Jackson Lake State Park, including a 1,910-acre reservoir built in 1902 for crop irrigation, is a 2,411-acre parkland with 260 campsites, swimming, boating, warm-water fishing, hiking, birdwatching, hunting, and an OHV dirt track. The cottonwood-lined lake is sometimes called “an oasis of the plains,” and was tagged as one of the “Top 15 Park Beaches” by Reserve America. Fishermen toss their lines out for northern pike, large- and small-mouth bass, walleye, saugeye, catfish, perch, crappie, and wiper. It’s also popular with birders for its diversity of species, including hawks, grassland birds, and sometimes curlews and whooping cranes. If that’s not enough fun, then take a hike along the north shore or build a sand castle on the beach.
- One of America’s top park beaches is near landlocked Denver? Yep, Jackson Lake has sandy beaches and a sandy bottom, making it a swimmer’s delight, and the summer water temperature reaches almost 80 degrees. Be advised though that if the lake level drops then dead fish will smell up the beaches.
- Jackson Lake State Park is one of the few parklands with an OHV track for dirt bikes and four-wheelers. The track, open daily from 8:00 a.m. to sunset, is a 1.5-mile loop across the rolling prairie. Your OHV must be registered and is not allowed on park roads or other park areas. Staging is at Cottonwood parking lot.
- Jackson Lake offers seven campgrounds and group areas with 260 campsites and facilities like showers, laundry, and electric hookups. Reserve in advance for summer weekend camping since it gets booked up quickly. If peace and quiet is your thing, avoid camping on weekends since it can be noisy and loud with partiers. The campsites far away from the lake tend to be quieter and less buggy than lakeside sites.
- Take a hike on the ¼-mile-long Prairie Wetland Nature Trail north of Cove Campground for an introduction to prairie ecosystems and wildlife. Other hikes are on a 1.5-mile trail from the Visitor Center to Northview Campground or just taking a hand-in-hand stroll on the beach.
Recommended season(s): Year-round
—Stewart M. Green