18 Epic Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking in Denver
By Natalie Ringel
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Updated October 16, 2021
With lakes, rivers, and streams right outside a lovely urban city, it is no wonder that Denver, Colorado is one of the fastest growing cities in the US. Sunny and warm, Denver is home to some of the most beautiful places to canoe and kayak at year-round- and most of them are free! With snow-capped mountains meeting the edge of crystal clear waters, kayaking in Denver provides an amazing backdrop to explore Colorado’s natural landscape.
Whether you are interested in raging rapids or calm waters, paddlers of all abilities can enjoy canoeing and kayaking in Denver, Below is a list of of some of the most scenic spots for paddling in Denver- take advantage of your summer vacation and get out on the water!
Best Places to Go Canoeing and Kayaking Near Denver
Just minutes from downtown Denver, South Platte River is called the best urban kayaking destination in the state. While views of REI and Starbucks may replace giant cliffs and boulders you may find at other sites, South Platte River is the perfect spot of for all abilities, especially those looking for quick access to water.
The river does have rapids, some that converge into major waterfalls! Please beware of these rapids- scope them out before choosing to paddle through them!! Besides the rapids, calmer sections of the river are often used for floating and tubing. Avid paddlers especially love this river because of its accessibility; launch sites are found throughout the river.
If paddling at a relaxed pace, the main section of the river can be paddles in about 4 hours (5.5. miles). Kayaking is definitely exercise- and food is fuel! There is a put-in at Prince Street Bridge which is full of amazing restaurants.
Rentals are available at Confluence Kayaks, right in downtown Denver. With over two decades of experience, this shop has all the gear necessary to fully prepare you for your water adventure! Bonus: You can set up your personal pick-up and drop-off times for any rental equipment- it is a completely customizable experience ($59)!
How to Get There: If driving, start by heading towards Fort Collins, then take I-76 E toward Fort Morgan to NE-51B Link to E Roscoe Srv Rd. If not driving, you can get there by train (A) from Denver International Airport or Union Station, or by bus with lines 24, 28, 32, 43.
Paddling through Rocky Mountain National Park on the Upper Colorado River or one of its many lakes is a beautifully serene experience. Home to the headwaters of the Colorado River, the park’s many attractions are perfect for the whole family.
The west side of the park is best for paddling; Estes Park provides lovely pools for beginners to paddle around while the river is better for intermediate kayakers. Both of these bodies of water are near Performance Park Pavilion, a beautiful spot for an afternoon picnic after paddling.
Whether looking to spot trout in the deep, calm water of Lake Estes or experience the rapids in the shallows of the Colorado River, Rocky Mountain National Park has no shortage of things to explore! Boat rentals are available at Lake Estes Marina for only $25 an hour!
How to Get There: If driving, start by heading toward Fort Collins, then take US-36 W towards Boulder. Take CO-7 W to the park. If not driving, there is a bus from Union Station to Estes Park, the nearest place public transportation goes to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Known as Colorado’s fishing “hot spot” kayaking around Lake Pueblo State Park is known for its abundant fish populations, pristine shorelines, and clean campsites among 10,000 acres of land.
A historical site, paddling through the park is truly a transformative experience. Paddlers looking for long passages (most visitors opt for 7 to 9 mile routes) will absolutely love this park. With steep walls all around, Pueblo Lake has a unique look compared to other lakes in Colorado, and is even said to be a good place to find fossils near the shore!
Because the lake is a considerable size, it is not well-protected from the wind. Visitors should be wary of weather conditions, like high winds, that might make the lake not safe for paddling. That being said, Pueblo Lake is best suited for paddlers with some experience. When the weather is permitting, the lake is used for both motorized and non-motorized vehicles- it is truly a place enjoyed by all!
Lake Pueblo State Park is a must-see for lovers of history and nature. Rentals are available at Laketime Rentals for $20/hour. If planning to launch your own boat, equipment is required so be checked by park rangers before entering and exiting the water at the launch site.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-25 S and take exit 99 A towards 6th St. Then take CO-96 W to Pueblo Reservoir Access Rd. If not driving, there is a bus from Union Station to Pueblo which requires an extra 30 min drive to the park itself.
Searching for invigorating and adrenaline-pumping paddling? Look no further- Cache la Poudreis the place for quintessential Colorado terrain. With Class II-V rapids, kayaking in Denver has been elevated to a whole new level.
