white water rafting

No beach? No problem. 5 Water-Based Adventures in Colorado

Katie CoakleyMay 14, 2021

Yes, Colorado is a landlocked state but that's no reason to discount water-based activities to stay cool this summer. From white-water rafting to SUP, kayaking, sailing, and more, there are plenty of on-the-water adventures you can experience in this scenic state—no ocean required.

The great state of Colorado is known for many things: The majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains (climb a 14er!), the bustling cities of Denver and Boulder (sip a craft beer!), and its spectacular beaches (wait, what?). Okay—that last one is a stretch. After all, Colorado is a land-locked state; the nearest ocean is at least a thousand miles away. However, that doesn’t keep residents and visitors from enjoying some pretty amazing water activities in Colorado. From river surfing to setting sail from the world’s highest deep-water marina and yacht club, here are five water-based adventures you can enjoy in Colorado. 

 

Whitewater rafting and kayaking

Perhaps one of the most popular summer excursions, whitewater rafting is the perfect way to soak up the sun and experience the excitement of running a set of rapids. Whether you’re departing from Denver or are visiting other towns like Vail, Buena Vista, Grand Junction, or are planning the ultimate Colorado road trip, you’ll find a river to raft. 

Another option for exploring the various rivers is on a kayak. There are many types of kayak, including the small trick boats that you may see flipping, spinning, and rolling in the water parks. But you don’t need to be a pro to enjoy a kayak. Sit-in or sit-on-top kayaks are popular rental options; “duckies,” or inflatable kayaks, are also great options for cruising calm stretches of the river. 

The Colorado River has many sections that offer experiences ranging from mellow floats to adrenaline-filled rides – it’s no wonder it’s one the world’s best places to go rafting. But don’t discount other rivers like the Arkansas, Eagle, Yampa, or Cache la Poudre—each has its distinct character and attractions. 

Pro Tip: You’re going to get wet on the river (that’s the point). Leave most of your valuables at home but a water-resistant pouch is great for corralling your keys, wallet, and phone. Also, bring a change of clothing for the ride home. Stash your damp duds in an anti-microbial bag and you’ll avoid leaving bits and pieces behind.  

 

SUPing and Surfing

Standup paddleboarding (SUPing) has become one of the most popular ways to get out on the water. Whether you’re leisurely cruising around one of Colorado’s reservoirs (there are several near Denver that allow city-dwellers to cool off) or navigating the eddies of the river, SUPing is fairly easy to learn and tons of fun. 

It’s not just a day out, either – some folks pack for a few days and set off on overnight or multi-day SUP trips, camping under the stars. A few hours or a few days—there’s no bad day on a paddleboard. 

But for those who want a bit more adrenaline, may we suggest river surfing? Yep—it’s a thing. Waterparks on the river have inflatable bladders that can create various features, including a surf wave. Check out the Glenwood Wave, a world-class river surf wave in Glenwood Springs. Even if you don’t try it yourself, it’s incredible watching surfers ride the endless wave. 

Pro Tip: You need both hands to SUP. Keep your small valuables safe and dry with a small, crossbody bag. You’ll have your hands free, and the low-profile design will allow you a full range of movement.  

 

High Altitude Sailing

You might associate sailing with the Caribbean but where there’s water, there’s a way. Lake Dillon (located in Summit County, approximately 1.5 hours from Denver) is actually a reservoir but it’s also the home to the world’s highest deep-water marina and yacht club, the Dillon Yacht Club. Here you can rent pontoon boats to putter or sailboats to slip through the waves; kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are also available to rent. With numerous coves to explore and the dramatic mountain backdrop to admire, a day on Lake Dillon is unforgettable. 

Pro Tip: Wildlife is abundant at Lake Dillon. Bring your camera (and a bag to keep it dry and safe) and keep an eye out for ospreys and eagles. 


There are plenty of water adventures to be found near Denver and around Colorado. But no matter where you choose to go or the vessel you choose to cruise, be sure to do it safely: Adhere to the safety precautions from your guide and wear a PFD (personal flotation device). What are your favorite Colorado water adventures? 

Katie Coakley

Katie Coakley is a Colorado-based freelance writer who covers outdoor adventures, travel and craft beer and spirits. In the summer, you’ll find her on her paddleboard. Follow her on Instagram or check out her website