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15 Incredible Lakes for Recreation near Boulder, CO

Just like Denver, Boulder has dozens of recreational lakes and reservoirs, many of which operate year-round and welcome swimmers, boaters, anglers, and campers.
itiswild.com Best Lakes near Boulder Colorado

Like Swiss cheese, the Boulder area is peppered with lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, many of which welcome visitors year-round.

This list contains the 15 best options less than an hour’s drive away and open to the public.

Fishing and paddling are the two most common activities at these lakes, and most permit that. 

Some also allow swimming and camping, but only three, including Boulder Reservoir, permit fast boating activities like water skiing and wakeboarding in summer.

In winter, visitors will find opportunities for ice skating, ice fishing, as well as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and even winter camping.

Learn more about the area and check out what Boulder has to offer!

Lakes near Boulder:

  1. Boulder Reservoir
  2. Wonderland Lake
  3. Waneka Lake
  4. Standley Lake
  5. Gross Reservoir
  6. Lagerman Reservoir
  7. St. Vrain State Park
  8. Union Reservoir
  9. McIntosh Lake
  10. Boyd Lake
  11. Brainard Lake
  12. Barker Meadow Reservoir
  13. Ralph Price Reservoir
  14. Carter Lake
  15. Barr Lake
Lakes near Boulder Colorado Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Boulder Reservoir

Boulder Reservoir Colorado
Source: pexels
  • Website: Boulder Reservoir
  • Distance from Boulder: 7 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Known locally as “the Rez,” Boulder Reservoir traces its origins as a freshwater drinking source to the 1950s. 

Since that time, this reservoir, 7 miles north of downtown, has developed a reputation as a popular place for swimming, walking, running, sunbathing, cycling, boating, and fishing. 

Open year-round, Boulder’s 700-acre municipal reservoir offers a scenic location to enjoy the outdoors in the area. 

Wildlife is commonly viewed along the Boulder Reservoir Loop Trail, a 5.3-mile pathway where osprey, raptors, geese, deer, and prairie dogs are often spotted. 

Anglers can cast a line for crappie, catfish, rainbow trout, bass, walleye, and saugeye from a dock, a boat, or the shoreline. 

2. Wonderland Lake

Wonderland Lake Boulder Colorado
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Wonderland Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 3 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Wonderland Lake is an artificial reservoir a couple of miles north of downtown Boulder. 

More than 50 years ago, Walt and Mary Moore lived on this land and built a dam to create the lake. When a developer bought some of this acreage in the early 1970s, plans included a village center and marina. 

The state condemned the dam and required it to be rebuilt, ending plans for this development. The city acquired water rights and some parcels between 1972 and 1983.

Today, Wonderland Lake Park and its trailheads connect guests with Foothills Park and Mount Sanitas. This year-round park appeals to hikers and bikers. 

After a failed attempt to add a fishing pier in 2018, some residents wanted this reservoir to get special protection as a wildlife sanctuary. 

Access remains limited to the trails to protect species such as nesting birds that frequently come to the shoreline. 

Fishing is only permitted at the dam area and along a small peninsula. Anglers will find trout, Kokanee salmon, splake, and tiger muskellunge in this reservoir.

3. Waneka Lake

Waneka Lake Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Waneka Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 10 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Ten miles east of downtown, Waneka Lake is one of the area’s earliest artificial lakes. Adolf Waneka created this reservoir in 1865 to collect water from a local spring. 

The Waneka Granary, the City of Lafayette’s oldest surviving structure, sits along the lake. Lafayette purchased the lake in 1972, repaired the dam, and subsequently opened the 147-acre Waneka Lake Park as a wildlife and recreational refuge. 

The park has a playground, fitness trail, picnic areas, and provides access to Waneka Lake. Immediately north of the park, the 13.2-acre Greenlee Wildlife Preserve offers an additional forest and marshland buffer to protect the lake, wildflowers, and wildlife found in the area. 