The Filter Run is 2.5 mile segment of the river that is recommended for beginners nervous about tackling the rapids and advanced paddlers looking to ride the waves. This portion of the river has Class II and III rapids arranged in a loop that kayakers can paddle a few times during one outing.
Besides kayaking, this area is also popular for whitewater rafting. Mishawaka and Pineview Falls are a haven for thrill-seekers, and are best viewed from rafts instead of kayaks. Cache La Poudre is renowned for its wild waters- be sure to wear a lifejacket and buckle in for a guaranteed crazy journey.
Renting equipment at the river is available through Mountain Whitewater. Kayaks can be rented for $55 and canoes for $50 per day, with a discounted price if used two days in a row. Mountain Whitewater also offers tours to help make you experience paddling Cache La Poudre as fun and safe as possible.
How to Get There: If driving, head towards Fort Collins, then take I-76 E toward Fort Morgan to US-34 W to 12th St. If not driving, there are multiple trains a day that leave from Union Station that go to the river, or trains from Greeley Evans Regional Transportation that will also take you there.
Only 45 minutes from downtown Denver, Evergreen Lake’s naturally beauty is truly astounding. With pine trees adorning sandy shores, Evergreen Lake’s medium size and remote location makes for the perfect spot for beginners or anyone looking for a leisurely paddle during the day.
Protected and calm waters offer a great place for learning how to kayak and paddle board for all ages. However, swimming is not permitted in the lake as it acts as a water supply for nearby towns.
With hiking trails and picnic areas surrounding the lake, Evergreen Lake is an ideal day trip away from the city. Evergreen Park & Recreational District offers boat rentals for $20/hour. Whether you’re looking for kayaks, canoes, paddleboat or paddle boards, the boathouse has tons of equipment ready to help you make the most of your trip.
When it comes to adventure kayaking and rafting near Denver, the headwaters of the Colorado River is the place to be. Flowing around Gore Canyon and Hot Sulphur Springs, paddlers seeking out adventure should definitely check out Gore Canyon.
The area surrounding Gore Canyon has Class IV and V rapids ready for advanced paddlers tackle. However if visiting with novice paddlers, stretches of the Colorado River below Gore Canyon offer calmer waters for them to enjoy.
River rafting is the most popular way to explore these Class V rapids, although inflatable kayaks can also be used. Before heading out, know that kayaking around Gore Canyon is challenging and best suited for experienced kayakers. Said to be some of the wildest river terrain in the U.S., kayaking Denver’s Gore Canyon will no doubt be an adventure!
Pumphouse Whitewater Park is the ideal launch site for this area. With camping grounds and picnic areas, it is a great starting point for this epic journey. Rentals and guided tours of the river are offered by Colorado River Rentals (kayaks $49/day).
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to !-70 W towards Grand Jct. Then take C0-74 S and exit towards Evergreen Parkway. If not driving, there are multiple trains a day that leave from Civic Center Station that will take you to Evergreen Park.
Owned and maintained by the city of Boulder, the Boulder Reservoir guarantees clean water and beaches for all visitors to enjoy. With calm waters and camping grounds, the Boulder Reservoir is ideal for families and beginners looking to spend an afternoon out in nature.
Called the “Dream Cove” in the otherwise dry Boulder area, the Boulder Reservoir provides a water oasis for flat water kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing. On this 700 acre recreational site, it is best to launch your kayak from the southeast or southwest beaches and to paddle near the shoreline (motorized boats are allowed).
Bonus- dogs are allowed after labor day; enjoy the beauty of the Boulder Reservoir with your furry friends! Rentals are available through Rocky Mountain Paddleboard for $25/hour. Of course, bringing your own boat is always welcome, but you must acquire a permit before your trip.
This stretch of the Arkansas River provides calm waters for kayakers, cancers, and river rafters looking to experience the beauty of pure nature.
Major canyons and valleys offer a variety of routes for different ability levels. The most popular, and most challenging, sections of the river include Pine Creek (class V), the Numbers (class IV-V), the Narrows (class III-IV), Browns Canyon (class III-IV), Bighorn Sheep Canyon (class II, III-IV) and the Royal Gorge (class IV-V). Paddlers can enjoy these sites year-round, or choose to kayak through calmer waters too.
Kayaking the Arkansas River is also extremely popular because of its proximity to hotspots Buena Vista, Salida and Cañon City. With the river flowing right alongside these cities, it has never been easier to take a pitstop at these quaint cities and explore their restaurants and shops.
