Colorado is home to the Rocky Mountains, which are great for hiking. However, the state also offers many kayaking spots that are suitable for beginner or advanced paddlers alike.
No matter whether you are looking for challenging Class V rapids or calm flat water, you will find something to your liking and skill level.
Here are the best places to go kayaking in Colorado.
The Arkansas River flows southwards from Leadville passes through Buena Vista and then Salida before turning east towards Canon City and finally Pueblo and the surrounding plains. The river has plenty of sections for one-day kayaking or combined 2-7 multi-day river trips, with enjoyable riverside camping or high-class inn.
One favorite spot for whitewater kayaking is the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. This upper section of the river is the most appreciated whitewater kayaking spot in the US. The spot is open to both commercial outfitters and private boaters. Here you take on class IV to V rapids; plus, for 150 miles, the river meanders its way into gorgeous mountains in Colorado.
Beginners are encouraged to use an outfitter affiliated with the Colorado River Outfitters Association; this is a group that represents more than fifty local whitewater rafting outfitters. You’ll also need to register before you can break out your legs in the river.
This section of the river also offers fishing opportunities. Indeed, it’s a popular spot among fly anglers, trying their luck for a good catch. It’s also a beautiful section, with Sangre de Cristo and Saguache mountains standing tall in all directions.
More info on the Arkansas River
Navajo State Park, Navajo Reservoir
The Navajo Reservoir flows from Archuleta County in Colorado into New Mexico. It is part of the famous Navajo State Park. Some section of this park reaches into New Mexico, but the Colorado side has plenty to offer, and kayaking is the best way to explore the river and the park.
Most of the land surrounding the park belongs to the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. There are several points to access the park and the gigantic lake.
Activities in the park include whitewater kayaking in the Pagosa and Durango, fishing crappie, catfish and largemouth bass, swimming, and boating if you are tired; head over to Windsurf Beach for a picnic.
Lake Pueblo may not be as scenic as other areas in this list, but it has a rich history and is friendly to armature paddlers, to boot! Break out your leg in the water, get in your kayak and ride the gentle waters. The desert could look a little intimidating, but you might also spot fossils along the shoreline or historical artifacts if the water is low enough.
Another great thing about the lake is its diverse plant life. Indeed, the lake is a botanical hotspot. The river corridor is home to mule deer, orcas, and coyotes. Sometimes you can even spot a family of bobcats.
There are Pinyon-Juniper woodlands in the north, Indian Paintbrush, rice grass, Pueblo Golden weed, and Golden Blazing Star. There are also hawks, prairie rattlesnakes, and blue herons here.
Eleven Mile Reservoir
Sunset over Eleven Mile Reservoir is a picturesque scene and the place to be. The dazzling rays frame the rock formations in a spectacular manner, and you can take it all in a while on your kayak floating down the reservoir.
Apart from interesting rocky formations, get ready for wildlife viewings. Diverse migratory birds call this park home. If you are a bird enthusiast, this will be fun. You will spot meadowlark, horned lark, mountain bluebird, waterfowl, black-billed magpie, among others. Other wildlife includes pronghorn antelope, Mule deer, black bear, and porcupine.
There are several spots to lay camp along the shoreline that provide great views of the surrounding landscape. The reservoir covers 3400 acres, which means there is no significant boat traffic to slow your ride. An entrance fee is required, though, because the artificial lake is a designated state park. You’ll also be required to pay extra if you plan on camping.
The best time to paddle the reservoir is at sunrise or sunset to avoid the windy afternoons often accompanied by lightning or thunderstorms.
More info on the Eleven Mile Reservoir
The Poudre River-North Park Byway is a 101-mile whitewater river that is designated “scenic and historic”.
Some sections of the river are great for whitewater rafting and kayaking. It varies between Class II and III, so it’s not overly difficult to navigate, even for beginners.
More info on paddling the Poudre river
Bear Creek Lake Park
Bear Creek Lake Park is an incredible 2,624-acre property that is ideal for boating, camping, picnicking, windsurfing, fishing, and swimming, among other activities. It is conveniently located close to Denver.
The park has 3 lakes:
- Little Soda Lake,
- Bear Creek Lake,
- Big Soda Lake.
All the lakes are surrounded by the scenic Front Range, making it the perfect place to spend your afternoon. Bear Creek Lake is open to motorized boats, while Bid Soda Lake is not. Little Soda Lake is open to private boats only.
