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15 Best Recreational Lakes near Denver, CO

With dozens of lakes in its vicinity, Denver is a fantastic place for water activities like swimming, fishing, and boating. And in winter, these lakes make for superb ice-fishing, ice-skating, and snowshoeing destinations.
ItIsWild.com Best Lakes near Denver CO

In addition to ski resorts and hiking trails, Denver offers a wide selection of fun lakes and reservoirs.

In summer, the majority of these lakes are open for swimming, kayaking, and boating. And in winter, many offer activities like ice fishing, ice skating, and ice sailing, just to name a few.

Nearby options like Cherry Creek, Bear Creek, and Chatfield Reservoir are buzzing destinations in summer. At the same time, places like Barker Meadow Reservoir and Cheesman Lake are tranquil spots where only fishing is allowed.

Aurora Reservoir will be of particular interest to serious anglers as it holds a whopping three state fishing records.

Whether you’re into lakeside camping, wakeboarding, or scuba diving, there is an option for you. Check out what Denver has to offer!

Lakes near Denver:

  1. Cherry Creek Reservoir
  2. Chatfield Reservoir
  3. Bear Creek Lake
  4. Standley Lake
  5. Aurora Reservoir
  6. Barr Lake
  7. Gross Reservoir
  8. Boulder Reservoir
  9. Union Reservoir
  10. Evergreen Lake
  11. Barker Meadow Reservoir
  12. Jackson Lake
  13. Boyd Lake
  14. Dillon Reservoir
  15. Cheesman Lake
Lakes near Denver Colorado Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Cherry Creek Reservoir

Cherry Creek Reservoir Denver
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Cherry Creek Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 12 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Cherry Creek Reservoir is the centerpiece of Cherry Creek State Park in an urban area 12 miles southeast of downtown Denver. The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Cherry Creek Dam to address occasional but tragic flooding along the South Platte River watershed. 

Completed in 1950, the first of three dams to offer greater protection for the Denver area has created an 880-acre reservoir that the community embraces for a variety of recreational activities. 

The reservoir and nature prairie provides valuable greenspace in the Denver/Aurora area, where visitors can hike, camp, boat, jet ski, kayak, sailboard, paddleboard, and fish. 

Open year-round, Cherry Creek State Park is a winter destination for sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. An off-leash dog park even offers four-legged friends a chance to congregate and play in a stream.

Fishing enthusiasts will enjoy casting a line for rainbow trout, bluegill, channel catfish, walleye, black crappie, and largemouth and hybrid striped bass. 

2. Chatfield Reservoir

Chatfield Reservoir Denver
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Chatfield Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 22 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Similar to Cherry Creek Reservoir, the Chatfield Reservoir owes its existence to devastating floods along the South Platte River corridor. 

Named for Isaac Chatfield, a Union officer in the Civil War who lived in the area during the 1870s, this reservoir materialized after a series of devastating floods hit the region. 

A terrible flood in June 1965 that claimed 28 lives hastened the construction of Chatfield Dam. Chatfield State Park and the Chatfield Reservoir opened to the public in 1975.

Located approximately 20 miles southwest of downtown, this park is open year-round with a variety of outdoor activities. 

With four campgrounds, boat rentals, as well as places to fly model airplanes, ride horses, see wildlife, and enjoy wintertime activities, the park is a go-to destination for those wanting an escape from their urban surroundings.

Fishing and boating are top activities at Chatfield Reservoir. Following a policy found in place at most Colorado public lakes and reservoirs, boats and other watercraft must receive an inspection to ensure that they have no aquatic nuisance species that could be introduced into the water, such as zebra and quagga mussels. 

During the summer, the reservoir has zones set aside for water skiing and boating, with no wake zones for those who paddle or take time on the reservoir at a more leisurely pace. Catfish, bass, sunfish, perch, and walleye swim here. 

3. Bear Creek Lake

bear creek lake park colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Bear Creek Lake
  • Distance from Denver: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

The City of Lakewood maintains the 2,624-acre Bear Creek Lake Park. It is located 20 miles southwest of downtown Denver and a few miles east of the internationally-renowned Red Rocks concert venue. 

The park has picnic areas, trails for hiking and mountain biking, camping areas, an archery range, and three separate lakes that host a variety of water activities. 

This municipal park also offers a swimming area open annually from late May through Labor Day. Paddlecraft may use the lakes throughout the year. 

Bear Creek Reservoir, the largest body of water in the park, accommodates boats with engines up to 10 horsepower. Big Soda Lake only has non-motorized boats within it. Private boats are not permitted within Little Soda Lake. 

Anglers who wish to cast a line will find a variety of fish in Bear Creek Lake. These include rainbow trout, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and saugeye. Ice fishing is permitted. 

4. Standley Lake

Standley Lake Sunset Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Standley Lake
  • Distance from Denver: 18 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Located northwest of Denver 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, boating, 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. Aurora Reservoir

Aurora Reservoir Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Aurora Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 28 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Scuba Diving

Aurora Reservoir serves as a freshwater repository in the plains, located approximately 30 miles southeast of downtown Denver. 

This 800-acre city-managed reservoir sits within the southeastern section of Aurora, the state’s third-largest city. 

More than a source of drinking water, this site includes walking, hiking, and biking trails that circle the perimeter of the reservoir and an archery range.

