May 14, 2020 11 min read

Paddle Boarding Colorado: The Ultimate Guide

Colorado is a nature lover’s paradise, so it’s no surprise that the state boasts a fantastic paddle board scene. With plunging freshwater lakes, rivers, and expansive mountain peaks and valleys across the state, you’ll have no shortage of breathtaking views wherever you take your board. You’re also sure to meet like-minded outdoorsy pals who have flocked to the Centennial State for the same reasons as you.

One of the best things about paddle boarding in Colorado - and its outdoor scene in general - is the variety it offers. You can spend one day whitewater paddling under the hot summer sun, and the next day paddling through placid mountain waters amid an alpine chill. Colorado offers many types of paddle boarding, along with a dedicated tribe of fellow enthusiasts to share it with. In fact, there are so many enticing adventure options here - the hardest part is just choosing where to start.

Como Colorado mountains

Where can you Stand Up Paddle Board in Colorado?

We’ve divided our guide into several distinct regions: Denver and Fort Collins, Boulder, the Colorado Mountains, Southwestern Colorado, and Crested Butte. This offers up enough variety for every skill level and every preference. Whether you prefer a social SUP hotspot in a big city or the peace and quiet of a tucked-away state park, we’ve got you covered.

Where To Paddle Board In Denver And Fort Collins

paddle board denver

Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, and any stand up paddle boarding fan would be lucky to call it home. It’s known as the Mile High City for its elevation of, well, a mile - and that makes it an excellent place for scenic paddling adventures of every type. From the bustling downtown to the Rocky Mountains at your doorstep, you’ll never run out of outdoor areas to explore. Below are the best SUP spots in Denver.

SUP Rental Companies In Denver and Fort Collins:

5280 Paddle Sports and Paddler’s Pub at Mountain Whitewater are both great options.

Cherry Creek Reservoir

Cherry Creek Reservoir features some of the most incredible mountain views you’ve ever seen - and in the photogenic state of Colorado, that’s really saying something. Cherry Creek can get crowded with boaters, so plan accordingly and be prepared to seek out a quiet section of the water.

Sloan’s Lake

Sloan Lake (also called Sloan’s Lake) is in the heart of Denver, and it offers the perfect blend of nature and city energy. You’ll see the Denver skyline alongside the natural beauty of a big open sky. Sloan Lake gets busy, and you’ll be sharing the water with boats and water skiers. This makes for choppy water that’s better suited for more advanced paddlers.

Can you paddle board on Sloan’s Lake?

paddle board sloan lake

Yes, you can! Sloan Lake welcomes paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes. It’s also the only lake in Denver that allows motorized boats - but you can’t take smaller motorized personal watercraft, such as jet skis. No swimming is allowed, either, so keep it on the board!

Chatfield Reservoir

Chatfield Reservoir is a gathering spot for all kinds of water sports enthusiasts - even scuba divers! You’ll see water skiing, fishing, and sailing as well. Group events like glow-in-the-dark SUP are popular here, so it’s a great place to bring your pals or make new friends. Chatfield is another spot that gets incredibly crowded, so be ready, and arrive early if you can.

Evergreen Lake

This lake is what you might call painfully picturesque. It’s like stepping into a perfectly cozy Instagram of a cabin in the woods. (For real, there is a literal cabin against the trees right along the lake.) SUP yogis flock to Evergreen Lake for its serene energy, and in the summer it hosts nighttime paddling events. For being relatively close to the city, Evergreen Lake is delightfully calm and relatively untouched.

Bear Creek Lake

This gorgeous stretch of water is the shining jewel of Bear Creek Lake Park. While the lake is open to some motorized boats, only slower watercraft are permitted, so you can expect mild waves. It’s best for a paddler with at least intermediate skills.

Big Soda Lake

Another treasure within Bear Creek Lake Park, this lake is excellent for beginners. Big Soda Lake is ideal for beginners, because it doesn’t allow any motorized boats. You can expect calm waters that are perfect for honing your skills. And of course, the jaw-dropping scenery doesn’t hurt.

Horsetooth Reservoir

SUP horsetooth reservoir

This spot is a bit of a hike from central Denver at a 1.5 hour drive, but it is well worth it. You’ll find choppy waters in the center of the reservoir (if that’s your kind of thing), but there are plenty of quiet and calm coves near the edges. In short, there’s something for adrenaline junkies and peaceful paddlers alike. The views are definitely worth writing home about.

Cache la Poudre River

Cache la Poudre, also called the Poudre River, is a hub for whitewater rafters. The river also has a low-key side, with a slower stretch of the water that is much loved by SUPers and tubers who want to relax.

Standley Lake

Standley is ideal for beginners, because it has a designated area for non-motorized watercraft. If you’re building up to an intermediate level and ready to dip your toes into choppy waters, you can venture over to the region of the lake that welcomes motorized boats. Essentially, it’s a great training ground for multiple SUP skill levels - great for all around paddling and touring paddle boards!