Recently named the best place for whitewater rafting and kayaking in the U.S., kayaking in Colorado will not disappoint! Rentals and tours are available through Arkansas River Tours. Not only do they have tours that pass through some of the most challenging rapids, but also have tours specially catered towards families, scenic tours, and yoga retreats.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Jct. Then take Co-91 S to Poplar St. If not driving, there is a bus from Denver International Airport that goes to Leadville, but it costs about $60.
With several little inlets boasting jagged cliffs and sandy shores, the Horsetooth Reservoir is the best spot near Denver to paddle near mountain goats while improving your kayaking skills. Located alongside Fort Colins, CO, the Horsetooth Reservoir is loved by locals and visitors alike for its accessibility and convenient campgrounds.
Most people paddling around the Horesetooth Reservoir recommend spending at least one to two days in the area to fully experience all it has to offer. With campgrounds along the South Shore, paddlers often start at the North Shore and end up at the South Shore for an overnight trip.
Because motorized boats are allowed on the lake, the lake can get a bit choppy; therefore, this paddling is best suited for people with some experience paddling. Besides the choppy waves, Horestooth Reservoir is truly a great place to bring the family- it’s close to city but feels like worlds away!
If bringing your own boats, there are launch sites on both the North and South Shores of the reservoir. Otherwise, rentals can be purchased near the reservoir at Inlet Bay Marina for $20/hour. Only 7 miles long, Horsetooth Reservoir is the perfect place to start you paddle journey without being too overwhelmed (and again- look for the mountain goats!).
How to Get There: If driving, head towards Fort Collins then take I-25 N to E Harmony Rd. Take CO Rd. 23 to the reservoir. If not driving, there are buses from Union Station and Denver International Airport that drop you about 15 minutes away from the reservoir.
Eben G. Fine Park
Rentals Available: Yes- at Whitewater Tubing & Recreation
Nicknamed “Mr. Boulder” for his passion and enthusiasm for the city, Eben G. Fine was elected secretary of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce in 1927 and held this position for many years. His love for Boulder culminated into this park, where playgrounds, campgrounds, and access to the Boulder Creek are visited by thousands each year.
Eben G. Fine Park’s access to Boulder Creek is perfect for new kayakers looking to build their skills! The park has an awesome ½ mile slalom course with purpose built obstacles and some exciting drops and slides. Because this part of the course is pretty short, paddlers can do a few laps or choose to kepp paddling down the Creek for about another mile.
Boulder Creek itself is pretty shallow and rocky, so make sure to wear water shoes and be prepared to walk your boat through extremely shallow areas. Because it is so shallow, Boulder Creek is easy to navigate and an ideal place for novice paddlers and little kids. Therefore, families will especially love paddling in Eben G. Fine Park because of its numerous play areas and picnic tables.
Visitors can launch their boats at Eben G. Fine Park’s access point, and can get out of the creek at any point. If looking to rent kayaks or tubes (Boulder Creek is also known for being an awesome lazy river) Whitewater Tubing & Recreation has you covered. Eben G. Fine Park is truly a great place for families and novices to experience kayaking in Boulder.
How to Get There: If driving, head towards Fort Collins, then take US-36 W towards Boulder. Then take the Baseline Rd. exit towards Broadway Arapahoe Ave. If not driving, bus lines AB1, Dash, Bolt, Hop, and N will take you to the park.
Bordered by wide-open prairies and grasslands, Chatfield Reservoir in Chatfield State Park is a beautiful mountain-clad setting for a tranquil paddle near Denver. Close to the city but still teeming with wildlife, Chatfield Reservoir is an ideal destination for someone looking to relax and enjoy Colorado’s natural beauty.
Paddlers are recommended to explore the southwest section of the reservoir because it is shallow enough that it does not attract many motorized boats. This area ends up connecting to Platte River (can paddle about a mile upstream before the current gets too strong) and Plum Creek as well as several other small ponds.
Many visitors enjoy paddling and portaging between Chatfield’s many small ponds- you can basically forge you own path anywhere in the park! However, the best put-in is Eagle Cove on the main portion of the reservoir.
Renting equipment to enjoy these breathtaking views from the water is offered by Colorado Water Sports for $25/hour. Colorado Water Sports also rents SUPs and paddleboat which are great alternatives for experiencing Chatfield Sate Park.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-25 S towards Santa Fe Dr., then US-85 S towards Titan Parkway to Titan Rd. If not driving, bus 402L passes by the park or you can get there from the Denver International Airport’s train to Arapahoe, 20 min away from the park itself.