From Memorial to Labor Day, you can kayak or paddleboat at the Soda Lake Marina. If you hike early in the morning, you are more likely to see wildlife such as deer and birds such as waterfowl, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-billed cuckoo, and Cooper’s Hawk. the best viewing trail is along Turkey Creek or from the Pelican Point
Other Bear Creek Lake Park activities include boating, swimming, hiking, fishing, and camping on the Red Rocks.
More info on Bear Creek Lake Park
Paddling the Yampa River State Park between Craig and Steamboat Springs in the fresh high-altitude air against a majestic backdrop is breathtaking.
This section of the Yampa River State Park is known as the Elkhead Reservoir and stretches across 900 acres, Northwest of Colorado. People usually camp close to the reservoir and kayak leisurely for a few days.
Activities on the reservoir include:
- bird watching ( great blue heron, Canada geese, and the bald eagle),
- fishing (trout, northern pike, and smallmouth bass),
- wildlife watching (mule deer, elks),
- horseback riding.
John Martin Reservoir
For a secluded getaway, try the John Martin Reservoir. It’s part of the quiet Lake Hasty, known for abundant waterfowl and fish. Indeed, it has been referred to as a sapphire on the meadowland.
Despite its proximity to historical landmarks, it’s never overcrowded. With its remote location, mild weather, and diverse wildlife, the park mainly appeals to nature lovers. Anglers from shore or boat catch bass, wiper, walleye, saugeye, perch, crappie, and catfish.
The park is also an excellent bird-watching spot. There are almost 400 documented species, including bald eagles, the least tern, and the piping plover, and after the birds retire to their nest, get ready for a night of dramatic celestial display from the stars.
More info on the John Martin Reservoir
Pearl Lake State Park, located alongside the North Fork River, is a beautiful state park that includes 166 acres of water and high elevation. It is in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs at an elevation of 8,065 feet!
This beautiful region features Farwell Mountain’s incredible views and is incredibly peaceful, providing its visitors a true escape from the hustles of daily life.
The lake is a water-lovers paradise. The trails leading along the shore will take you through the Routt National Forest trees, where you can find cutthroat trout in numbers.
Look out for Ospreys, harriers, western screech-owls, and muskat. You may also observe mule deer, red fox, pine squirrel, or porcupine.
The 190 surface acres of Harvey Gap reservoir are reserved for paddling and relaxing. Boats with motors over 20 hp are prohibited, making for pleasantly still waters to paddle through. There are plenty of waterfowl species, fish, and birds.
But fishing isn’t the only activity in the reservoir; if you’re looking for some alone time, simply follow the water trail as it meanders through wooded mountains. Taking on this trail on your own is a great way to spend time on your own, calm your thoughts and be one with mother nature!
Shadow Mountain Lake
A canal connection to Grand Lake runs through a high-elevation reservoir called Shadow Mountain Lake. It provides 1400 acres of water to paddle. It gets windy sometimes, so prepare for choppy waters.
The lake is lined with islands, and one side of the lake borders Rocky Mountain, National Park. Enjoy it with friends and family or as a quiet solo adventure.
More info on Shadow Mountain Lake
Colorado River in Colorado State Park
The Colorado River is fun to kayak, and you can do so in the upper section or lower section. It’s known for gentle waves and Class II rapids that appeal to paddlers of all skill levels.
What’s more, many sections are within the Colorado State Park, so double the fun!
You can make a camp, have a picnic or play in the park. And you can bring your children along to experience the fun too.
Several segments of the Colorado River are easily kayakable within a day.
However, if you have an inflatable kayak, you can access some by hiking in the mountains.
In either case, a day spent on the colorado river is going to be an adventure!
More info on the Colorado RIver
The 350-acre reservoir around the Rifle Gap beckons all water sports and water enthusiasts. While the weather at the gap can sometimes be a bit windy on some days, the gorgeous mountain scenery and shimmering waters make any time spent on the water a perfect outing.
Anglers can catch rainbow trout, walleye, pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass, German brown trout, and yellow perch. Wildlife viewing includes sightings of elks, mule deer, and the great horned owls.
Bring your family along to enjoy activities at this beautiful spot. Rifle Gap is kid and pet-friendly, making camping and picnics a joy.
I hope the above list of the most awesome locations to paddle in Colorado already got you planning your next trip. If so, here is the official Colorado kayaking site. If you know of any places that should be on this list, please leave a comment below.
If you are a kayaking outfitter at one of these locations and would like to be featured on this page, please get in touch.