Aurora Reservoir

At the Aurora Reservoir, you’ll share the space with intrepid scuba divers. You’ll also see water sports of every kind being practiced here, so it’s also a fun place to people-watch. With great natural scenery and an atmosphere of energy, it’s a nice place for families to SUP together.

Smith Lake at Washington Park

Located smack dab in the center of one of Denver’s most popular parks, this lake has much to offer. Smith Lake is small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer energy - you can definitely feel the rhythm of the city here. The water is calm and great for beginners, but be advised that there are no SUP rental options close by. You’ll need to bring your own SUP or make plans to rent a board elsewhere in advance.

Clear Creek Whitewater Park

This unique park is designed for maximum whitewater adventuring. Whitewater SUP fans share this space with ambitious kayakers. You can try out different difficulty levels and types of waves, both for training and adrenaline-fueled fun. If you’re new to whitewater SUP, you can try Clear Creek’s lessons at their indoor pool before taking to the outdoor waters.

Where To Paddle Board In Boulder

SUP Boulder

Beautiful Boulder is equal parts thriving city and calm escape. It’s a quick drive from Denver, but is a world all its own. With great restaurants and museums, there’s plenty to do between exploring the great outdoors - but Boulder’s outdoor space is so grand that you just might never want to retreat back inside.

SUP Rental Companies In Boulder:

Rocky Mountain Paddleboard has you covered!

Boulder Reservoir

Bird watchers, rejoice: Boulder Reservoir is a wildlife preserve, so a paddling adventure here offers a front row seat to the happenings of your favorite feathered friends. Dogs are also allowed in the off season, so it truly is a gem for any type of animal lover. Heads up: this spot gets packed on most nice days!

Union Reservoir

Union Reservoir is an ideal escape from the busy pace of Denver. Here, you can find a slice of tranquility just 45 minutes from the center of Denver. Like Evergreen Lake, Union Reservoir is a popular spot for SUP yoga classes. It’s also a great place for a chill, meditative paddle with nature.

Gross Reservoir

Few Boulderites are aware that you are even allowed to SUP at Gross Reservoir - but behold, you can. This alpine lake sits atop Flagstaff Mountain and offers front-row views of the mountains of the Continental Divide. With 11 miles of shorelines to explore and gorgeously rugged scenery, you just might want to spend your whole day here. Keep in mind, the weather at this altitude can change in a snap. Dress in layers for extreme weather, be ready to adjust quickly, and watch out for sudden thunderstorms.The nearest SUP rental options are in Boulder and Golden, so plan accordingly.

Brainard Lake

Located right at the base of Indian Peaks, Brainard Lake offers up 14 acres of magic framed by mountain peaks. If camping is your jam, spend the night at nearby Pawnee Campground to extend your adventure. Beware: the crowds here on weekends can get out of hand. Arrive extra early, or see if you can find a way to visit on a weekday. This is another spot where rental options are sparse, so be prepared!

McIntosh Lake

This low-key lake is rarely crowded, so you’ll get its 256 acres of calm water mostly to yourself. Gaze out at Longs Peak and Mount Meeker from your board while taking in the wildlife along the shore. Be on the lookout for beautiful birds like great blue herons and red-tailed hawks. You might even get a glimpse of a bald eagle!

Paddle Boarding in the Mountains of Colorado

paddle boarding mountains Colorado

Colorado is world famous for its mountains, and luckily for us, many of those mountains surround crystalline alpine lakes that are just begging to be explored. In fact, paddling through a Colorado mountain lake looks a whole lot like paddling through a snowglobe. Of course, calm lakes aren’t the only thing this region has to offer - there are whitewater adventures to be had as well. In Colorado's mountain region, you can explore the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park, mountain views that are so beautiful they look surreal, and the serene bodies of water all around them.

SUP Rental Companies in the Mountains Of Colorado:

Check out:

Grand Lake And Shadow Mountain Lake

Grand Lake is the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado! Shadow Mountain Lake meets it to create one continuous body of water, separated by gates - aka, a nature lover’s dream. (Seriously, there’s more water here than time to explore!) The water is right beside Rocky Mountain National Park if you want to make a trip out of the adventure, and it’s a wonderful spot for families and large groups. Thanks to the nearby town (also called Grand Lake), you’ll have plenty of food options when you head back to land. It probably goes without saying, but the scenery is about as photogenic as it gets.

Prospect Lake

Take in incredible views of Pikes Peak (yes, that Pikes Peak) from your board at Prospect Lake. It’s a wonderful place to SUP, but the water is in high demand. Time on the lake is divided between motorized and non-motorized watercraft, and motorized vehicles tend to get the brunt of the time right now. Still, it’s well worth the visit if you plan ahead. (And if you want to visit at a time that is closed to non-motorized craft, you can hop over to nearby Quail Lake, which is open to SUP all day.) Prospect also has a lovely swimming beach, so you can take a dip after your SUP session.

