9 Best Outdoor Activities in Gorgeous Grand Lake, Colorado

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Grand Lake in Grand Lake, Colorado, is a sacred place. The Ute tribe called it Spirit Lake when they fished the waters years before Europeans discovered the area. The story of a white buffalo emerging from the center of the vast lake through the mist was of great significance to the Ute, and the story was passed down through the elders of the tribe. It was therefore both the name of the large body of water and the legend of the Ute people.

Grand Lake, Colorado, is located 98 miles from Denver. You can fly to Denver International Airport and rent a car to get there, which takes about 2 hours. You can also travel 46 miles from Estes Park, Colorado, using the famous Trail Ridge Road, America’s highest continuous asphalt road. It crosses the Continental Divide and rises up to 12,000 feet above sea level. The road closes during the winter months, but it’s a spectacular ride through the mountains above the treeline during the summer.

Grand Lake is one of the largest and deepest of all of Colorado’s natural lakes. The water covers about 500 acres and is almost 400 feet deep. In the mid-1800s, groups of European hunters discovered Grand Lake. Small hotels and outfitters have sprung up to support visitors who came to play and minors who found the money but eventually moved on.

Today, the scenery and outdoor activities continue to draw visitors to the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. There are endless things to see and do, especially during the summer months. The Colorado River springs feed into the lake and are 20 miles north inside Rocky Mountain National Park, a big reason the area is so popular. Here are nine suggested outdoor activities to enjoy while visiting this historic Colorado town. Then, at the end of the day, you can admire the beautiful sunsets over Grand Lake.

I was the guest of Grand County for most of the activities mentioned in this article. All opinions are mine.

Grand Lake Captain Rick Tour from Headwaters Marina (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

1. Take a boat trip

Head to Headwaters Marina. Marina manager and Grand Lake Boat Tour captain Rick Tomkievich takes visitors on hour-long tours of beautiful Grand Lake. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the history and famous residents (past and present) and to enjoy the lake. Captain Rick narrates the tour and drives the beautiful 16 passenger pontoon boat Barletta. You are welcome to sit, relax, ask questions, and take as many photos as you want. It’s an informative tour and a great introduction to Grand Lake.

Pro tip: Get there as soon as you arrive in town in the morning to enjoy the cool lake breezes and less boat traffic.

Tandem kayaking on Grand Lake
Jeanine Consoli

2. Kayaking on the lake

The Kayak Shak is also at Headwaters Marina. AJ and Drew Murphy will equip you with a solo or tandem kayak for a fun one or two hour paddle on Grand Lake. Each rental includes a personal flotation device, a safety whistle, a watch and a waterproof bag for your personal effects. Kayaking is a perfect way to enjoy the lake and the beautiful scenery, including Mount Craig, also known as Mount Baldy, which rises to 12,007 feet. The glaciers of Mount Craig melted over 12,000 years ago to form Grand Lake.

3. Paddle the water

You can rent a single person stand up paddle board for up to 4 hours at the Grand Lake Marina. You can book online for convenience and get instant confirmation of your reservation and time. All ages are welcome. Early morning paddling on Grand Lake is recommended as the wind picks up later in the day making it more difficult to paddle against the current. The Wake Coffee Shop on the wharf serves organic coffee at 7am if you’re an early riser.

Pro tip: You can rent a pontoon, a fishing boat, a pedal boat or a sports boat in either of the marinas.

Inside Kirks Fly Shop
Inside Kirks Fly Shop (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

4. Fly fishing around Grand Lake

If you are an expert angler or a beginner looking to learn fly fishing, Kirks Fly Shop offers guided tours specializing in memorable excursions. The outfitter offers trips from May through November that include everything you need for a day on the water, including snacks, drinks, and lunch to fuel up while fishing. They offer wading, fly lessons, river floats, night floats that include camping, guided hikes, and guided llama fly fishing trips. Additionally, Kirks offers 4- or 8-hour guided fishing trips on Grand Lake, which are a great alternative to a walk and paddling on a river for those with limited mobility. Kirks guarantee that you will catch fish as they are experts and have been operating in the area since 2002. Plus, they offer guided hikes and hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Pro tip: If you choose to fish without a guide from the beach, from a pontoon boat, or from the dock, a Colorado fishing license can be purchased at the Kirks Fly Shop.