Originally built in 1965 to supply Denver’s growing water needs, Lake Dillon– also called Dillon Reservoir- is now one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in Colorado. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, paddlers can enjoy activities on Lake Dillon year-round.
A small lake with calm waters, Lake Dillon is an ideal spot for novice paddlers or those looking for a quaint vacation getaway. Its recommended to start you paddle early in the morning to catch flat waters before the winds pick up- then you cain sail!
Lake Dillon is usually a full-day or weekend destination with cute towns of Silverthorne and Dillon on the edge of the lake to provide the perfect bed-and-breakfast small town experience. Local farmers markets and blooming scenery make paddling on Lake Dillon truly an intimate and fun getaway.
On the shores of Lake Dillon Frisco Bay Marina rents all equipment necessary for a great kayak trip and also offers lessons. Kayak rental rates are $40/2 hours Monday-Thursday and $44/2 hours Friday-Sunday.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Jct. Then, take US- 6 E to Dillon Dam Rd. If not driving, there are shuttles to Frisco, Silverthorne and Dillon from Denver International Airport.
Just a quick hour and a half from Denver, Green Mountain Reservoir is a beautiful high-altitude lake surrounded by mountains and sandy beaches. Green Mountain Reservoir itself is a relatively calm lake with wide-open waters perfect for any ability.
Vistors also enjoy scenic hikes around the Blue River, famous for its trout. Although this part of the reservoir cannot be paddled, it is still a nice afternoon activity. The Lower Cataract Lake next to the reservoir is another favorite of visitors, and gets less boat traffic than Green Mountain.
This area is definitely meant for paddling and swimming! Picnic tables and campgrounds make it a perfect day-trip, and with no cell reception, you will get the much needed break from social media you deserve.
Large boat rentals are available at the Heeney Marina right on Green Mountain Reservoir (note that kayaks are NOT available). Whether you are renting from the marina or bringing your own boat, you must launch from the Heeney Marina’s access point.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Jct. Then, take CO-9 to Heeney Rd to Co Rd. 1775. If not driving, there is a Greyhound shuttle departing twice a day to Kremmling, 20 min from the reservoir.
This 6,000 acre state park is known for its scenic overlooks and rugged terrain. While the park has numerous hiking, biking, and rock climbing trails, its real treasure is the Guernsey Reservoir.
The Guernsey Reservoir is a haven for kayakers and paddle boarders. There are tons of launch points along the reservoir; visitors especially enjoy launching from and kayaking around Sandy Beach on the southeast side of the lake and Long Canyon area on the north side of the lake. If lake paddling gets tiring, there is also access to a small river just below the dam at Spillway Day Use Area.
Wyoming’s Guernsey State Park supports its mission to preserve history through engaging with the community by opening the Guernsey museum and castle, two historical sites that all visitors can enjoy.
Although this park is a bit of a drive from Denver, paddling around jagged cliffs and pure natural landscape is the perfect opportunity to explore Wyoming and improve your skills. The park rents water toys like paddle boards, but kayaks can’t be rented at Bellwood Boats.
How to Get There: If driving, take I-25 N and take exit US-26 E towards Guernsey, then take WY-317N all of the way to the park. If not driving, there is a bus from Denver to Wheatland once a day that brings you 30 min away from the park.
Location: South Park
Rentals Available: No
A wildlife refugee for numerous Colorado animals, Tarryall Reservoir is the perfect place to get up close and personal with Colorado wildlife and nature.
Known for its excellent fishing and free campgrounds (first-come-first-serve basis), Tarryall Reservoir is a hotspot for kayakers living in Denver. A dry and often arid terrain, paddling around Tarryall Reservoir is a refreshing twist for this area.
Paddling the reservoir is accessible for all ability levels, and there is a small waterfall that borders the entrance into Tarryall Creek (a popular spot of fly fishing). Tarryall Reservoir is an isolated area surrounded by mountains and grasslands and is a fisherman’s dream!
This hidden gem is ideal for a relaxing morning paddle and fishing. Because it is tucked away between mountains, there are no rental shops nearby. However, there are tons of launch sites around the lake to put-in your own boats.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Junct. Then, take US-285 S towards Colorado Springs to Co Rd. 77. If not driving, there are multiple buses a day from Union Station to FairPlay, CO, which brings you 30 min away from the reservoir.
Nestled under Colorado’s tallest mountains, Twin Lakes Reservoir is named for the two glaciers that formed the lakes on the valley floor. With crystal clean alpine waters, Twin Lakes Reservoir is known for its colorful trout and abundant mountain views.
