The lakes and reservoirs of the Front Range are gearing up for a busy summer of boating activities. But for those of us who don’t own a boat or know someone who owns a boat, there is a cheaper and more eco-friendly way to enjoy the cool waters — stand-up paddle boarding, also known as SUP. SUP is a water sport in which a person stands atop a large surf-like board and uses a long handheld paddle to navigate in the water.
Before heading out to paddle on one of these 11 lakes or reservoirs near Denver, keep in mind a few rules that apply no matter where you go. If you bring your own paddle board you will need a certified PFD (personal flotation device), though if you rent a board they will provide you with one. Many of the reservoirs do not allow swimming, so make sure to check on that before jumping off your board. Finally, paddle boarding can be a low-impact sport if you check the conditions before heading onto the water to avoid high wind, as this makes paddling very difficult.
Within an hour on the water, most people can conquer the basic moves and balance smoothly while paddling. With more practice, SUP-ing takes on new levels, with yoga classes, night paddles, races and white-river paddling. Join a club or class or head out on your own — paddle boarding is one of those quintessential Colorado activities.
When: Sunrise to sunset, seven days a week from April 1 – Oct. 21
Where: 4700 W. Byron Pl., Denver
Cost: $49 for a required season permit for Colorado residents, $97 non-resident.
The Lowdown: You don’t even need to leave Denver to enjoy this body of water, though you will most likely be sharing the lake with motorized vehicles towing water-skiers and wake-boarders. With views on the west side of the mountains and views on the east of the Denver skyline, Sloan’s Lake is a perfect setting paddling if you don’t have much time to get away. If you don’t want to go by yourself, buy tickets for the sunset paddle hosted by the Denver Outdoor Adventure Company. Sloan’s Lake is closed to all watercraft during the Dragon Boat Festival, July 25 -27 and every Wednesday from June 11 – Aug. 13 from 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. for an Adaptive Recreation water ski program.
When: 5 a.m. – 10 p.m., seven days a week
Where: 4201 S. Parker Rd., Aurora
Cost: $9 daily admission
The Lowdown: During the summer months, Cherry Creek Reservoir buzzes with all sorts of watercraft — boats, jet skis, canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. If you have your own equipment you can launch from the east or west ramp (or anywhere else that’s suitable) but if you need to rent one, check out Rocky Mountain Paddleboard rentals available Monday – Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
When: May and July 5 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., June and August, 5:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., September 6 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Where: 5800 S. Powhaton Rd., Aurora
Cost: $10 entrance fee, $10 watercraft access fee
The Lowdown: Enjoy the uncharacteristically sandy beaches at Aurora Reservoir in between paddles out into the refreshing waters, but know that you’ll be sharing the experience on any nice day with motorized and non-motorized enthusiasts who are escaping the Aurora heat. Surf ‘Sup Colorado offers rentals at Aurora Reservoir on rotating weeks from Chatfield Reservoir rentals for two hours ($30) or half-day ($50.)
When: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day
Where: 15600 W. Morrison Rd., Lakewood
Cost: $10 entrance fee, $60 annual resident pass, $75 annual non-resident pass
The Lowdown: Within Bear Creek Lake Park are two bodies of water — Big Soda Lake and Bear Creek Lake. Big Soda Lake is restricted to non-motorized watercraft, so paddle boarding here is great for beginners or those who want a more tranquil experience. Bear Creek allows motorized boats but they must be less than 10 horsepower, so don’t expect waves big enough to knock you off. Paddle board rentals are available 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (no reservations accepted, first-come, first-serve) for $20 each hour if you pay cash, $22 if you pay with card.