A disc golf course opened in 2014. 

Although swimming is not allowed, those who boat or fish in the lake will see bluegill, carp, crappie, bass, sunfish, and perch. 

4. Standley Lake

Standley Lake Sunset Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Standley Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 15 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Located southeast of Boulder near the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, beautiful Standley Lake serves as the primary drinking water source for the nearby cities of Northglenn, Thornton, and Westminster. 

This 1,063-acre reservoir sits with the 3,000-acre Standley Lake Regional Park & Wildlife Refuge, a recreation area in Jefferson County created in 1970.

Popular pastimes at Standley Lake include hiking, bicycling, bird and wildlife viewing, kayaking, and fishing. 

Parking areas on the northern side of the property offer lake access between early May and the end of September. Trailered boats are not permitted on the lake. 

Visitors can appreciate the wildlife on this property and try their luck by casting a line. Popular catches include channel catfish, walleye, bluegill, rainbow and brown trout, and smallmouth and largemouth bass. 

The state’s record walleye catch, a fish weighing 18.81 pounds, was caught here in 1997.

5. Gross Reservoir

Gross Reservoir Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Gross Reservoir
  • Distance from Boulder: 11 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Gross Reservoir honors Dwight Gross, a former engineer for Denver Water. Completed in 1954, the current impoundment that is located approximately 11 miles southwest of Boulder sits over 1,900 feet higher than the city. 

Long a site for hiking, canoeing, fishing, and ice fishing, Denver Water has plans in place to expand this reservoir during the next few years. The dam’s new capacity will make it the tallest dam in Colorado.

During construction, many of the recreation amenities along the dam’s south side will be unavailable. This closure may continue until 2027, depending on the time required for expansion. 

Fish commonly caught in the reservoir include tiger muskie, kokanee salmon, splake, and trout. 

6. Lagerman Reservoir

Lagerman Reservoir Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lagerman Reservoir
  • Distance from Boulder: 12 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Lagerman Reservoir is a little more than 10 miles north-northwest of downtown Boulder. 

In recent years, this 115-acre reservoir has received less water from Dry Creek while absorbing a growing number of nutrients, leading to eutrophication and lower oxygen levels. In late 2018, most fish in the reservoir died due to this. 

Environmental officials have addressed this issue, while also redefining the Lagerman Reservoir as part of an expanded Lagerman Agricultural Preserve. 

The acquisition of active agricultural land near this artificial reservoir has ensured a buffer zone between this body of water and other developments. 

More than 2,000 acres are now protected within the Lagerman Agricultural Preserve. To ensure an area where birds can nest, the western end of the reservoir is closed to the public from April 1 until August 31 each year. 

Trails encourage visitors to enjoy hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Although swimming, wading, sailboarding, and using sailboats are not allowed in the reservoir, canoes, kayaks, and small boats are permitted. 

Fishing is permitted at this day-use location, though the recent oxygen levels within the lake remain a concern for those who plan to consume the fish they catch. 

Species found here include muskellunge, black crappie, bluegill, walleye, bream, and largemouth bass.

7. St. Vrain State Park

St. Vrain State Park Ice Fishing
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: St. Vrain State Park
  • Distance from Boulder: 21 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Formerly known as Barbour Ponds, St. Vrain State Park is a popular recreation area 20 miles northeast of downtown Boulder. 

Located a short distance from where Boulder Creek merges with St. Vrain Creek, this park has 152 surface acres of water and 604 acres of land with modern camping facilities and six interconnected hiking and biking trails. 

Nature lovers who visit St. Vrain will enjoy exceptional birding opportunities. 

A variety of ponds and reservoirs sit within St. Vrain State Park. The largest, Blue Heron Reservoir, spans 82 acres. Pelican, Sandpiper, Bald Eagle, and Coot Ponds are among the other larger bodies of water. 

Fishing piers or stone fishing platforms are available at some of these ponds. Hand-propelled vessels, as well as those with electric motors, are permitted. Swimming is allowed.

