance. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard rents here. You can bring your own paddleboard as well.
Gross Reservoir west of Boulder allows non-motorized boating, including paddleboarding, but no bodily contact is permitted and a representative of Denver Water is on-site to enforce the rule. An expansion project here has changed some access points through 2027 so boarders are advised to use the North Shore since Osprey Point is closed. Pets are not allowed in or near the water. There is no rental here, so you must bring your own board.
Horsetooth Reservoir has What’s SUP rentals at three points: Santanka Cove, South Baby and Sunrise Swim Beach. There is a $9 fee to enter the reservoir, plus the rental costs. Since motorized boats are also allowed, make sure to remain in recommended areas. Pets are allowed. You can also bring your own board; no permit is needed.
Prospect Lake, where you need a boat permit if you bring your own watercraft, and Quail Lake, in Colorado Springs. You can rent a Family Fiesta that holds six people. These lakes are both in urban areas which can be good for access but do not provide the full getting-away-from-it-all experience you might want while paddleboarding. SUP Colorado Springs rents here.
Rueter-Hess Reservoir in Parker has a minimum age requirement of 8. Because this reservoir is not open to the general public, you must sign up in advance for a rec program before arriving. This reservoir stores drinking water, so swimming is not allowed. Dogs are not allowed here. Colorado SUP Sports has rentals here; you cannot bring your own board.
At Sloan’s Lake, where you have Denver’s skyline as a backdrop to the east and views of the Front Range to the west, you can use your own paddleboard or rent from Denver Paddle Boards or Denver Outdoor Adventure Co., which will deliver to the lake.
Union Reservoir in Longmont. Expect to pay $10-$12 for parking. Try to snag a picnic area near the water early in the day. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard rents here, or you can use your own board.
Where to go in the mountains
Blue Mesa Reservoir is Colorado’s largest body of water and paddleboards are allowed. While there isn’t a rental company at the reservoir, local companies such as Wheelies and Waves can deliver boards to the site. Blue Mesa is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Aim for Old Highway 50 Beach or Dry Creek for paddling. You can use your own board here, too.
Dillon Reservoir between the towns of Silverthorne, Keystone, Frisco and Breckenridge, is a popular option. You cannot have bodily contact with the water here, since this is managed by Denver Water. However, given the water temperature (frigid), it’s probably best to stay dry. There’s a two-hour minimum for paddleboard rentals. You can use your own board without a permit. Stand Up Paddle Colorado rents here. Frisco Bay Marina at Dillon Reservoir also has paddleboard rentals with a two-hour minimum.
In the Durango area, you can paddleboard at Vallecito Reservoir, Twilight Lake and Lake Nighthorse. These lakes are all surrounded by trees and mountain peaks. Rentals are available, or you can use your own board.
Evergreen Lake in Evergreen has paddleboard rentals seven days a week, but the lake and rentals can be closed due to private events at the Evergreen Lake House or inclement weather, so always call ahead. Rentals are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Private watercraft, including paddleboards, are allowed. There is no swimming here.
At Grand Mesa, Thunder Mountain Lodge will deliver your rental paddleboard or allow you to pick it up and take it to the lake of your preference. Each of the lakes at Grand Mesa is surrounded by forest and will have limited areas to put in. You can use your own paddleboard, too.
Lake Nighthorse near Durango allows paddleboarding except at the separate swim beach and aqua park, which do not allow any watercraft in the area. 4Corners Riversports has on-site rentals there. You can also bring your own board.
Nottingham Lake in Avon is tiny but has spectacular views of the mountains. No dogs are allowed. Swimming to and from a watercraft is not allowed, but there is a nearby swim beach. Stand Up Paddle Colorado rents here. You can also bring your own board.
Trout Lake just outside of Telluride offers a gorgeous alpine lake view that seems especially stunning while you’re paddling around. Check with local gear companies about rentals and tours; you can also bring your own paddleboard.
Where you must bring a paddleboard
If you have your own paddleboard, your only restrictions will be checking to see if a boat permit is required on the lake and how close you can get to the water to unload your gear (or have a method of carrying the board with you).
Of Colorado’s 43 state parks, 29 of them allow paddleboarding. As noted above, some of these also have paddleboard rentals. Before getting on the water, verify that you have the correct state permits and bring them with you to show any park ranger who you might encounter.
- Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area
- Boyd Lake
- Barr Lake (rentals)
- Chatfield (rentals)
- Cherry Creek (rentals)
- Eleven Mile
- Harvey Gap
- Highline Lake
- Jackson Lake
- James M. Robb
- John Martin Reservoir
- Lake Pueblo
- North Sterling
- Pearl Lake
- Rifle Gap
- Spinney Mountain
- State Forest
- Steamboat Lake
- Sweitzer Lake
- Sylvan Lake
- Trinidad Lake
Rules and regulations
Whether or not there is bodily contact allowed with the water is an important detail to know when selecting a lake for this sport. “No bodily contact” means there is no swimming allowed, and while you can use paddleboards, kayaks and canoes, you cannot dangle feet and hands in the water or jump in and out or off and on your watercraft. Accidents do happen and there is a chance someone may fall in the water, but the rules guide your behavior on the water and you should avoid contact with the water.
CPW’s Livingston says that a good way to tell if a state park allows swimming or bodily contact in a lake is to check if it allows water skiing. If that sport is not allowed, then neither is swimming. For example, Barr Lake allows paddleboarding but not water skiing, and Boyd Lake State Park allows swimming, water skiing, paddleboarding and jet skiing.
“At Eleven Mile and Spinney (State Parks), you need a full body wetsuit to have water body contact,” Livingston said. “That is mostly due to cold water temps year round.”
For lakes that are managed by the U.S. Forest Service or another land manager, check with that entity to verify rules for paddleboarding and water contact. Many reservoirs in Colorado provide drinking water and are managed by the agency that delivers the water, such as Denver Water.
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