Beat the Heat
The sky was bright, a breeze was blowing, and every few minutes the ice would creak and crack. Red and green tents squatted in clusters across the water.
Fisherman scurried between holes—responding to a tug here, checking the bait there. One little boy in a snowsuit and an orange beanie swatted the air with his hockey stick, then promptly dropped it in favor of a Nerf dart. Since I’d only ever heard of summer fishing at Eleven Mile Reservoir, I was shocked to see the lake bustling the first time I visited on a chilly February morning.
As I drew closer to the water, I heard talking and laughter carrying across the frozen lake. The sound of traffic was gone, replaced instead by the powerful sounds of the shifting ice. The reservoir’s valley felt swept, like a giant paintbrush had swooped across it to smooth and soften the landscape. On the long, flat fields north of the reservoir we spotted pronghorns grazing among cattle. A friendly herd of mules can often be found in the same spot. Behind the animals, mountains stretched upward while cattails waved along the lake’s grassy shore.
To take advantage of the beautiful day, we made our way to Coyote Ridge Interpretive Trail for a short and easy hike. Granite boulders, pines, and fir on the east side of the reservoir provided the perfect scenery for a nature walk, complete with informational signs. We wound our way over the rocks and through aspen groves, enjoying our time alone with nature. Two minutes into the walk, I spied a flash of white with a long tail scampering over a boulder. A bit later the same creature came back out—the little weasel flipped his long black-tipped tail as he warily watched us pass.
By the end of the day, one thing was clear; Eleven Mile Canyon and Reservoir is perfect for a family adventure any time of the year. In the winter, ice fishing is the prime attraction. When the snow melts, visitors can rent boats, fish from the banks, or even stand-up paddleboard (full wetsuit recommended). Hiking is beautiful all year, and campsites right on the water are available. Visitors should know that swimming and scuba diving are not allowed because the lake provides water to the City of Denver.
Royal Gorge Canyon – 1 hr & 30 min from Colorado Springs
The Royal Gorge is renowned for world-class white water and is often ranked among the country’s top 10 rafting destinations. The gorge features a narrow canyon with exhilarating rapids, drops, and waves in addition to stunning views. Full- and half-day trips are available from several outfitters, but both trips are better for physically fit rafters than new ones. Less experienced visitors should consider Bighorn Sheep Canyon. A full day of rafting starts there and ends in the Royal Gorge, but the half-day option gives beginners a chance to enjoy scenery and serenity.
✓ World-class rapids
✓ Beginner options
✓ Full- and half-day
Spinney Mountain State Park – 1 hr & 45 min from Colorado Springs
Spinney Reservoir offers trophy-sized cutthroats, browns, rainbows, and northern pike, resulting in some of the state’s best Gold Medal fishing. Local fishermen tell me the trout are huge and plentiful, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife has removed all size and bag limits on pike. Boat rental is available from nearby Eleven Mile Marina.
BEST FLY FISHING:
Rio Grande – 3 hrs & 30 mins from Colorado Springs
Floating the Rio Grande between Creede and South Fork is one of Colorado’s relatively undiscovered pleasures. Fishermen can cast for brown and rainbow trout while floating through untouched national forest and wilderness areas. Camping opportunities abound, as well as B&Bs, guest ranches, and a few hotels. Look online (we use FishTheUpperRio.com) for the best places to put in to the water and to learn about state regulations for each portion of the river.
✓ Fly fishing
✓ Backcountry beauty
BEST DAY TRIP:
Chatfield State Park – 1 hr from Colorado Springs
Chatfield State Park conveniently sits just outside Denver in Littleton. It’s open year-round, so a day trip up the road is always in season. With a swimming area and a full marina, visitors can choose almost any water activity, including renting a sailboat. Camping, hiking, biking, and birding are all popular, and with a restaurant on-site any trip is easy to plan.
BEST FAMILY DAY:
Blue Mesa Reservoir – 3 hrs & 30 mins from Colorado Springs
Blue Mesa Reservoir offers everything—including beaches! With swimming, fishing, waterskiing, boat tours and rentals, and even horseback riding, this is a great place for a summer camping trip. This is Colorado’s largest body of water, so there’s plenty of space for adventure or relaxing.
✓ Horseback Riding
BEST YEAR-ROUND WATER ACTIVITIES:
Eleven Mile State Park – 1 hr from Colorado Springs
✓ fishing competitions
✓ Boat rentals