It’s no secret that Northern Colorado is a paradise for adventure seekers. In the summer months, while the Colorado sun is nearly always shining, one of the best places to be is in the water — or on top of it! Kayaking allows you do a little bit of both (at least while you’re getting started). And our nearby lakes and rivers make getting started a breeze!
Beginners and experts alike will discover new shops, resources and locales with our guide to area kayaking. Find out where to take a kayak class, how to get your hands on a new watercraft, and where to launch. Happy paddling!
There’s more to kayaking than just the kayak. Especially if you’re a beginner, there a few safety items you may want to look into and maybe even a fun accessory! If you’re wondering where to start, we suggest stopping by any one of these Northern Colorado businesses. There, you’ll find local experts, rentals and more.
The local experts at Jax Mercantile can fill you in and suit you up for every paddle adventure. Their website has an entire section for paddle sports — from kayaks and canoes to accessories and lifejackets. At each of their seven Colorado locations, you’ll find plenty of gear and advice. If you’re less committed and want to rent first, their rental equipment is available on demand or can be reserved in advance at select Jax Outdoor Gear stores. Find your nearest shop and give them a call to find out more!
When you rent equipment with Mountain Whitewater, each inflatable kayak, hard-shell kayak, canoe and raft rental comes with a life jacket, helmet, paddle, pump and spray jacket to ensure safety. Rent camping equipment as well and turn your day trip into an overnight adventure!
Inlet Bay Marina is located on Inlet Bay, a body of water connected to Horsetooth Reservoir. When you rent from the marina, you can get directly in the water with your motorized or nonmotorized rental — including kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and Hydro Bikes. Their single person kayaks start at $20 per hour and require a two-hour minimum as well as a $100 damage deposit which you can get back upon return.
The most popular destination for any water sport in Northern Colorado is Horsetooth Reservoir. The surrounding park attracts 570,000 visitors annually — basically, anyone in and around Fort Collins who wants to fish, paddle, hike, bike, swim or climb. With several boat ramps, beaches and the Inlet Bay Marina, it’s one of the most accessible options in NoCo.
Dixon is located just east of Horsetooth Reservoir. A popular fishing spot, the 44-acre body of water is inside Pineridge Natural Area so you’re likely to see wildlife while paddling — everything from fish to elk. This quiet spot just minutes from Downtown Fort Collins is ideal for quiet evenings away from the hustle and bustle of the city!
The Poudre runs through Northern Colorado and has become one of the best destinations for whitewater adventure. It’s also the only Colorado river to be designated “wild and scenic” meaning it’s free flowing and jaw-dropping. Much more technical than lake kayaking, river trips can require more training and more safety gear. Rocky Mountain Adventures offers multiple courses, including a Kayak Roll Class so you can be ready for anything.
The river has more than 40 miles of kayak-ready waters, from the most difficult Class V and above to the easier, more scenic Class III waters. Beginner whitewater paddlers can embark on the Filter Run, a straightforward course near Fort Collins with class II – III waters.
Inside Rocky Mountain National Park, you can hit the water in any lake except Bear Lake located near the center of the park. Lily and Sprague Lakes provide the most convenient access. Because both are located near parking lots, you won’t have to lug your kayak very far. Water conditions and safety vary by season and body of water so on your way in, check in with rangers at the entry gates or any of the seven visitor centers.
Lonetree Reservoir is located south of Loveland near Berthoud. On the west side of the lake at the end of Lone Tree drive, there are two boat launch sites; you’ll run right into them as you arrive. The easiest site to launch from in a kayak is the southern ramp. Because the area allows free entry, it’s a great option for a budget-friendly day on the lake!
Near Loveland, you’ll find Boyd Lake State Park, a destination for swimmers, fishermen and paddlers. With over 1,700 surface acres for watercraft of all kinds, you can launch your kayak directly from the swim beach. All watercraft must be registered and/or inspected prior to entering the water, but Boyd Lake Marina, on the west side of the lake, offers pre-approved rentals including fishing boats, pontoon boats, wave runners, canoes, kayaks and paddle bikes!
Lake Estes is the most popular lake kayaking destination near picturesque Estes Park. Paddling is made easy with rentals from Estes Park Marina and proximity to Downtown makes for the perfect tourist activity! When you’re done in the water, you can explore local restaurants and shops.
For a more technical whitewater adventure, put your craft in along the Downtown Estes Park Riverwalk. The run goes straight through the heart of town and can be a bit unpredictable based on dam release. The popular Big Tommy Run is only 1.1 miles long but features Class II sections linked to Class V waters.
Colorado’s prime kayaking season normally runs from May through September, due in large part to seasonal park and lake closures. Keep in mind that waters can be higher and run faster in spring and early May due to snowmelt. It’s always a good idea to check with rangers and park services before launching.
The whys of kayaking are threefold. First, it’s a fantastic, low-stress workout — especially in terms of lake kayaking. Whitewater trips can be more strenuous, but offer, perhaps, even more exercise opportunities and definitely offer more adrenaline! At the end of the day, you’re sure to feel it in your arms and core muscles.
Second, kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Northern Colorado. With paddle-ready rivers and lakes across the region, you can experience a little bit of every beloved community while taking in the breathtaking scenery and seeing some wildlife along the way.
Third, Northern Colorado makes kayaking so easy. The real question is why wouldn’t you?
On a lake, many people can get the hang of kayaking fairly quickly, but it’s always a good idea to start with lessons. Even if you just get a quick safety lecture from your nearest marina or rental facility, it will ensure everyone stays safe and be ready in case of emergency.
Poudre Paddlers is Northern Colorado’s Canoe and Kayak Club. For a membership fee of just $10 per household each year, you can meet other enthusiasts, participate in group outings and gain access to instruction courses in canoeing and beginning river rescue and safety.
With Rocky Mountain Adventures in Fort Collins, you can do everything from taking classes to embarking on guided adventures to renting equipment. Their kayaking classes cover everything from basics on the river to a kayak roll course on the lake!
If you have safety tips, go-to destinations or favorite businesses in the area, share your insights on NoCo paddling in the comments below.