The Best Kayaking In Colorado

Are you looking for some excitement mixed in with amazing scenery and moderate amounts of exercise? If you feel your weekends and holidays would be better spent outdoors breathing in all nature has to offer, maybe it’s time to go kayaking in Colorado.

With no shortage of outfitters, rivers, and lakes in Colorado, many kayakers have everything they need to experience a thrilling, fun-filled weekend kayaking. With many different options of lakes and rivers, kayaking in Colorado is perfect for either beginners or skilled kayakers.

Regardless of whether you are new to the sport, or an experienced kayaker, the rivers and lakes in-between the scenic mountains of Colorado are something that every person should experience at least once in their lifetime.

The 10 Best Places For Kayaking In Colorado

While there are numerous rivers and lakes to choose from for your perfect weekend on the water, there is only a handful that makes the trip an unforgettable experience.

1. Arkansas River (Headwaters Recreation Area)

The Arkansas River is one of the best and most exciting trips for kayakers and whitewater rafters in the United States. This is because the Arkansas River begins so high up in the Rocky Mountains that in the early Spring, when the snow melts, there is an abundance of flowing water, causing fun-filled rapids for thrill-seekers.

However, even if you are inexperienced with kayaking, you can still enjoy a day out floating on one of the calmer sections of the river. If you contact the Arkansas River Outfitters Association and explain your skill level with kayaking, they will help you find the perfect whitewater experience based on your skill level.

While the Arkansas river does offer class I–IV rapids for those looking for a bit more adventure, there are also relatively calm sections of water filled with breathtaking scenery for those who are just looking for some quiet time with nature.

Due to the popularity of this river, you will need to call ahead and book your trip in advance.

2. Navajo Reservoir

The Navajo Reservoir is found in the Navajo State Park. The entire reservoir spans 35 miles and provides countless watersports and recreational opportunities for anyone wishing to enter the park.

The Navajo Reservoirs’ size is so large that kayakers can spend multiple days paddling through the waters and encounter new sights and adventures upon every visit. A part of the state park crosses over into New Mexico, so you could find yourself crossing state borders while paddling.

However, many local kayakers have noted that there is much more to discover on the Colorado side of the park. There are also fewer people on this side of the park, making it perfect for beginners who are nervous about paddling near crowds.

3. Lake Pueblo

Lake Pueblo can be found in Lake Pueblo State Park. While it isn’t the most scenic lake on our list, it is one of the more historical sites. The lake can be found on the edge of both the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.

In 1921 after the devastating Pueblo Flood, the Pueblo Lake was created as an attempt to be a manmade water barrier controlling the water flow of the Arkansas River. The Pueblo Lake spans 11 miles, has an elevation of 4,900 feet, and has a shoreline that is 60 miles long.

Due to the lake being situated in a popular state park with an interesting historical background, it is easy for beginners to test out the waters without needing to bring their own kayaks as there is a place that rents out kayaks in the park.

4. Elkhead Reservoir

The Elkhead Reservoir is perfect for beginners who just want to enjoy a day of calm, leisurely paddling. The Elkhead Reservoir spans only 900 acres, and as it is a part of the Yampa River State Park, the scenery is definitely worth mentioning.

A weekend of camping or just a day out kayaking on the reservoir is highly recommended if you just want some quiet time away from the city. The high altitude of the reservoir ensures you will return home feeling refreshed after breathing in all the crisp air.

5. Rifle Gap Reservoir

The Rifle Gap Reservoir is located in the Rifle Gap State Park. It is a long and narrow reservoir that spans 350 acres. It is an ideal place for motorboats, so if you are planning on kayaking, be prepared to face a couple of ripples in the water.

The scenery found at this reservoir makes it worth the trip. With crystal clear blue waters among the reflection of the mountain on the sparkling surface of the reservoir, it is easy to see why so many water enthusiasts list the gap as a personal favorite. 

6. Harvey Gap

The Harvey Gap Reservoir is located within the Harvey Gap State Park. There is a prohibition on boats that have motors over 20hp, so it makes for a calmer kayaking experience than most places.

With the light amount of paddling you’ll need to do, you will have plenty of extra time to spot the local wildlife in and around the reservoir. To protect the local wildlife within the park, no overnight camping is allowed, and pets are prohibited.

7. Bear Creek (Big Soda Lake)

The Big Soda Lake at Bear Creek Lake Park is perfect for watersports of any kind. There is a parking fee upon entry of $10 per vehicle. There are three lakes at Bear Creek; the Big Soda Lake is the best option for those wishing to have a relaxing time paddling on the water as no motorboats are allowed.

8. Eleven Mile Reservoir

If you are looking for some alternative scenery, the Eleven Mile Reservoir is the perfect place for you. With minimal amounts of trees, it may not be the average persons’ idea of ‘beauty. However, the fascinating and weird rock formations would make most people do a double-take.

The Eleven Mile Reservoir is also quite large, spanning 3,400 acres. Even on a few of the busiest weekends, you won’t have too much trouble trying to find a quiet spot to avoid all the boats on the water.

There is a word of caution for the smaller vessels on the water, as the wind in this area can become hazardous for kayaks and even small boats.

9. Pearl Lake

Pearl Lake, found in Pearl Lake State Park, is a lovely little gem hidden in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs. It spans 166 acres and has an elevation of 8,065. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery and amazing views of Farewell Mountain, it is most certainly worth a visit.