Adams Falls Hike
Jeanine Consoli

5. Adams Falls Hike

Less than a mile from the village of Grand Lake is the trailhead for one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best-known hikes, the Adams Falls Hike. Adams Falls is an easy 1.5 mile hike for most hikers that brings you to a beautiful waterfall named after one of the early settlers, Jay E. Adams. The waterfall descends 55 feet through a narrow gorge and empties into Grand Lake. Hikers can stop here to take in the views or climb a little further to see the views above the falls. You can see the whole lake from this vantage point. It is a must see when visiting the city.

Pro tips: Apply sunscreen and insect repellent during the summer months. Make sure you have proper hiking shoes and plenty of water. Hydration is essential for high altitude hiking.

Horses and stable at Winding River Resort
Jeanine Consoli

6. Ride a horse in Rocky Mountain National Park

Winding River Resort is a family campground and lodge. Their location is perfect as they are located on the Colorado River, bordering Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapaho National Forest. Even if you choose not to stay at the lodge, there are stables within the resort and trail rides are offered eight times a day with the choice of a one or two hour ride through the national park. Once you’ve made a reservation, stop at the gate and let them know you’re riding that day. Scenic trails offer a glimpse of wildlife as well as mountain flowers and gentle streams. It is an incredible experience to commune with nature on the back of a beautiful horse. It’s like the good old days.

Moose and elk grazing in Rocky Mountain National Park
Jeanine Consoli

7. Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is over 100 years old. The RMNP Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915, to protect the 416 square miles of tundra, mountain peaks and deep valleys for future generations. The park is home to 60 species of mammals and 280 species of birds. Inside the RMNP, you might see elk, antelopes, and moose. At higher elevations, you might see groundhogs or bighorn sheep. There are over 355 miles of hiking trails, from easy trails to multi-day hikes along the Continental Divide. The two halves of the park are connected by Trail Ridge Road. You can plan to spend a few hours hiking, a full day, or even hire a guide like Kirks Fly Shop to plan tough hikes. No matter which hike you choose, be prepared and enjoy beautiful natural surroundings.

Pro tips: Hiking at higher elevations requires plenty of water, proper hiking shoes, sunscreen, bug spray, removable diapers, and a hat. Download a map of your hike to your phone or have a hard copy. Always make sure you have snacks for energy. To be realistic, a 3 mile one way hike is actually a 6 mile hike and can take hours. Never go hiking alone and be sure to let others know about your hiking plan each day.

Ezra and Belle Kauffman's bedroom in the Kauffman House Historical Museum circa 1892
Room of Ezra and Belle Kauffman in the Kauffman House Historical Museum, circa 1892 (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

8. Take a historical walking tour

Stop at most of the city’s stores or the Kauffman House Museum (the last stop on the tour) and purchase a 50-cent map that details 25 different historic places in the city. This self-guided tour will teach you all about the history of Grand Lake as you locate each building or site.

Al fresco dining at Rapids Lodge and Restaurant
Jeanine Consoli

9. Dine al fresco at Historic Rapids restaurant

Jon Lapsley Ish and his family opened the Rapids Lodge in 1915. He provided guests with running water, baths, and waterwheel-powered electricity in North Inlet Creek. He built the lodge using lodgepole pines cut from a sawmill he built on the site. The hotel and restaurant still exist today, serving customers along the northern inlet fed by the slush beds in the RMNP. The service and food are excellent and the menu includes steaks, chops, seafood, pasta, and vegetarian options. Combine that with the historic setting of Inlet and its white waters, and you have a fantastic meal. I recommend eating outside to sit near the inlet; It’s impressive.

Pro tip: It’s a popular place, so reservations are recommended.


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