Denver provides convenient access to various lakes within city limits, as well as a few can’t-miss alpine lake options for those seeking a weekend adventure. Whether you’re looking to rent a boat and cruise around the water with friends or embark on a multi-hour hike up into the mountains to gain access to pristine waters — these amazing lakes near Denver should be on your bucket list.
Where? 11500 North Roxborough Park Road
Chatfield State Park is located in nearby Littleton and features a full-service marina, making it a popular attraction for boaters, campers, and fishermen. During the summertime, there is a swimming beach that provides water access for swimmers of all ages. The beach area is located on the west side and is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Additional amenities include paddleboat, pontoon, sailboat, and ski boat rentals. There are restrooms on-site, as well as designated parking, play areas for the children, and even Seagull’s Restaurant located at the marina.
The artificial lake is located on the South Platte River and was constructed in 1965 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. As of summer 2023, the water at Chatfield Reservoir was cleared for swimming. Access to the lake requires a $10 daily vehicle pass, with options to purchase annual passes for $80 or an Aspen Leaf Pass for seniors over the age of 64. Camping is allowed within the park, with full hookup campsites and electrical-only campsites available for reservation. Boating is one of the park’s most popular activities, whether you’re looking to fish, water ski, or simply cruise around and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
PRO Tip: Boating season on Chatfield Reservoir is open between March 1st to December 1st. These dates are subject to change in accordance with ever-changing weather conditions, such as snow and ice. Renewed existing boat registrations can be handled at the park’s headquarters, with new Colorado boat registrations requiring a trip to the local regional office.
2. Bear Lake
Where? Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, approximately 2 hours from Denver. Despite being a bit of a trek in and of itself, this is one of the area’s best lakes for those looking for a new adventure. The hike is a 0.6-mile loop and rated as easy. Most beginner to moderate hikers will be able to complete it in around half an hour, with minimal elevation gain. The path is open year-round, with wildlife being most active in the morning and evening hours. The subalpine lake is surrounded by lush greenery, including pines and aspens. During the fall, the colors change into a photo-worthy golden hue.
After viewing Bear Lake, hikers may want to further explore the stunning national park scenery. This centralized hike has plenty of jumping-off points to other trails, making it a great gateway for other alpine lakes in the vicinity. Views of Hallett Peak and the Continental Divide can be found along the accessible trail, as well as interpretive signs dotting the path. The Bear Lake Road corridor is one of the park’s most popular destinations, which can equate to crowds during popular times such as summer days and fall weekends. Other key destinations along the road include Sprague Lake, Moraine Park area, and the Bierstadt Lake parking area.
PRO Tip: To gain access to Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors must secure a timed entry permit beginning May 27th through October 10th. There are also applicable fee requirements to enter the national park, which can be paid via day passes or the America the Beautiful pass. There are shuttle buses available to help beat the traffic once inside the park.
3. Sloan’s Lake
Where? 1700 Sheridan Boulevard
Sloan’s Lake Park, located in the Sloan Lake neighborhood, features a 177-acre lake. The 2.6-mile paved loop around the lake is a popular path for walkers and joggers. There is bountiful free parking available in the lots around the lake and the striking Denver skyline makes up the backdrop of this urban park. Despite not being naturally occurring, this lake has called Denver home since the mid-1800s when a homesteader accidentally tapped into an underground aquifer. Depending on the season, the lake is home to a variety of wildlife such as migrating birds. Common species spotted near the water include Canada geese, seagulls, mallard ducks, and white pelicans.
The park is Denver’s second largest, featuring amenities such as playgrounds, tennis courts, athletic fields, and picnic areas. The lake makes the park one of the best spots in the city to catch a sunset and during July, the lake hosts the popular Colorado Dragon Boat Festival. As of 2021, powerboats and waterskiing are no longer permitted on the lake. Boaters using kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddle boards, and other non-motorized watercraft are permitted to launch onto the water. Fishing is permitted around a majority of the lake. There are some rental options in the surrounding area, though to ensure convenient access to the lake — boaters should bring their own equipment and watercraft.
PRO Tip: If you have access to a drone, Sloan’s Lake provides a unique opportunity to get a view of the small osprey nesting structure in the center of the lake on Penny Island. Swimming is not allowed at the lake, though drone operators can operate from the shore or from a boat. Operating fees apply at Sloans Lake, generally beginning at $49 annually for a paddle board.
Where? 4201 South Parker Road
Cherry Creek Reservoir provides convenient access to a man-made lake approximately 18 miles from Denver. Access to Cherry Creek State Park requires an $11 daily vehicle pass, with annual and family options available. The park provides a welcome escape from bustling city life and is a popular spot for outdoor recreation throughout the summer, as it includes a swimming beach and a multitude of camping and fishing options. No lifeguards are on duty, so swimming in the reservoir is at your own risk. The beach area includes a roped-off designated swimming region, which makes for a great space to set up a BBQ and enjoy the water.
