Canoeing on Grand Lake, the Largest Natural Body of Water in Colorado

On our trip to Colorado last summer, Jeff and I set aside one day of our Rocky Mountain National Park vacation to do a canoe tour of scenic Grand Lake — the largest deepest natural body of water in Colorado and part of the Colorado River headwaters (see our head waters hike write-up) — and to explore the historic town of Grand Lake, situated on the north shore of the lake. Why a canoe, instead of a kayak or motor boat? Because it’s the Rockies! A canoe just felt more Rocky Mountains adventure-like, the way Lewis and Clark and John Wesley Powell did it — expect that it’s all safe and civilized now. And we were forewarned by the rental company that a canoe would keep us drier when (not “if”) the winds picked up on the lake.

Lewis and Clark in Canoes

A sketching of the Lewis and Clark expedition, somewhere in the western U.S., courtesy of the US National Archives.

We rented our canoe from Grand Lake Marina, which was recommended by our cabin owners. The marina is located at the end of the town’s business district and provides a small parking lot adjacent to to the rental cabin. Their regular rates are 2 hours for $35 (see their rate sheet for more options), but I am pretty sure they offered us a summer season online discount that we booked from our cabin.  We were thrilled to learn that the boat rentals are dog-friendly, even though we didn’t bring Holly Beagle on this trip.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

The marina entrance is at the end of town.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Boaters Choice offers a variety of rental boats and packages.

The Canoe Tour

It is a four mile circuit to paddle along the entire shore of Grand Lake, which we were able to complete in two hours. We started out clockwise, heading east (at the recommendation of the boat rental crew) due to the prevailing winds. This route protects you from the wind as long as possible, forcing paddlers to work against the wind at just the westernmost end of the lake.  The views were gorgeous, the water was relaxing (even when paddling), and we had so much fun just soaking in the nature and over-the-top homes.

The only disappointment is that Grand Lake Marina boat rentals are not allowed to cross into Shadow Mountain Lake. We were staying on Shadow Mountain Lake and assumed we’d be able to paddle into that area. So that was a little bit of a bummer, but not a huge deal. We still enjoyed the Grand Lake tour and would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

We paddled east, hugging the shoreline, coveting the beautiful lakefront homes.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Fortunately, we did get to experience some stretches of the lake that weren’t quite as built up with homes.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

If I lived here, I would enjoy morning coffee and dinner out here every day.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

We assume some of these larger structures are resorts. Can’t imagine this is a single home!

Canoeing on Grand Lake

A morning waterskier.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

These are some serious stairs!

Canoeing on Grand Lake

We met up with this adorable steam boat at the east end of the lake.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Oddest sight on the lake! The home owner must be a dentist.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

At the east end of the lake, looking west across the length of Grand Lake, towards Shadow Mountain Lake.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Looking over our shoulders, at the north stretch of shoreline we just paddled.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Our first peak at the more forested less residential south shore of Grand Lake.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

And at an osprey keeping watch over the lake!

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Love this beautiful wood boat.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Looking back at the east end of Grand Lake.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Another look back at the east end of the lake, this time you can see the peak of Mount Ida (the sharp pointed peak in center of the photo) come into view.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Zooming in on the peak of Mount Ida. We tried this hike, but didn’t make it to the peak due to an approaching thunder storm.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Homes along the west end of the lake.

Canoeing on Grand Lake

Making our approach back to the marina. Winds are picking up.

The Town of Grand Lake

While you’re down in the marina area, take the time to explore the quaint adorable town of Grand Lake. I’d like to think I could live someplace like Grand Lake, but this Southern California girl has never lived in the snow. Grand Lake is situated one mile from the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and provides lodging options far less crowded and touristy than Estes Park. It is located at an elevation of 8,437 feet and was established in 1881 to support nearby mining settlements.

There are a handful of eateries and shops all along the main street. We enjoyed some heavenly locally made ice cream after our canoe tour and spent an hour or so window shopping. Our upcoming posts in this series will highlight some of the additional Grand Lake attractions we visited.

Grand Lake, Colorado

The bridge marking the spot where Grand Lake meets Shadow Mountain Lake. Off limit to rental boats.

Grand Lake, Colorado

Adorable downtown Grand Lake, nestled into the mountains that mark the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Grand Lake, Colorado

Take some time to stroll along both sides of downtown.

Grand Lake Public Library

I’d work here! The public library located in Grand Lake.

Grand Lake, Colorado

Enjoy the wildflowers and trees along your stroll through town.


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