Visitors are able to launch boats from two sites on the east and west sides of the lake. Paddling here is accessible to all, and other activities are a big draw to the area as well. Trailheads for Mt. Elbert and LaPlata Peak start here and the lake borders a 1880s abandoned lakeside resort. Rock climbing alcoves and inlet bays offer a private outdoor experience.
Twin Lakes Reservoir is a unique place to kayak in Denver; its glacial waters provide activities year-round from ice fishing to paddle boarding. Said to be one of the most majestical places to visit in Colorado, Twin Lakes should be on every paddlers’ bucket list.
Canoe and kayak rentals are available through Twin Lakes Canoe and Kayak Adventures. Equipment, lessons, and guided tours of the area are all offered through this company, and will ensure that your time there is full of adventure!
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Junction. Then, take CO-91 S towards Leadville. Continue to CO-82 W to Country Rd. 25. If not driving, Denver International Airport provides a bus and train to Frisco, one of the towns bordering the lakes,
Located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park,Grand Lake certainly lives up to its name. With pine tree forests and snow-capped mountains in the distance, Grand lake has beautiful panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains and smooth waters enjoyed by all.
With a public dock on the lake, it is easy to enter the water. Grand Lake’s neighbor Shadow Mountain Lake is another place paddlers can explore, This lake and some small islands on the eastern side of Grand Lake have shallow clear waters that boast tons of wildlife- you can even spot moose!
The east bank is they place to paddle for scenery and wildlife! Since the west side is bordered by the highway it is a bit loud and not as scenic. Next to historic Grand City, Colorado’s largest and deepest lake is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
Right on the edge of the lake, Mountain Paddlers Kayak Shak has many types of kayaks for rent ($28/hour). It is a first-come-first-serve basis for rentals, and since Grand Lake is a very popular spot for paddling near Denver, kayaks go quickly! Be sure to get up early and have the lake to yourself to experience one of Colorado’s most beautiful places to paddle.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Junction. Then, take exit 232 towards U.S. 40 E. Take US-40 W to US-34 E to W Portal Rd to Grand Ave. If not driving, there is a train from Union Station to Granby, CO, which leaves you about 20 min from the lake.
Although Colorado is a land-locked state, the many lakes carving through Colorado’s mountains provide the perfect oasis for those who love to kayak. Blue Mesa Reservoir sits near the headwaters of Gunnison River and is said to be the largest body of water in Colorado.
Sparkling waters and sloping hills offer a stunning backdrop for kayaking and relaxing beaches. Although most of the shoreline is rocky, there are some reprieves of sandy shores great for swimming and launching boats near the bay of Chickens, Dry Creek, and Old Highway 50 beach.
A huge body of water, this lake has enough space to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of visitors that flock to Blue Mesa’s natural scenery annually. The waters stay relatively calm, but it is best suited for intermediate paddlers.
Blue Mesa Reservoir has two full service marinas and esteemed Poppy’s Restaurant overlooking the lake. Elk Creek Marina and Lake Fort Marina both have kayak and other boat rentals ($19/hour) and relocated on opposite sides of the lake. Blue Mesa is definitely a beach vacation destination that is loved by all in the area.
How to Get There: If driving, take US-6 W to I-70 W towards Grand Junction. Then, CO-470E towards Fairplay, then US-50 W to the lake. If not driving, there are multiple buses a day leaving from Union Station that go to Gunnison, CO, the town where the reservoir is.
What to Pack for Canoeing and Kayaking in Denver
Swimsuit: Wearing a swimsuit is essential for being out on the water! When canoeing and kayaking, chances are you are going to get wet, so best to be prepared! Click here to compare men’s and women’s styles and prices for our favorite swimsuits.
Sunglasses: Being out on the water is beautiful, but the water can really reflect light! Make sure to bring a pair ofsunglassesand croakies to keep them from falling off.
Hat: It’s best to keep the sun off of your head to keep you cool. Whether you prefer a nice bucket hat or a vintage baseball cap, keeping cool will ensure an awesome trip.
Water Bottle: Keeping hydrated is no joke! Paddling is a great way to exercise and relax, but that means it takes a lot of energy too! Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your trip withthese cool water bottles.
Sunscreen and Bug Spray: Don’t let the elements stop you from having an amazing paddle! I recommend bringingsunscreen and bug spray in the boat with you to ward off any pests and sunburns.
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