Boaters looking for lake access will find that Cherry Creek Reservoir has two boat ramps, one on the eastern side and one on the western. Both ramps open at 6 AM, with the east ramp providing access 7 days a week. All motor boats and sailboats are required to have an ANS stamp before launching. Boating on the lake is open between April 1st and November 30th, weather permitting. If there are premature icy conditions, this timeframe may change and boaters should check the Cherry Creek State Park website for up-to-date information and conditions.
PRO Tip: Denverites who want to bring their pups along for a day at the lake can purchase an off-leash area pass for $3 or opt for the annual fee of $25. This gives Fido the chance to run around free of constraints in a 107-acre fenced-in area. Water access is included for pups who like to cool off and splash around.
5. Lake Haiyaha
Where? Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Haiyaha is another popular alpine lake that can be found within Rocky Mountain National Park. “Haiyaha” can be roughly translated to “lake of many rocks,” which gives a clue to the type of landscape that is found along this trail. The round trip distance for the hike is 4.2 miles, with an elevation gain of nearly 750 feet. The initial elevation at the trailhead is 9,475 feet. The hike can be accessed from the Bear Lake trailhead and offers breathtaking views of the Glacier Basin. The trail is noticeably more rugged than others, which requires careful navigation across the sometimes slippery rock surfaces. On the way to the lake, hikers will have views of Nymph Lake and Longs Peak.
Once you’ve reached the shoreline of Lake Haiyaha, the terrain becomes increasingly more rugged. There are large boulders that surround the perimeter of the water, which adds to the striking beauty of the landscape. Straight across the lake are Otis Peak and Hallett Peak, both adding a dramatic flare to any and all photos taken. Weather can change quickly in Colorado, especially the higher in elevation that you are. Hikers should prepare for a change in weather and check the weather forecast before embarking on their hike. When hiking to alpine lakes, a general rule of thumb is to be back to the trailhead by noon.
PRO Tip: Those who don’t want an out-and-back trail can opt to turn the Lake Haiyaha trek into a loop by adding Alberta Falls. This area is incredibly popular, especially during the peak summer months and when fall colors are in full swing. Arriving early is encouraged, as parking lots fill quickly and roads become heavily trafficked with eager tourists.
6. Echo Lake
Where? CO-103 & Mount Evans Road
Those looking for an easy day trip from Denver may want to check out Echo Lake Park near Idaho Springs. This classic Colorado hike is perfect for showing off the state’s stunning scenery to visiting friends and family. The 24-acre Echo Lake is located at the base of Mount Evans. Visitors flock to the park for fishing, hiking, and general sightseeing opportunities. Pine forests surround the lake, as well as expansive vistas. During the winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities are available on the surrounding trails. There are no fees to enter the park, though payment is required for the use of the campground.
How did the lake earn its name you may be wondering? It’s named after the echo you can hear when you shout across the water. Aside from abundant hiking opportunities, Echo Lake also provides prime trout fishing from the shoreline and breathtakingly beautiful picnic areas. The lake is periodically stocked with rainbow trout and is a favorite fishing hole for many locals. Unsurprisingly, the lake is also home to a wide range of wildlife such as mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pikas, and marmots. For this reason, dogs must be kept leashed to ensure wildlife isn’t disturbed or injured. The hike to the lake is around 0.25 miles, making it a short, easy stroll. Additional mileage can be added for those who want to continue exploring the park.
PRO Tip: While the area doesn’t get as busy as tourist destinations such as Rocky Mountain National Park, crowding can still be an issue during the summer months. If you’re looking to get unobstructed photos and enjoy a more serene experience, it’s recommended that you arrive early.
Where? 15600 West Morrison Road
The 2,624-acre Bear Creek Lake Park is not home to one lake, but three! Little Soda Lake, Big Soda Lake, and Bear Creek Lake are all located in the foothills between Lakewood and Morrison. The major attractions of the park surround the various water activities, such as boating and fishing. Big Soda Lake features a swimming beach. No motorized watercraft are allowed on the waters of Big Soda, making it a safe area for those wanting to swim, canoe, or otherwise relax without being concerned about waves. Little Soda Lake is used by a private water ski company, so the public can only access it through their water ski school. Bear Creek Lake allows motorized watercraft during designated months, generally from March 15th through November 15th.
The Soda Lake Marina operates between Memorial Day and Labor Day, providing the public with rental options spanning from paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks. Big Soda Lake allows swimming during the summer months. Within Bear Creek Lake Park, there are 47 campsites ranging from cabins, yurts, and general campsites. Due to the convenient proximity to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, the park can get busier during the peak of summer shows.
PRO Tip: Many local Denver fishermen head to Bear Creek Lake to catch rainbow trout, saugeye, and smallmouth bass. The lake is stocked and every May, there is a Trout Fishing Tournament that’s open to 50 teams — 25 watercraft teams and 25 shore fishing teams.