SUP Pikes Peak

Dillon Reservoir

This Summit County hotspot is home to several annual regattas, which are a delight to watch. If you love to be in the center of the action, this is your spot. Dillon Reservoir is surrounded by several nearby campgrounds, so if you’re into camping, this is a great spot to visit. The reservoir is strict about safety - one Coast Guard approved PFD for each person must be on board your SUP at all times - so be prepared and stay safe!

Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park

This spot is an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true. Glenwood Springs is not for the faint of heart, but advanced whitewater paddlers will love it. Bonus: there are hot springs nearby to unwind after an epic day on the waves.

Paddle Boarding In Southwest Colorado

paddling southwest colorado

Known for its sprawling rock formations, vineyards, meadows, and Grand Mesa National Forest, Southwest Colorado has plenty to offer any outdoors enthusiast. When it comes to SUP, you’ll find plenty of flatwater paddling opportunities and massive bodies of water to enjoy.

SUP Rental Companies in Southwest Colorado:

Vallecito Lake

Vallecito Lake is tucked away in a gorgeous valley about 20 miles outside of Durango. At 7,800 feet above sea level, the water is surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. Take your camera (or sketchbook!) with you - you’ll want to remember this natural beauty forever.

Trout Lake

Trout Lake is the ideal spot for a more low-key paddler. You’ll find few crowds, calm waters, and ridiculously perfect natural scenery. It’s great for anyone who wants to spend a few peaceful hours communing with nature, or for SUP yogis looking for a tranquil atmosphere.

McPhee Reservoir

This lovely manmade lake in Dolores is located near Ridge Point Overlook, with wildly picturesque views to go along with it. Stop by the overlook to take some pictures, then hop on your board and get to know that scenery in a much more up-close and personal way.

SUP trout lake

Lake San Cristobal

Lake San Cristobal’s rich blue water is a calm haven for SUP beginners. It’s also beloved by SUP fishing enthusiasts, who bask in the peaceful energy of the place. Relax at the nearby campground after your adventure if you’re not ready to head back to the busy world just yet. Bring your own SUP or rent it in town before heading into the wilderness!

Lake Dillon Colorado

Expansive Lake Dillon is a popular family spot, and it offers mountain views in every direction. Soak in the big open sky above you as you blissfully paddle the calm waters. Lake Dillon is especially popular with paddle boarding enthusiasts and kayakers, so get ready to make some new friends.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

This massive reservoir outside of Gunnison is 20 miles in size and has a whopping 96 miles of shoreline. (Yes, 96!) Blue Mesa has something for everyone: SUP fishing, SUP yoga, and All Around paddling are all popular here. There are lots of relaxing spots on shore to kick back, and delicious waterfront dining for when you need to refuel. Blue Mesa is part of Curecanti National Recreation Area, which is known for its scenic lookouts, so be sure to enjoy the views on your way in and out.

Where To Paddle Board In Crested Butte

stand up paddle board crested butte

This charming Rocky Mountain town is known for its ski opportunities and stunning fall colors. Paddlers, however, love Crested Butte for the Slate River, a unique paddle boarding opportunity that’s equal parts relaxing and exciting.

SUP Rental Companies in Crested Butte:

Slate River

Slate River is an adventure unlike any other, surrounded by delicate local wildlife and private property alike. The river winds through pristine conservation areas with gorgeous natural views (grab your camera for this adventure). However, it also passes through many stretches of private property, in which the land surrounding the river is off limits for paddlers - so be prepared to stay on your board for long stretches of time! The river’s unique beauty is well worth its quirks. Make sure to check the water levels. Anything above 400 Cubic Feet per Second (cfs) is considered high.

Be aware of the cattle fence on the Lower Slate River. Lay flat on your board or portage around it, but do not cut the fence - the fence keeps the cows safe.

Note: please observe the voluntary no-float period on the Upper Slate River through July 15 to protect the Great Blue Heron nesting period.

Lower Gunnison

For a more difficult stretch of river, try Lower Gunnison. Most people choose to paddle from North Bridge to Whitewater Park. You’ll find some easy Class 2 rapids on the way to the park. If you choose to run Whitewater Park, expect a difficult Class 2 rapids. Check the river level as flows about 1,500 cfs are likely too high for the majority of people.

Map of Paddle Boarding In Colorado

Colorado: Your One-Way Ticket To The Great Outdoors

SUP coloradoOne thing is for sure: if you love SUP as much as we do, Colorado is your oyster. From mountain peaks to bustling city parks and a smattering of whitewater adventure for you daredevils out there, you could easily spend a full summer just trying to paddle in every corner of the state. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore all that postcard-perfect scenery for yourself. Did we miss your favorite place to SUP in Colorado? Tell us in the comments!

Warren Tsoi
Warren Tsoi

Contributor - Warren is an avid waterman who will take any chance to be outdoors. He is passionate about conservation and believes the best way to protect our environment is to get more people outside to appreciate nature.


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