Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake deserves the name “Grand.” On the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, it serves a functional purpose as part of the Big Thompson Project, which sends water beneath the Continental Divide for the use of northeastern Colorado. It’s also a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. There are three commercial marinas where boats of all types can be rented, as well as several boat ramps for those with their own watercraft. There’s even a swimming beach for those who don’t mind the cold mountain water. The town of Grand Lake lies along the lake’s north shore, with a quaint atmosphere and plenty of shopping and dining. Or it’s just a beautiful place to gaze at the stunning mountain scenery. There are two larger lakes in the area, including Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby, but Grand Lake is special. It wasn’t constructed. The Colorado River begins at this lake as snow in the high country of the park, before it embarks on its long journey through the Southwest.
- For an amazing hike, drive around to the west side of the lake and take the short walk to Adams Falls or the 3.5-mile hike to Cascade Falls. Backpackers will find backcountry campsites farther up the trail, just be sure to get a permit from Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Grand Lake is a fisherman’s paradise. Be it by boat, shoreline or burrowing into the winter ice, anglers will find trophy-worthy lake trout. You might even snag Larry the Laker, a trout so big he is a local legend. Visit one of the several fishing guide and outfitters in the town of Grand Lake for fishing advice and latest conditions.
- There is camping around Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby, and just to the north in Rocky Mountain National Park, but if you want to stay around Grand Lake, try some of the rental cabins and rooms in the town of Grand Lake.
Recommended season(s): Spring – fall, winter for ice fishing.
—R. Scott Rappold