If you are looking for some quiet calm while paddling amongst a luscious green landscape, you’ve found your weekend destination. There are no boats allowed, so peace is a guarantee when kayaking on this unpopulated lake.

10.Evergreen Lake

While Evergreen Lake doesn’t have the most spectacular scenery as the other places on our list, this lake is perfect for beginners who have never been kayaking. The lake has a 10-horsepower limit on all water vessels to preserve the natural peace and calm of the area.

With its 900 acre size and kayak rentals nearby, no chance of larger vessels zooming past you and disrupting your paddling; Evergreen Lake is a beginners paradise.

What Skill Level Is Needed To Kayak In Colorado?

With the abundance of rivers and lakes in Colorado, the good news is you don’t need to have any previous experience or skill with kayaking to enjoy a day or weekend out on the water at most places.

If you have never been kayaking before, there are numerous lakes or stretches of rivers that are relatively calm and do not require any previous experience with paddling. Most rental places will have a guide that teaches you basic safety instructions and will provide you with your own personal PFD (Personal Floatation Device).

You will only need to have experience kayaking if you are planning on facing class III-VI rapids. Most outfitters you can call ahead, and they will instruct you on which rapids should be suitable for you and your groups’ skill level.

When Is The Best Time To Go Kayaking In Colorado?

In general, the most pleasant time to plan your kayaking trip would be in the early summer or late Spring. In these months, you will not have to dress warmly and bundle up because of the cold, yet at the same time, the heat isn’t so bad that you will have to worry about cooling down.

Your only worry when kayaking throughout the early summer months or even late Spring is the chance of thunderstorms or rain ruining your day on the water. This can easily be avoided by watching the weather forecast and planning your trip properly.

The most hazardous time for kayakers is when it is so cold that the water freezes over. It is generally considered good practice to avoid kayaking during winter. However, if you are brave enough to face a bit of cold weather, it is still a beautiful time to go kayaking in the late summer or the beginning of fall. The autumn leaves will make any trip one to remember.

Colorado’s main kayaking season begins in May and continues until September, with many kayakers agreeing that the best time is May through June. If you are a beginner who is new to kayaking and have little paddling experience, August is the perfect month for you as the water is calmer, making for a relaxing kayaking trip.

What Should I Bring On My Kayaking Trip?

If you are planning your first kayaking trip and are uncertain about what you should bring, there are a couple of fundamental items that will definitely make your paddling journey a bit more enjoyable.

1. Dry Boxes And Dry Bags

Dry boxes can be used to store food or snacks while on the water, or even cellphones and cameras if you want to brave bringing some electronics. They are plastic boxes equipped with a rubber seal to make them watertight.

Dry bags are considered a better option in general, as they can be manipulated to fit a shape that will stay in your kayak. These bags roll closed to form a watertight seal and are made of waterproof material. You can use them to store items like dry clothing or food.

2. Sunscreen

Sunscreen may very well be the most important thing you bring with you on your trip. If you’re spending multiple hours or days paddling in the direct sun, nothing can ruin your trip more than a nasty sunburn that leaves you aching and immobile.

3. Water

Water is considered as one of the most important things you need to remember when you’re in the sun or exercising all day is to stay hydrated. You should bring an adequate amount of water with you in your kayak, or for longer trips, bring a water filter or iodine tablets to purify the water from the river or lake.

4. Clothing

During the summer months, for those hot and sunny days, it is best to wear a polyester T-shirt and shorts. Cotton does not dry as easily and can leave you feeling wet and uncomfortable for a longer amount of time.

If it is a relatively cold day, you should consider investing in a wetsuit or a drysuit. A drysuit differs from a wetsuit because you can still wear normal clothes underneath, but it is still watertight.

5. Shoes

You should always wear closed shoes when kayaking for safety reasons. The best shoes to wear would be wet shoes, as these have rubber soles that will help you with your grip when you are walking on slippery surfaces. You should never wear open shoes or flip-flops while kayaking, as they are not supportive and have no grip, which is hazardous on the water.

How Much Does Kayaking In Colorado Cost?

Kayaks on their own are relatively expensive. Luckily, kayaking in Colorado is so popular that almost any lake or river will have an outfitter nearby where you can rent a kayak. Almost all outfitters have included the cost of paddles, helmets, and PFDs in the rental price.

AreaCostDay Pass PriceAlternative Fees
Arkansas River$10/hr$89 (Half Day)
Navajo River$12/hrNo Fee
Lake Pueblo$20/hr$10
Elkhead Reservoir$20/hrNo Fee
Rifle Gap$22/hr$9 Per Vehicle$4 Per Person
Harvey Gap$23/hr$10
Bear Creek (Big Soda)$25/hr$10
Eleven Mile Reservoir$20/hr$10
Pearl Lake$23/hr$7
Evergreen Lake$20/hr$10 Mon-Fri$15 Sat-Sun

Conclusion

Whether you’re a tourist, just visiting the area or a local looking for something different to fill your weekends, kayaking in Colorado is a weekend activity worth considering.

With an abundance of lakes and rivers to choose from, there is an option for both beginner and experienced kayakers alike. Just don’t forget to pack your water and sunscreen while enjoying your day on the water.