Anglers who fish in the ponds at this park will find a variety of fish. Year-round fishing is allowed, and ice fishing is especially popular for trout. 

Species found within St. Vrain State Park include bluegill, pumpkinseed, crappie, yellow perch, saugeye, walleye, largemouth bass, catfish, and rainbow trout. 

8. Union Reservoir

reservoir in colorado and a paddleboard
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Union Reservoir
  • Distance from Boulder: 19 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Picnics

Union Reservoir is located 19 miles northeast of downtown, in the eastern portion of Longmont. 

One of the few natural lakes in the region, this body of water, once known as Calkins Lake, was created during the last Ice Age. 

After the Union Ditch Company carved the Union Reservoir Ditch that connected the lake with St. Vrain Creek, a couple of miles to the south, the lake became a true reservoir. 

This destination, and city park three miles east of downtown Longmont, have a beach area – including a dog beach – as well as excellent conditions for paddleboarding, sailing, and windsurfing. 

Walk-in access is permitted during winter months, though no ice fishing or boating is allowed. 

Those who enjoy fly fishing from the shoreline come to Union Reservoir in search of carp. 

Other fish caught in the reservoir include trout, crappie, bass, sunfish, catfish, and tiger muskie. 

9. McIntosh Lake

McIntosh Lake Colorado view of Lone Peak
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: McIntosh Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 18 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Located a little more than 17 miles north-northwest of Boulder, McIntosh Lake has long been a popular destination in the Longmont area. 

In June 2022, the city annexed this 280-acre lake adjacent to Dawson Park. Although Longmont had long had an interest in maintaining the lake as a recreation site, this move should promote improved oversight of this reservoir that the public has used as a recreation destination since 2004.

McIntosh Lake first took shape after an impoundment was placed along an area of Oligarchy Ditch in 1903. The reservoir’s depth may vary from between six to more than 20 feet, depending on the season and the amount of seasonal precipitation and snowmelt. 

The 3.5-mile McIntosh Lake Trail encircles the reservoir. 

Although swimming is not allowed, non-motorized vessels such as canoes and kayaks may be hand-carried into McIntosh Lake. 

Those who fish here can expect to see walleye, catfish, crappie, carp, and bass. Ice fishing is not permitted during the winter.

10. Boyd Lake

Boyd Lake
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Boyd Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 38 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A water haven in the Loveland area, the 1,700-acre Boyd Lake offers swimming, sailing, paddling, wakeboarding, paddling, and fishing at a site located 38 miles northeast of downtown Boulder. 

The lake sits within Boyd Lake State Park, an outdoor destination along the western edge of the plains that also has hiking and biking trails, excellent camping facilities, and great opportunities for birdwatching. 

All types of watercraft populate Boyd Lake during the busy summer season. Sailboats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and other personal watercraft abound as the temperatures rise. 

Swimmers congregate along the sandy beach, with cottonwood trees hovering near other areas of the lake. 

Hawks, eagles, and great-horned owls watch this activity from their perches above. During winter months, ice skaters often come to the lake after it freezes over. 

Whether from a boat or along the shoreline, those who fish at Boyd Lake enjoy its well-stocked waters. 

Common fish caught include rainbow trout, crappie, channel catfish, walleye, carp, yellow perch, and bass. 

11. Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake Recreational Area Colorado
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Brainard Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 25 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Cross-Country Skiing, Snowshoeing

A 25 drive west of the city and a nearly 5,000-foot rise in elevation bring visitors to Brainard Lake. 

This mountainous journey either ascends Boulder Canyon Drive to the Peak to Peak Highway or follows a scenic stretch of Lefthand Canyon Drive to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. 

Near the Front Range communities of Ward and Nederland, this 14-acre lake is one of the most popular destinations in Roosevelt National Forest.

The Forest Service road providing access to the Brainard Lake Recreation Area is usually open from June to October. 