The true star is the crystal-clear water. Swimming is allowed on a seasonal basis in a designated area. Non-motorized and electric-motor vessels may sail upon a reservoir that is often regarded as one of the cleanest in the Denver metropolitan area. 

Kayaking and paddleboarding are popular activities, with long weekend waiting times common for summertime visitors. 

The reservoir has abundant tiger muskie, smallmouth bass, catfish, and white sucker. Indeed, the state records for channel catfish (43.38 pounds in 2010), white sucker (5.42 pounds in 2011), and smallmouth bass (6.69 pounds in 2011) came from the Aurora Reservoir. 

6. Barr Lake

barr lake state park
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Barr Lake
  • Distance from Denver: 26 miles (35 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 25 miles northeast 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. 

7. Gross Reservoir

Gross Reservoir Colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Gross Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 37 miles (1h 10min)
  • 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 40 miles northwest of Denver 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. 

8. Boulder Reservoir

Boulder Reservoir Colorado
Source: pexels
  • Website: Boulder Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 33 miles (50 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 33 miles northwest of Denver 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. 

9. Union Reservoir

reservoir in colorado and a paddleboard
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Union Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 36 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Picnics

Union Reservoir is located 36 miles north 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 a tradition of having 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. 

10. Evergreen Lake

Evergreen Lake in Colorado in winter
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Evergreen Lake
  • Distance from Denver: 28 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Located 28 miles west-southwest of downtown Denver, Evergreen Lake sits along the Front Range at an elevation more than 1,800 feet higher than the Mile High City. Known for its scenic mountain views, this lake is a popular fishing, boating, and picnicking destination. 

Although parking is limited near the lake, those who come to this area can also enjoy a view of the artificial waterfall at Evergreen Dam, on the lake’s eastern edge.

The Evergreen Audubon offers exhibits at the Evergreen Nature Center, in a historic warming hut perched on the lake’s southern shore. Founded as the Evergreen Naturalists in 1968, members joined the National Audubon Society in 1978 to foster environmental awareness in the area. 

Anglers come to Evergreen Lake to catch trout. During winter months, ice skating and ice hockey games occur on the frozen lake surface. 

11. Barker Meadow Reservoir

Barker Meadow Reservoir
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Barker Meadow Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 46 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking

At 8,183 feet above sea level, Barker Meadow Reservoir offers year-round recreation in Nederland, a mountain community 40 miles northwest of Denver. 

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 15 miles away, Barker Meadow Reservoir has rainbow trout, brown trout, cutbow trout, tiger muskie, and kokanee salmon. 

12. Jackson Lake

jackson lake state park colorado
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Jackson Lake
  • Distance from Denver: 77 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

Jackson Lake was established in the early 1900s to sustain agriculture in this portion of Colorado’s Great Plains. Irrigation canals brought water to the usually-arid plains found 75 miles northeast of downtown Denver. 

While there is a residential community in unincorporated Morgan County on the lake’s southwestern shore that has boat launches, the best place to experience this 2,700-acre reservoir is at Jackson Lake State Park, on the western side of this body of water. 

The state park known as the “oasis in the plains” opened in 1965. With year-round camping, it offers many activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including waterskiing, boating, fishing, swimming, hunting, ice fishing, and ice skating. Wildlife and bird watching, along with nature photography, are very popular.

Bait, lure, and fly fishing are allowed on the reservoir. Species found in Jackson Lake include walleye, saugeye, crappie, perch, catfish, northern pike, bass, and rainbow trout. 

13. Boyd Lake

Boyd Lake
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Boyd Lake
  • Distance from Denver: 54 miles (1h 5min)
  • 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 54 miles north of downtown Denver. 

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. 

14. Dillon Reservoir

Paddleboarding on Dillon Reservoir
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Dillon Reservoir
  • Distance from Denver: 70 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Located 70 miles west of Denver, Dillon Reservoir offers numerous recreation opportunities in one of the most developed sections of the Rockies along Interstate 70. 

The 3,233-acre reservoir began to fill after a dam impounded water from the Blue River and Snake River in 1963. Denver Water owns and maintains the dam as a water source for Denver.

Biking, jogging, hiking, boating, fishing, and winter activities are common around the reservoir. The communities of Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne, and Frisco have a variety of businesses and accommodations to serve the region’s tourism.

Fishing is permitted along much of the shoreline, with trout being the top catch. Ice fishing is also very popular.

Swimming and towed water activities like waterskiing and wakeboarding are prohibited at Dillon Reservoir.

15. Cheesman Lake

cheesman canyon fishing
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Cheesman Lake 
  • Distance from Denver: 66 miles (1h 30min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking

Sixty-six miles south of downtown, Cheesman Lake offers scenic beauty and great fishing. This 877-acre reservoir is named for Walter S. Cheesman, a Denver water pioneer. 

The impressive dam built in 1905 provides drinking water to Denver. Also known as Cheesman Reservoir, the top recreation activities at this lake are enjoying the breathtaking views along the trails, checking out the picturesque Cheesman Canyon, and fishing. Swimming, boating, and camping are prohibited.

Fishing is allowed along the Goose Creek Arm, in the lake’s northwestern corner. The northern pike is a popular catch. 

Access to fishing is not allowed from October until the end of April. Denver Water also prohibits any water contact sports or ice fishing. 

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