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Guide To Kayaking In Colorado

Mark Armstrong
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So, you’re looking to go kayaking in Colorado? The Centennial State is the ideal place for outdoor activities no matter what the season. But when the snow melts, kayakers can enjoy paddling in some of the most scenic landscapes in the country.

But where are the best spots? From rushing whitewater rapids and scenic rivers to calm lakes at high altitudes, you can paddle through green forests and mountain valleys, with wildlife everywhere.

Guide To Kayaking In Colorado - Top DestinationsPin

We have put together a handy guide that will help steer you to some of our favorite kayaking spots in Colorado. And here’s our interactive map for kayaking around Colorado and beyond.

Places To Go Kayaking In Colorado

1: Lake Dillon, CO

Lake Dillon KayakingPin

Just a few miles north of the ski resort town of Breckenridge you’ll find Lake Dillon, surrounded by mountains and wild scenery, where you can paddle across miles of fresh, clean water, explore the shores and islands or spend a day fishing.

You can launch your craft at either Dillon Marina or Frisco Marina free of charge. There are various spots along the shores where you can stop for a picnic or some exploring. There’s even a lake on one of the little islands, Sentinel Island, that you can paddle your way into from the reservoir.

There are plenty of campgrounds around Lake Dillon if you’re looking to spend a few days exploring the lake and the area. There are also lots of shops and services in both the towns of Dillon and Frisco, so despite the wild scenery, you’re not totally cut off from civilization.

Frisco Bay Marina has a range of services, including boat rentals. They offer sit-in yaks from $30 for 2 hours or a tandem for $40 for 2 hours (September 2017). If you’re looking to fish, Frisco Bay Marina also sell fishing licences, as well as all the equipment you will need.

You can also rent sit-on-top yaks at Stand Up Paddle, located at Dillon Marina for $45 for 2 hours for a single and $55 for 2 hours for a tandem. During the summer, Lake Dillon plays host to the highest regatta in the USA, with all types of boating activities, including kayaking.

2: Browns Canyon, CO

Browns Canyon KayakingPin
Courtesy: BLM-Colorado on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

With the Arkansas River as its heart, Browns Canyon offers some of the best whitewater kayaking in Colorado and has been regarded as the most popular whitewater section in the USA.

Designated a National Monument by President Obama in 2015, Browns Canyon delivers an exciting paddling experience where you’re surrounded by wild scenery and an abundance of wildlife.

You can rent inflatable yaks at Browns Canyon Rafting for $60 per day for a single and $90 for a double (September 2017), which also includes essential gear, such as a wetsuit, helmet and PFD. They also offer guided trips, starting at $85 for a half day, as well as kayaking lessons.

The Arkansas River at Browns Canyon is also known for its fishing, being one of the Gold Medal rivers.

There are plenty of campgrounds in the area, with the Ruby Mountain Campground having good access to the river.

Video: Browns Canyon, Arkansas River, Colorado

3: Lake Estes, CO

Lake Estes KayakingPin

The Estes Park Valley is home to some stunning scenery, with the Rocky Mountain National Park providing a wild backdrop. Lake Estes is one of the most popular lakes in the area for kayaking.

The lake covers 185 acres and offers calm waters that are ideal for a relaxing paddling trip. It’s a great location for wildlife enthusiasts, as you have the possibility of seeing elk visiting the shores of the lake to wade and drink.

You can explore along the shores of the lake and into the various inlets. Plus, the lake is also a popular spot for fishing. The town of Estes Park has plenty of amenities, from restaurants to hotels, so it can be a good base to explore the surrounding area.

You can rent kayaks and other watercraft, from spring through summer, from Lake Estes Marina, at the eastern end of the lake. The marina also has fishing licences for sale.

The Big Thompson River flows from Lake Estes and just a few miles east you can experience some class 5 rapids if you’re more seasoned and looking to add a little more excitement to your trip.

If you have your own vessel, you can launch on any of the lakes in the Rocky Mountain National Park, apart from Bear Lake, as long as your vessel doesn’t have a motor, as motorized boats are prohibited everywhere in the National Park. Amongst all the other wildlife that you might see, you may even spot a moose or a bear!

4: Denver, CO

Denver KayakingPin
Courtesy: Kimon Berlin on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

You wouldn’t think you could get awesome paddling in the center of a big city but in Downtown Denver you can and there’s even a dedicated whitewater run for kayaking at Confluence Park.

The man-made whitewater run features Class 3 rapids and is popular with kayakers and tubers. It covers around a mile of the South Platte River and water levels vary with the time of year. Because of the urban location, there are also times that the water might not be as clean as you might hope, especially in the busy summer period.

You can rent equipment from Confluence Kayaks in Confluence Park, opposite the aquarium. They offer single and tandem inflatable yaks and you can also rent gear, including individual items, such as a helmet or neoprene clothing. They also offer repairs, as well as lessons.

For a longer journey on the South Platte River you can put-in on the north side of the Chatfield Dam and paddle 15 miles into the center of Denver and through Confluence Park. The water levels are usually pretty good around late spring so this can be a good time to visit.

5: Rio Grande, CO

Rio Grande KayakingPin
Courtesy: Sheila McClune on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Paddle along one of the most famous rivers in the world with a trip along the Rio Grande. Float through wilderness on rapids of varying degrees of difficulty, with mountains and forests surrounding you as you go.

There are a few entry points along the river, with a popular one being at Thirty Mile Campground. One of the most popular sections for kayaking and canoeing is from the put-in point at Rio Grande Campground to the town of South Fork.

If you need to rent a vessel, you can do that at 8200 Mountain Sports in South Fork, where you can rent a single or tandem inflatable yak, or duckie, for $75 for 2 to 4 hours for a self-guided tour along a section of the Rio Grande (September 2017). 

Are There Kayak Laws For Colorado?

US Coast GuardPin
  • PFDs are required for each person on board a kayak. The PFD must be US Coast Guard approved and be a suitable size for the wearer. It must also be in good condition and easy to access.
  • All children under the age of 13 must wear a US Coast Guard approved life jacket while on board a kayak.
  • It is illegal to operate a kayak while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You will be considered under the influence if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher.
  • Boat registration is only required for kayaks that have a motor attached.
  • Under 14s are not allowed to operate any motorized vessel. Children aged 14 and 15 must have completed a boating safety course prior to operating any motorized vessel.
  • Sound Producing Devices are required on Colorado waters. This means you must carry a whistle or equivalent sound device with you while kayaking.
  • white light is required on your kayak if paddling between sunset and sunrise or in periods of reduced visibility.

Colorado Kayak Rentals & Tours

2 thoughts on “Guide To Kayaking In Colorado”

  1. Just wanted to add that you can take a tour from Adventure Paddle Tours on Dillon Res. We are based out of the Frisco Bay Marina and have tours going out everyday May-Sept and that we are the #2 outdoor Activity in Frisco, CO according to TripAdvisor

    • All of these are great suggestions. I have rafted Browns and Rio Grande, and they are night and day from each other depending on water flow.

      Just wanted to add Dillon Res is a great place to paddle, and I’ve used the rental shop twice, hassel and complication free.


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