15 Best Places to Kayak in Colorado

As one of the most scenic states in the US, Colorado is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. With its beautiful landscapes, stunning mountains, and crystal-clear waters, Colorado is the perfect place for kayaking. If you’re an avid kayaker or just looking for a new adventure, Colorado offers a diverse range of waterways to explore. Here are the 15 best places to kayak in Colorado.

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1. Arkansas River

If you’re an experienced whitewater kayaker seeking a thrilling adventure, look no further than the Arkansas River in Colorado. While there are calm stretches of the river perfect for a leisurely afternoon, the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area is the ultimate destination for those ready to test their skills on Class IV and V rapids.

As one of the most popular whitewater kayaking spots in Colorado, the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area can get crowded during the warmer months. To ensure access to the rapids, be sure to register in advance. But for those up to the challenge, the area offers an exhilarating experience that will push your endurance, reflexes, and limits to the max. Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

2. Eleven Mile Reservoir

Nestled amidst high mountains, lakes offer a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. One such picturesque location is an alpine-style lake sprawling over a vast area of 7,662 acres. The mesmerizing beauty of the lake, coupled with its scenic surroundings, makes it an ideal spot for kayaking enthusiasts. With over 300 campsites, multiple put-in spots, and ample parking space, the lake offers all the necessary amenities for a comfortable stay.

But what sets this lake apart is its calm waters that allow for a truly magical kayaking experience. As the day draws to a close, the sunset paints the sky with vivid colors, enhancing the natural beauty of the mountains. Along the shore, you’ll be greeted by stunning rock formations and the sounds of wildlife, adding to the allure of this breathtaking location.

Moreover, the lake is a haven for kayakers and paddleboarders as it prohibits the use of motor boats and other similar vessels. This means that you can enjoy a peaceful kayaking session without any disturbances, taking in the stunning views of the mountains and the lake’s serene waters.

It’s worth noting that the popularity of this lake means that it can get crowded during peak seasons. So, make sure to plan your visit accordingly and book in advance to ensure that you get to experience the full charm of this amazing location.

3. Rifle Gap

Rifle Gap is a must-visit destination for kayakers looking to explore Colorado’s beautiful lakes. The vibrant turquoise blue waters, forested coastline, and stunning views of the mountains make it a popular spot for both beginners and experienced paddlers.

The narrow width of the lake ensures that you’ll never be too far from the shore, providing a perfect opportunity for novices to gain their footing. However, experienced kayakers can still enjoy the challenge of exploring the entire length of the reservoir, which spans over 350 acres.

While the scenery is breathtaking, be aware that the reservoir can get quite busy during peak kayaking season, so you may encounter other boats and kayakers. As a result, it’s important to be prepared and aware of other vessels sharing the water. But, the beautiful surroundings and calm waters are worth the potential crowds.

4. Colorado River

Paddling the Colorado River is an absolute must-do for anyone visiting Colorado. This magnificent river starts in the Rocky Mountains and stretches an incredible 1,500 miles. It flows south through Colorado before making its way towards the Grand Canyon and ultimately reaching Northwestern Mexico. With numerous sections of varying difficulty, the Colorado River offers something for all skill levels.

Boasting plenty of parking spots and boat launches along its length, the Colorado River also offers hikers, campers, and families with kid-friendly parks, particularly in the Colorado State Park. Don’t forget to set aside a full day to appreciate the splendor and grandeur of Colorado’s most famous river.

5. Navajo Reservoir

The Navajo Reservoir, located in Navajo State Park at the southern end of Colorado and northern tip of New Mexico, offers a unique opportunity for paddlers to explore two states in one trip. This calm reservoir is perfect for recreational kayakers and families who want to enjoy the warm Colorado summers a little longer. Surrounded by forests and hills, the Navajo Reservoir offers stunning views that are best enjoyed from the water. Although it is a bit of a drive from major cities, the escape to the middle of nowhere is worth it for the tranquility it offers.

6.  Animas River

Animas River is a hidden gem in Colorado, and a must-visit kayaking destination that offers a different experience throughout the year. In early summer, the water level rises, creating stretches of Class IV and Class V rapids that even experienced kayakers will find challenging. However, as the summer progresses, the water level drops, and the river becomes calmer and more suitable for beginners.

7. Lake Pueblo

Lake Pueblo, although not having the most breathtaking views in Colorado, is a fascinating place to visit if you are interested in history, sunshine, and warm water. The lake was once home to Native Americans who settled along the shorelines centuries ago, and the Spanish who explored much of the southwestern United States also settled in the area. Today, there are approximately 130 prehistoric archaeological sites that can still be found within the Lake Pueblo State Park.

