SUP in Colorado: The Ultimate Guide

Sep 8, 2022 | Guides

Everybody should SUP in Colorado at least once. New and experienced paddlers alike flock to coastal states every summer to get out on the water. While every US state has great locations for paddle boarding, there’s nothing quite like the breathtaking scenery found in CO, which is one of the best states for paddle boarding.

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Stand-up paddle boarding is a very popular watersport, and it shows no sign of slowing down. New and experienced paddlers alike flock to coastal states every summer to get out on the water.

Because of this, you might be surprised to learn Colorado is one of the best states for paddle boarding. But it makes perfect sense once you realize 34% of CO’s surface area is water. (1)

Everybody should SUP in Colorado at least once. While every US state has great locations for paddle boarding, there’s nothing quite like the breathtaking scenery found here.

That’s why we’ve compiled this ultimate guide! Read on to learn all about the top CO destinations worth visiting with your SUP, plus answers to your biggest questions.

Dicklyon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Clear Creek Whitewater Park

Clear Creek Whitewater Park is just a short half-hour drive from Denver. We love this unique spot because it has different types of waves and caters to every difficulty level. Best of all, Clear Creek was specifically designed for kayakers and paddle boarders.

Total beginners can sign up for official lessons from the park, which are held at the on-site indoor pool. You can keep training in one of the outdoor areas once you get your “sea legs.” In no time, you’ll be braving the whitewater to chase an adrenaline high!

coulderbolorado, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Sloan’s Lake (aka Sloan Lake)

Locals call this spot Sloan or Sloan’s Lake interchangeably. Located near the center of Denver, it’s one of the most convenient places to SUP in Colorado. We love being out on the water and checking out the city’s impressive skyline.

Just keep in mind that because of its central location, this is a true hotspot. You’ll share the lake with motorboats, kayakers, and water skiers on any given day. The high activity level can make the waters a bit choppy, so it’s not the best spot for first-time paddle boarders.

You don’t need to be a pro before your paddle on Sloan’s Lake. But you should at least know the basics and practice in calmer waters once or twice.

Dough4872, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Chatfield Reservoir

Chatfield Reservoir is just under an hour’s drive from Denver, depending on traffic. This spot is popular for just about every watersport, from sailing to SCUBA diving. It’s often very crowded during summer afternoons, so get here as early as you can.

If you aren’t an early bird, you can still enjoy this reservoir. Group events are huge here. We don’t just mean the basics like SUP yoga—we’re talking glow-in-the-dark excursions, paddling under the full moon, and all kinds of other unique meetups.

Just do a little research before planning a trip out here. You have a good chance of finding a group event that helps you dodge the afternoon crowds.

jonathan c. wheeler, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake boasts quintessential Colorado vibes. It’s surrounded by the gorgeous mountains of the Indian Peaks, and the Pawnee Campground is conveniently located nearby.

The only downside is that quite a few people flock to Brainard Lake to soak up the beautiful views. It’s about an hour’s drive from Boulder, totally doable for a day or weekend of soaking up some sun.

Like most of the top destinations to SUP in Colorado, the early bird gets the worm. Hit the road early, even if you plan on camping for a couple nights.

Jeffrey Beall, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Boulder Reservoir

Boulder Reservoir is a fantastic spot for families and beginners. Here, you can enjoy all the most satisfying parts of paddle boarding in a safe and calm environment. It’s a nature reserve, so you’re almost guaranteed to get an up-close look at local birds and fish.

The biggest thing to know is that you do need a permit for this specific location. And permits tend to get snapped up fast because of the reservoir’s convenient location on the edges of Boulder.

In a nutshell, paddle boarding at Boulder Reservoir takes some planning and foresight. But it’s so worth the calm waters, family-friendly amenities, and natural sights.

Book Your Stay in the Boulder Region:

Ideal for destinations to northern and western Colorado, Boulder is full of friendly individuals that thrive on living life outdoors. Just a 30-minute drive (or inexpensive Uber) from Denver airport, Boulder is a city that you can explore for weeks and always find something new. With a breathtaking view and easy access to the mountains, the city has a lot to offer as well, with performers on Pearl Street, great food, and plenty of shopping.
SOTMUS, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

6. Gross Reservoir

Gross Reservoir is, for the moment, one of the lesser-known spots to SUP in Colorado. Even residents of Boulder are often surprised to learn paddle boards are welcome here.

The scenery surrounding this reservoir is so unique, you’ll want to spend an entire day taking it all in. But you should keep this spot’s high altitude in mind. The weather here changes very suddenly and unpredictably.

Only plan a trip here if you’re able to dress in layers. You’ll almost certainly need to add and remove layers throughout the day. Finally, this location is more prone to unexpected thunderstorms than other parts of Colorado. Be prepared to pack up early if needed.