When: 5 a.m. – 10 p.m., seven days a week
Where: 9700 Wadsworth Blvd., Littleton
Cost: $8 daily entrance fee, $70 annual pass
The Lowdown: Chatfield Reservoir hosts pretty much every water sport possible, including scuba diving. Paddle boarding at Chatfield is becoming more popular each summer, so be ready to meet some other paddlers, even if you bring your own board. Rentals are available from 5280 Paddle Sports, seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. for $20 each hour. Colorado SUP Sports offers rentals starting at $20 each hour, as well as a “SUP Glo Night paddle” where for an hour and a half you can paddle on the lake during and after sunset with LED paddles that light up the waters beneath you. Surf ‘SUP also offers rentals for $20 an hour, $30 for two hours and $50 for half day.
When: 7:30 a.m. to sunset, May 1 – Sept. 30
Where: 100th Ave., and Simms St., Westminster
Cost: $7 car entrance fee, $15 daily paddle pass
The Lowdown: Though both motorized and non-motorized boats are allowed on this lake, 250 of the 1,200 surface acres are devoted to non-motorized, who can also access the rest of the lake at their own risk. All watercraft must enter through the main entrance and be sprayed off before launching. There are hourly rentals for paddle boards (and all necessary equipment) from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. for $15 each hour.
When: 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. seven days a week May 26 – Aug. 19, weekends only May 4 – 21 and Aug. 19 – Sept. 4
Where: 29612 Upper Bear Creek Rd., Evergreen
Cost: $4 private boat fee, $20 per hour SUP rental
The Lowdown: Just about 45 minutes from downtown Denver is a beautiful lake, surrounded with evergreen trees and a few very lucky residents. The Evergreen Lake House provides a perfect locale to enjoy views of the lake after or before you paddle and rentals are available for $20 per hour. There are also adult paddle board classes that teach yoga and fitness. Every Saturday of July there will be night paddle boarding for $15 (one hour max) where you can paddle and enjoy the stars. Evergreen Lake is open to both non-motorized and motorized watercraft, but call the boating hot line at 720-880-1391 before taking the drive out, just to make sure conditions are worth it.
When: Sunrise to sunset, May to October
Where: Washington Park, Denver
The Lowdown: This little lake in the middle of Washington Park is only open to non-motorized watercraft. What it lacks in surface area, it makes up in proximity to Denver. Bring your own paddle board though (or rent from a place that allows you to take away) as there are not any rentals directly associated with the lake.
When: 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. May 1 to Labor Day
Where: 461 CO Rd 26, 7 miles west of I-25 in Longmont
Cost: $8 entrance fee
The Lowdown: Under 45 minutes from Denver without traffic, Union Reservoir is a nice break from the bustle of many of Denver’s lakes and reservoirs. You’ll even miss the crowds that congregate around Boulder Reservoir in the middle of summer, if you’re aiming for a tranquil paddle adventure. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard offers rentals here, as well as a nice selection of yoga classes (pictured above.)
When: May 1 -26, 6 a.m. – 6 p.m., May 27 – Sept. 4, 5:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. Sept. 5 – 30, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Where: 5565 N. 51st St., Boulder
Cost: $7 entrance fee, $35 personal watercraft season pass (required)
The Lowdown: Launch your own board from the southwest or southeast beaches and paddle around the lake in either direction, keeping close to shore to avoid motorized boat traffic. The western edge is a dedicated bird preserve that is closed July – October (with posted signs) but you can get close enough to observe a great variety of the birds and their odd habits. Pull ashore anywhere else around the reservoir for a break or to dry off. Winds usually pick up in the afternoon, so morning is best. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard offers rentals. Also, dogs are only allowed before Memorial Day and after Labor Day.
When: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m., May – October
Where: West of Fort Collins
Cost: $7 vehicle fee, $7 watercraft fee
The Lowdown: Okay, so Horsetooth Reservoir is a little over an hour drive from Denver, but in terms of size (six and a half miles of water) and scenery, it deserves a spot on the list. Launch your own board from one of the boat launches or rent one from Mountain SUP or SUP Horsetooth. Expect motorized boat traffic through the central corridor, though there are plenty of coves and fingers that you can explore without much wake.