Even if you are not a history enthusiast, you can still enjoy a day out on the warm water, surrounded by sailing boats, tubers, water skiers, paddleboarders, and fellow kayakers. With 60 miles of shoreline to explore and plenty of parks, campgrounds, marinas, and hiking trails, it’s an adventure suitable for the whole family, on and off the water.

8. Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake is a unique destination due to its secluded location amidst natural surroundings, despite being just half an hour away from the city of Eagle via Highway I-70. Covering 42 acres, it’s a popular spot for anglers looking to fish from the shore or water. Don’t forget to bring your fishing gear as there are plenty of fish in the lake!

But don’t worry, only trolling motors are permitted on the lake, ensuring a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere for kayakers and anglers alike. The lake is serene and provides stunning views of Colorado’s beautiful scenery. Camping is also an option, with numerous RV spots and tent sites available for overnight stays.

9. Pearl Lake

Pearl Lake, nestled next to Hahn’s Peak, is a must-visit destination for kayaking enthusiasts in Colorado. The reservoir offers stunning views of the peak looming large over the lake, creating a wild and breathtaking atmosphere. Although it’s a popular destination for boaters and kayakers, the lake is spacious enough to provide plenty of space to explore and enjoy. Whether you’re looking for a thrilling kayaking adventure or a tranquil day on the water, Pearl Lake is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.

10. Clear Creek

Clear Creek River, located near Golden, Colorado, is a short 1.5-mile stretch of water that offers one of the best whitewater experiences in the state. The Clear Creek Whitewater Park, which spans 800 feet, is divided into three sections with varying degrees of difficulty. The first section features sharp drops and fast eddies, the middle section has large boulders and shallow surf waves, while the lower section has rougher surf and serious wave drops.

This course is not for inexperienced paddlers, but those who are familiar with whitewater kayaking will love the challenge it presents. There’s plenty of parking available, making it easy to repeat the course multiple times throughout the day.

11. Elkhead Reservoir

Elkhead Reservoir is a smaller, yet one of the best kayaking lakes in Colorado. Situated within the Yampa River State Park, it covers 900 acres and is surrounded by some of the state’s most beautiful terrain. The water is peaceful, and the surrounding landscapes offer stunning views.

To make the most of your trip, plan to camp for a night or two in the state park. Sunsets over the Elkhead Reservoir are stunning, but it’s the sunrises that are truly breathtaking. It’s an ideal weekend destination to enjoy a couple of days of easy paddling on a calm lake.

12. Dillon Reservoir

Dillon Reservoir, also known as “Dillon Lake”, is a reservoir located near the state’s capital city and serves as a water source for Denver. If you’re in Denver on business or vacation, it’s worth taking the hour-long drive west to spend some time among the forests and campgrounds surrounding the reservoir. Or just head out on the water for a memorable afternoon or weekend.

The water is calm and easy for new paddlers, but the reservoir offers multiple islands to explore. Here, you’ll be in the home of black bears, bald eagles, ospreys, and deer, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. With 27 miles of shoreline to paddle along, you’ll enjoy every minute you spend out on the water.

13. Shadow Mountain Lake

If you’re looking for a lake that provides a bit more of a challenge, head to Shadow Mountain Lake. While there will be plenty of days when the water is calm and flat, more often than not you’ll have to deal with some chop and current. Located in the Arapaho National Recreation Area, the lake spans a stunning 1,400 acres and connects to Grand Lake via canal. You’ll find motorized boats, sailboats, and plenty of anglers with trolling motors zipping around the lake, so be prepared to share the waters.

Paddling on Shadow Mountain Lake gives you a chance to test your skills against choppier waters, preparing for your next sea or ocean voyage. You’ll find it’s an ideal place to break in new equipment or practice paddling in more difficult conditions.

14. Lake Estes

Lake Estes, located in Park Estes, is just a short drive from Rocky Mountain National Park, and it’s one of the best stops to make while touring the area. The lake may only have four miles of shoreline to explore, and it’s small enough that you can paddle around it in a few hours, but it’s a quiet, calm, and wonderful place to spend an afternoon.