7. Grand Lake

Grand Lake is one of our all-time favorite places to paddle board. It’s also the largest natural lake across Colorado.

Honestly, everything about this place is great. Rocky Mountain National Park is nearby, so it’s easy to make a whole trip out of seeing the area. There’s plenty of space for families and large groups of friends, plus quite a few delicious restaurants.

Combined with the beautiful scenery, Grand Lake checks every box for an unforgettable paddle board experience.

Carol M. Highsmith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Glenwood Whitewater Park

Glenwood Whitewater Park is the perfect place to get your adrenaline pumping. Unlike Clear Creek Whitewater Park, this one doesn’t cater to every level of expertise. It’s best suited to experienced whitewater paddlers who want to turn things up a notch.

Located deep in the Colorado mountains, you’ll want to plan at least a couple days out here. But the town of Glenwood Springs surrounds the park, so you’ll have access to modern amenities. Be sure to spend some time relaxing your sore muscles at the nearby hot springs too!

jimmy thomas from Seattle, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

9. Dillon Reservoir

Dillon Reservoir is popular for quite a few water activities. You’ll see all the usual swimmers and kayaks, but it also hosts annual regattas for several local organizations. These are a blast to watch from the shore or from your SUP in the shallows.

You’ll also find campgrounds in almost every direction around the reservoir. It’s a great spot for checking out all the activities Colorado is known for, but it’s never insanely crowded.

The only other thing you should know is that the Coast Guard tightly patrols this reservoir. You’re always required by law to have a PFD on a paddle board, but it’s strictly enforced here. Stay safe and avoid fines by always wearing your life jacket.

Jeffrey Beall, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

10. Vallecito Lake

Vallecito Lake is a great spot to see some unique scenery. Even when the weather is perfect for paddle boarding, you’ll see snow-capped mountains in every direction. You’ll definitely want a dry box for your smartphone or camera to capture the sights.

This spot is really convenient because it’s only 18 miles from the city of Durango. And once you arrive, the community around the lake is chock full of restaurants, RV campgrounds, and rental cabins.

Vallecito Lake is one of the few spots that’s great for all levels of paddlers, surrounded by unique scenery, and home to a thriving—yet not too crowded—community.

Mshuang2, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

11. Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir is gigantic at 29 miles long and 96 miles of shoreline. Its large size makes it a favorite for every kind of SUP activity. You’ll see people enjoying recreational paddling, yoga classes, and SUP fishing daily.

There are quite a few spots to grab a bite, and the huge shoreline makes it easy to kick back and relax. You don’t have to paddle board all day, either—swimmers and boats are both welcome too. Even the drive in and out are great thanks to scenic vistas along the way.

Book Your Stay in the Colorado Springs Region:

Ideal for the southern Colorado destinations like Trout Lake, Emerald Lake, and others. Colorado Springs is home to a wide array of great food options and close to many scenic destinations such as Garden to the Gods, Aspen and other popular destinations as well!
Pechristener, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

 12. Trout Lake

Trout Lake is perhaps the most peaceful and serene place to SUP in Colorado. Found in the southwest part of Colorado, it doesn’t attract huge crowds like the lakes near Boulder and Denver.

Though remote, this spot is still easy to access. You’ll often spot photographers and people spending the day relaxing with some fishing. But it’s still perfect for a quiet, low-key day of SUP yoga or recreational paddle boarding.

13. Lower Gunnison

Lower Gunnison is a challenging section of the Gunnison River. Most paddle boarders start at North Bridge and work their way down to Gunnison Whitewater Park. If you take this same route, you’ll encounter Class 2 rapids.

We love this stretch because it’s conveniently accessed from the town of Gunnison, and you can choose to tackle the tougher rapids in the park if you’d like. It’s great for individuals, but it’s also easy for a group or family to split up for a few hours to try different things.

Jeffrey Beall, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

14. Slate River

Paddling on Slate River is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. Unlike Lower Gunnison, you won’t find campsites dotting the shore. Instead, you’ll wind through private property, conservation areas, and totally unique sights.

Anytime you plan to SUP on a river, check out the water levels ahead of time. There are certain weather conditions and seasons where the water moves too quickly for novice paddle boarders.

The last thing to know about this spot is the cattle fence near the Lower Slate River. You’ll need to lay flat on your paddle board to pass under it, because its presence keeps local cows safe.

Penguin314, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

15. Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake is a truly jaw-dropping sight to behold. Its emerald waters set against a backdrop of picturesque mountains are absolutely unforgettable.

But getting here takes some work. Emerald Lake seems conveniently located at just 15 miles from Crested Butte. The thing is, certain parts of the drive are best suited to a 4×4 vehicle.

