Colorado is famous for many things - soaring peaks, desert mesas, great skiing - but it’s not the first place you think of when considering a beach destination.
Yet Colorado is rife with beaches: in the mountains, the plains, even the high desert. Some have soft sand and shimmering water, others have gravely shorelines along remote lakes or rivers – each beautiful in their own way and each worthy of a visit.
Best beach in the desert
Appearing like magic in the sandy expanse of Great Sand Dunes National Park, Medano Creek is born from snowmelt that flows from the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains. Existing for just a few months each year, the creek is at its strongest in late spring, when the water is almost two feet-deep and 50 feet-wide. The fast shallow creek flows in small waves over its sandy floor, and the soft beach is ideal for wading, splashing, even skim-boarding and inner-tubing, always with views of the park’s majestic dunes, the tallest in North America.
Ridgway State Park
Best drive-up beach
Turquoise waters and breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains are the hallmarks of the beaches at Ridgway State Park. A five-mile-long reservoir has several sandy areas, varying from a protected cove with a wide sandy beach - popular with families for its calm waters and playground - to a spectacular drive-up beach that’s perfect for launching paddleboards and kayaks. Just park and paddle away.
Steamboat Lake State Park
Best Alpine view beach
A forest backdrop of aspen trees and stunning views of Hahns Peak make the beach at Steamboat Lake State Park one of Colorado’s most picturesque. A high elevation lake (8100ft), by mid-summer the water is warm enough to dip in at the sandy swimmers-only beach. Other parts of the lake are designated for watersports enthusiasts, including water skiing, paddle-boarding, boating and fishing. With over a thousand surface acres of water, there’s plenty of space for all to enjoy and explore the lake, and to soak up the alpine views.
Best something for everyone beach
Grand Lake is a behemoth beauty, the largest and deepest natural lake in all of Colorado. The main beach, located in its namesake town, has soft golden sand with shallow waters and is backed by a thick grassy area, perfect for families and picnickers. The nearby boardwalk provides midday distraction - an ice cream cone, a photo-op, even souvenir shopping. For something a bit more active, the marina has pontoon boats, paddle-boards and kayaks, even fishing gear for rent – great ways to explore the lake’s lesser known coves, shores and islands.
Best family-friendly beach
Just 15 minutes from downtown Boulder, Boulder Reservoir is a 700-acre man-made lake appealing especially to families. Its wide sandy beach offers plenty of material for sand castles, and the shallow roped-off waters and lifeguards put parents of young children at ease. Older kids and grown-ups can explore the reservoir on kayaks, paddle-boards and sailboats too – all available for rent onsite. Modern facilities with bathrooms and a snack bar seal the deal. The mountain views don’t hurt either.
Blue Mesa Reservoir
Best dramatic view beach
Sweeping mesas, towering volcanic spires and secluded canyons surround the sapphire waters of Blue Mesa Reservoir. It’s a dramatic place, to say the least. With nearly 100 miles of shoreline, this otherworldly reservoir forms the heart of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Many come for the boating and fishing – it is the largest kokanee salmon and lake trout fishery in Colorado – while persistent winds and calm waters make it popular with windsurfers too. For swimming, hardcore visitors scramble down the often steep and rocky shoreline but for those looking for a gentler entry head to the beaches of Bay of Chickens, Dry Creek and Old Highway 50.
Devil’s Punch Bowl
Best hidden ‘beach’
A short hike just outside of Aspen leads to a series of small waterfalls from the Roaring Fork River that converge into a dramatic emerald pool called the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Huge undulating boulders stand like sentinels around the swimming hole, making for a great picnic spot deep in the forest, the sound of falling water all around. Thrill-seekers jump from the smooth granite walls into the chilly waters – a ten- to 25-foot plunge – though most simply enjoy the sight for what it is: a beautiful hidden forest beach.
Best city beach
Stretching 6.5 miles along the western edge of Fort Collins, Horsetooth Reservoir is a popular swimming and boating spot for locals. Two designated swimming beaches have protected waters and soft sand, including ‘Sunrise’ beach with spectacular views of the Dakota Hogback Ridge. Picnic tables and grills dot both sites. The reservoir’s marina also offers speedboat rentals (wake-boarding, anyone?) and anglers will find there’s no shortage of good fishing spots, especially in the reservoir’s hidden coves.
Twin Lakes Reservoir
Best camping beach
Twin Lakes Reservoir is a pair of connected glacial-fed lakes with spectacular views of one of Colorado’s tallest peak, Mount Evans. The reservoir’s waters are calm and remarkably tolerable in the summer (65 to 75 degrees), its shoreline covered in soft tawny sand. Families flock to its waters in the summer, filling its campgrounds with tents and RVs. A party-like atmosphere can take over on weekends, but mostly people come for days filled with sandcastle-making, paddle-boarding and fishing…a veritable beach escape in the mountains.
Jackson Lake State Park
Best beach in the plains
Jackson Lake State Park is home to the most popular beach in Colorado’s eastern plains – a beacon in a sea of fields. Fed by the South Platte River, the lake is known for its mild, shallow waters and shores that are lined with sand like brown sugar. Beach-goers gravitate towards the southern and western shores, where designated swim areas feature wide beaches, picnic tables and facilities like restrooms and showers. Others jump on paddle-boards, jet skis and motor boats to explore the waters. Visitors can (and do) stay the night, sleeping in RVs or camping in lakefront tents, their fire pits lighting up the night.
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