If the gate that is 2.5 miles away from the lake is locked due to snow accumulations, visitors may proceed with snowshoes or cross-country skis. 

Picnic and camping areas are located near Brainard Lake. The Continental Divide in the distance and sub-alpine forests near the lake provide an escape from the urban world. 

The Pawnee Campground usually stays open from late June until September. Brook trout are the most popular catch in this lake. 

12. Barker Meadow Reservoir

Barker Meadow Reservoir
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Barker Meadow Reservoir
  • Distance from Boulder: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking

At 8,183 feet above sea level, Barker Meadow Reservoir offers year-round recreation in Nederland, a mountain community 16 miles from Boulder. 

Part of the reservoir sits on land once owned by Hannah Connell Barker. When the Central Colorado Power Company wanted to create a dam to generate electricity, Barker did not want to sell her land. Soon, the company secured the property through a process similar to eminent domain. 

The dam began generating hydroelectric power as the reservoir filled in this small Front Range community. 

Shoreline angling is the only activity permitted at this reservoir. Swimming, wading, and watercraft of any form are prohibited now that the City of Boulder owns this reservoir. A trail alongside the lake offers impressive mountain views. 

Considered a popular destination along the scenic Boulder Canyon Drive that connects Nederland with downtown Boulder, Barker Meadow Reservoir has rainbow trout, brown trout, cutbow trout, tiger muskie, and kokanee salmon. 

13. Ralph Price Reservoir

Ralph Price Reservoir Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Ralph Price Reservoir
  • Distance from Boulder: 26 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking, Photography, Wildlife Watching

A drinking water source for Longmont, Ralph Price Reservoir and Button Rock Preserve are a 25-mile drive and a short hike north-northeast of Boulder. 

Located approximately seven miles west of Lyons, the reservoir is located along an impounded section of North St. Vrain Creek. 

Trails near the reservoir and within Button Rock Preserve offer scenic views and access to other fishing locations in the backcountry.

Beyond the parking area, those wanting to access Ralph Price Reservoir follow the path of North St. Vrain Creek for part of their hike. 

Fishing for brown trout, rainbow trout, and splake within the reservoir is governed by a system that allows permit holders to cast a line during warmer months, usually from May to the end of October.

14. Carter Lake

carter lake marina colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Carter Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 30 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Located nearly 30 miles north of Boulder, Carter Lake sits on the southwestern outskirts of Loveland. 

Centered within a Larimer County park, this 1,100-acre lake that reaches 180 feet in depth is surrounded by 1,000 acres of public land. 

Popular activities at Carter Lake County Park include camping, picnicking, rock climbing, hiking, water skiing, fishing, swimming, scuba diving, sailing, boating, and winter recreation activities. 

Completed in 1952, the Carter Lake Dam is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project that diverted water from the western side of the Continental Divide to Carter Lake, the second-largest diversion reservoir in this initiative. 

A hydropower plant at the base of the dam has produced electricity since 2012. 

Fish commonly caught in Carter Lake include walleye and largemouth bass. 

15. Barr Lake

barr lake state park
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Barr Lake
  • Distance from Boulder: 36 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Barr Lake spans approximately 2,000 surface acres when full, serving as the focal point of activities at Barr Lake State Park

Located approximately 35 miles east of downtown, this park attracts horseback riders, hikers, target shooters, and those who enjoy bird and nature watching. 

In excess of 350 resident and migrant bird species visit the park, including cormorants, great blue herons, bald eagles, and pelicans. 

With the occasional exception of aircraft landing at nearby Denver International Airport a few miles to the southeast, the park has a reputation for being a quiet place to escape the city. 

Those aboard kayaks and boats enjoy the lake’s calm waters, though occasional wind gusts from the Front Range do create currents. 

Fish found at Barr Lake include bass, tiger muskie, bluegill, walleye, yellow perch, crappie, and catfish. 

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