This destination probably requires the most planning, but it’s worth it. You can also break up the day by visiting one of the snack shops on the way, or taking a waterfall hike up to Judd Falls.

SUP in Colorado FAQs

Now you know all the absolute best spots for stand-up paddle boarding in Colorado. But that isn’t quite enough information to plan your entire adventure. That’s why we’ve rounded up answers to the most common questions below.

When is the Best Time of Year to Paddle Board in Colorado?

Locals agree that the best time of year to paddle board in Colorado is the summer. (2) But to have the best experience, you should know a couple more insider tips.

First off, Colorado is serious about their outdoor activities. Summer is the peak season for natives and visitors to get outside and take advantage of the nice weather. So, while summer is the best time of year for paddle boarding, it’s also the busiest.

The best way to find parking fast and avoid crowds is getting a head start. Get to your SUP spot earlier in the morning. This makes it much easier to nab convenient parking, plus you’re likely to head home before one of Colorado’s famous afternoon thunderstorms rolls in.

Do I Need to Wear a PFD to SUP in Colorado?

Yes, you need to wear a PFD (or personal flotation device) to SUP in Colorado. Honestly, you should wear a PFD anytime you’re on a stand-up paddle board.

It doesn’t matter how strong of a swimmer you are, or how calm the water is. Plenty of great swimmers have needed rescue or even drowned because they weren’t wearing a life jacket. It’s also Colorado state law that any person on a stand-up paddle board has a flotation device. (3)

If you want to stay safe and avoid fines, wear a PFD anytime you SUP.

Where is the Best Place to Paddle Board in Colorado for Adrenaline Junkies?

Based on our experience, Glenwood Whitewater Park is the best place to paddle board in Colorado for adrenaline junkies. We love this spot because it was specifically designed to offer the best in whitewater adventures.

This spot’s biggest claim to fame is a G-wave, also called a standing wave. Throughout the year, the river flows somewhere between 4,000 and 22,000 cubic feet per second—in other words, perfect for getting your adrenaline pumping.

Our favorite part is their comprehensive website. With a flow guide, flow gauge, and even a live webcam, it couldn’t be easier to find the best time for your visit.

Where is the Best Place in Colorado for Beginner Paddle Boarding?

The best place in Colorado for beginner paddle boarding is the Boulder Reservoir, located just 25 miles from the city of Denver.

We like this spot the best for beginners because it observes “no wake hours” on certain days every week. As a beginner paddle boarder, nothing messes with your balance more than a wake from a motorboat.

When you visit during the no wake hours, the water is calm and smooth—perfect for learning the ropes of stand-up paddle boarding. These are adjusted every season, so double-check the schedule before planning your visit.

Do You Need a Permit to Paddle Board in Colorado?

No, you usually don’t need a permit to paddle board in Colorado. As of 2020, hand-propelled vessels like kayaks and paddle boards don’t need to be registered with the state. (4) But you’re required to display your name and address somewhere on the board.

If you’re renting, it’ll be the rental shop’s information on the board. You should also know that all Colorado State Parks have entrance fees, whether you walk in or park your car for the day. Finally, certain reservoirs require a permit even for stand-up paddleboards.

When you’re picking places to paddle board, always check the location’s permit requirements ahead of time. Also be prepared to pay a fee and share basic information like your name and address if you’re headed to a Colorado State Park.

Can You Paddle Board Anywhere in Colorado?

No, you can’t paddle board literally anywhere in Colorado. According to the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, some bodies of water have restrictions in place for your safety. (5)

If swimming and kayaking are allowed somewhere, your SUP is usually welcome too. The state’s recommendation is that you double-check the destination’s official webpage before you make any travel arrangements.

Colorado: Your One-Way Ticket to the Great Outdoors

Launching a paddle board is one of the simplest ways to get out on the water. That’s why when it comes to paddle boarding, we often say “the world is your oyster.” But anytime we SUP in Colorado, we’re especially blown away by how many different options are available.

From idyllic alpine lakes surrounded by majestic mountains to adrenaline-packed whitewater adventures, you can truly have any kind of experience you want. Best of all, stand-up paddle boarding keeps growing in popularity. States like Colorado are already changing certain laws to make this activity even more accessible to both residents and visitors.

You could spend an entire summer checking off destinations and still not see everything this beautiful state has to offer. Luckily, there’s nothing easier than getting out on the water and soaking up all the picture-perfect scenery!

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1. Colorado State University, Surface Water Resources

2. The Denver Post, Paddleboarding in Colorado: Where You Can Go, Where You Can Rent, and Tips for a Fun Day on the Water

3. Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Life Vests

4. Colorado Secretary of State, Code of Colorado Recreations

5. Colorado Parks & Wildlife, SUP FAQs


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