It’s the ultimate vacation question: beach or mountains? Luckily, when you visit Boulder, you don’t have to choose! Okay, okay—so maybe we don’t have an ocean coastline. But Boulder does have the perfect spot to while away a day swimming, sunbathing and boating: Boulder Reservoir. Its cool, sparkling water and views of the Flatirons are hard to beat.
The 700-acre lake, often lovingly referred to as "the Rez," was initially created in the mid-1950s as a water-storage facility. But although it still supplies approximately 20 percent of Boulder’s drinking water, the lake and its surrounding environs quickly gained a reputation as one of the best spots in the state for boating, swimming, fishing and other lakeside recreation.
The Basics: The Boulder Reservoir is open year-round. Entry fees are charged during the summer season from April 12, 2021 through October 17, 2021. Entry fee: $6.50 for youth (3–18), $11 for adults (19–59), $8.25 for seniors (60+) or $29 for a group of 4, max 2 adults. Dogs aren't allowed during the summer season.
The swim beach is open daily 10am-6pm (except Thursdays when it closes at 5:30pm) for summer 2021 (through Sept. 6). There’s something surreal about working on your tan while you stare up at mountains, and it’s an experience you won’t get many places besides Boulder Reservoir. The lake boasts one of the largest swimming beaches in Colorado. Splash around with the kiddos in the shallow section, swim out to one of the three floating platforms or simply lay on your beach towel and soak up the sun. A lifeguard is on duty, and children under 12 must pass a swim test to go beyond the first rope. Note: Swimming is prohibited in the event of lightning or thunder and the beach is closed for 30 minutes after any lightning strike.
Rocky Mountain Paddleboard rents pontoon boat by the hour, so you can spend the day sipping, sunning and fishing. Note: Annual permits are required for all outside boats; one-day permits are not available. You can also sign up for sailing classes or private lessons through Community Sailing of Colorado. The company also offers sailboat rentals, group lessons and parties, and free adaptive sailing clinics.
Explore the lake in a canoe, kayak or standup paddleboard (SUP). You can rent each by the hour from Rocky Mountain Paddleboard, which is located right on site at the Rez.
Or sign up for a lesson where a certified instructor will teach you the basics or help you perfect your technique. Yogis can put their practice to the test with SUP (standup paddleboard) yoga classes. Note: Permits are included with rentals, but you’ll need to purchase one if you’re bringing your own watercraft.
Cast a line for bass, catfish, crappie, rainbow trout, saugeye and walleye from the fishing dock, shore or a boat. Follow the Boulder Reservoir Loop Trail for some of the best fishing access. Note: Purchase a fishing license from Colorado Parks & Wildlife online or in person.
The park offers miles of trails for running, walking, mountain biking and hiking, including the 5.3-mile Boulder Reservoir Loop Trail. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as the park is home to geese, coots, loons, osprey, raptors, herons, owls, deer, rabbits, snakes and prairie dogs. Boulder Reservoir also plays host to a number of fitness events throughout the year, from 5K races to marathons and triathlons. And hey, what better way to cool down after a tough workout than with a dip in the lake?
Got something to celebrate? Or just want to get out and grill? Boulder Reservoir's park has 13 picnic sites, nine of which are available to rent for private events from late April through September. Rentals include setup and takedown of canopies, picnic and serving tables, and trash, recycling and compost containers.
Or simply pack a picnic lunch and grab one of the many first-come-first-serve picnic tables. Sand volleyball courts and horseshoe pits will keep you and your guests entertained.
A new restaurant — Driftwind — opened at the reservoir in summer 2021. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, for those visiting the reservoir, Driftwind offers coffee and concessions in a stylish space at the water's edge.