The water is crystal clear, making it easy to spot the many fish species that make their home in the lake. Lake Estes Marina offers boats, canoes, and kayaks for rent, so you’ve got easy access to equipment even if you couldn’t bring your own. Best of all, the conditions on the reservoir are ideal for kayaking throughout the year (pretty much anytime that’s not the dead of winter). Whether you’re visiting in spring, summer, or fall, you’ll have a chance to get out on the water.

15. Browns Canyon

If you’re looking for an adventure of a lifetime, consider visiting Browns Canyon. Here, you can experience “duckying”, a thrilling activity where you navigate rapids in an inflatable vessel that’s a mix between a kayak, canoe, and raft. This unique activity is available year-round, and you can choose to go alone or join a local crew for a group trip.

In addition to the exciting water activity, you can also learn the basics of whitewater rafting, which can be applied to kayaking as well. The expert guides and trainers will help you navigate the rapids safely and teach you the skills you need to succeed. Browns Canyon National Monument, a 22,000-acre park, also offers a wide range of recreational activities such as hiking, camping, and biking. You can even fish in the Arkansas River that flows through the park, which is known for its world-class fishing opportunities.

Kayaking Tours In Colorodo

If you’re planning a kayaking trip to Colorado, it’s recommended to research and find the best spots to make the most of your time on the water. For first-time kayakers, it’s a good idea to consider signing up for a kayaking tour with a local tour company, which provides access to quality equipment and the chance to hear insider information about the most beautiful locations in the state.

Local tour guides can share hidden secrets and lesser-known spots that only Colorado residents know about, making the experience truly unique and memorable. For those interested in whitewater kayaking, it’s best to tackle new courses with the guidance of experienced local kayakers or a reputable tour company.

To help you plan your kayaking adventure in Colorado, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best-rated kayaking tours in the state.

  • Adventure Paddle Tours (paddling on Lake Dillon)
  • Denver Outdoor Adventure Company (Pikes Peak, Sloan’s Lake, and Chatfield Reservoir)
  • The River’s Path (paddling on Green River, including through Labyrinth Canyon)
  • Kayak the Colorado (paddling on the Colorado River, included guided fishing tours)
  • Dvorak Expeditions (whitewater kayaking tours of the Arkansas, Colorado, Rio Grande, Dolores, and San Miguel rivers)
  • Durango River Trippers (kayaking tours of the Durango River)
  • Other resources that can help you find kayaking tours in Colorado include:
  • Trip Advisor – TripAdvisor can offer recommendations on some of the more popular kayaking destinations and tours offered by local companies. You’ll find pictures, resources, links, and feedback from real-life users. 
  • Yelp – With Yelp, you can narrow down your search to kayaking tours in specific parts of Colorado, depending on what city or county you’re visiting. There will also be plenty of reviews so you can know what to expect from each tour company.
  • Google Maps – Using Google Maps, you can search “Kayak tours in Colorado” and get a list of all the top-rated, most popular companies, businesses, and websites in the state. From there, it’s easy to narrow down your options based on where you intend to paddle.  

If you are planning to kayak in Colorado, it’s important to know the state’s laws regarding kayaking. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Kayaks are considered non-motor powered vessels in Colorado and do not need to be registered or licensed.
  • There is no minimum age for operating a kayak, but children under the age of 13 must wear a lifejacket at all times.
  • Kayakers must have at least one Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) on board, and must carry a sound-producing device like a whistle or horn.
  • Between sunset and sunrise, or during periods of low visibility like fog, kayakers must display at least a white light on board their kayak.
  • Kayakers can be charged with “Boating Under the Influence” (BUI) if their blood alcohol level is above 0.08% or if they are visibly impaired. BUIs can result in fines, jail time, community service, probation, and loss of operating privileges for boats and vehicles.

It’s important to follow these laws and practice safe kayaking to ensure an enjoyable experience for yourself and others on the water.

Kayaking in Colorado FAQs

Do I need a permit to kayak in Colorado? Yes, you need a license to kayak in areas protected by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This applies to hunting, fishing, hiking, and kayaking in these protected areas.

Can you drink on a kayak in Colorado? No, it is illegal to drink on a kayak in Colorado. Drinking on any watercraft, whether it is operated by wind, paddle, or motor, is considered a BUI offense.

Are you allowed to kayak anywhere in Colorado? As long as you have the necessary license to access Colorado Parks and Wildlife-protected areas or do not cross private property to reach the waterways, you are allowed to kayak anywhere in the state.

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Colorado? Yes, a kayak with a mounted trolling motor is considered a “motor-powered vessel” in Colorado and requires registration and a license to operate.

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