With the sun finally shining and the mercury rising in Colorado, now is the perfect time to hit the water. Stand Up Paddling (SUP) is the latest craze, which is turning out to be more than a passing phase. It’s easy to learn, and morphs into whatever form you like—supremely sublime or totally thrilling. Set afloat on flat water and lose yourself in the rhythmic dip of your paddle, and the prism-like pattern of sunbeams that penetrates the surface. Or charge hard in river rapids and feel your adrenaline spike.
Wherever your interests lie, figuring out where to find a board, what gear to bring, and where to go are the first steps. Check in with local outdoor stores for this information and more—see our list of recommended shops.
To get you started, we asked Alex Mauer, pro athlete for BIC SUP and an instructor for Surf'SUP Colorado, to share his secrets about great places to SUP around town. Here are four top spots:
Big Soda Lake – Bear Creek Lake Park
Nestled against the mountains just south of Morrison, Big Soda Lake at Bear Creek Lake Park is easy on the eyes and legs—a great beginner spot. No motorboats are allowed, meaning you can paddle to your heart’s content without battling a wake, and feast your eyes on the views. If you go out in the middle of the lake and look north, you can see Red Rocks Amphitheater in the distance.
This lake gets very busy on summer weekends—often the parking lots are full by 10:00am. Beat the crowds to grab a spot, and bring a picnic so you can hang out all day. In the early morning, the water is often smooth as glass, reflecting all of the foothills’ finery.
Alex's insider tip: The park rents paddleboards at the marina, but its fleet is small and reservations aren’t accepted. Another option is to swing by Surf’SUP Colorado and pick up a board on your way.
Bear Creek Lake Park is off of C-470 at Morrison Road. The entrance fee is $7 per vehicle. Park at the boat rental parking lot at Big Soda Lake and put in at the boat launch.
Chatfield Reservoir is another popular spot for beginners, with the added bonus of the opportunity to progress to wilder waters if you’re so inclined. First-timers should beeline for the Gravel Ponds just south of the main reservoir. No motorboats are allowed, so you won’t have to wobble on waves. Just relax and take in the views of the foothills. Surf’SUP Colorado often sets up shop here.
Once you get your paddling skills down, you can head for the big kid pool—Chatfield Reservoir. Stay in the no wake zone so you don’t have to contend with motorboats. There will still be plenty of opportunity test your sea legs. This is a great place to practice before you go on an ocean trip.
Alex's insider tip: If it’s surfing you seek, there’s a great standing river wave just below where the water comes out of the reservoir. Drive over the dam and park at the dog park, then walk the path down to the river to find the “Miracle Wave,” a sweet feature that kicks up nicely when the water is above 900 cfs.
Chatfield State Park is one mile south of C-470 on Wadsworth. The entrance fee is $8. Note: As of this writing, flooding had closed access to the boat launch, with an anticipated reopening around July 4. Check the Chatfield State Park website for current conditions.
About 40 minutes from downtown, Aurora Reservoir is a hidden gem, still relatively undiscovered when it comes to SUP—and hence, a lot less crowded than other reservoirs closer to town. The water is clear and clean—this is the City of Aurora’s drinking water. At 800 acres, the reservoir is bigger than it looks at first glance; a point obscures a huge finger of it that wraps around to the right. Jump on a board and explore the many nooks and crannies along the shoreline, which stretches for miles and offers wide-open views of the plains. When you’re ready to return to land, relax your toes in the beach’s soft sand.
Alex's insider tip: A sunken plane rests 25-30 feet deep a ways to the left of boat launch area. Strap your snorkel gear to your board and paddle over for a free-diving adventure. Ask Surf’SUP Colorado where to go. They offer rentals and lessons at the reservoir regularly.
To get there, take E-470 and exit at E. Quincy Ave., then turn south on Powhaton Road. Park in the lower main parking lot and launch from the boat launch area left of the swim beach. The entrance fee is $10 a day (or spring for a $55 season pass if you get sucked into SUP). You’ll also need a Watercraft Access Pass, which is good for a year and costs $10.
Clear Creek Whitewater Park
If you’re after whitewater, head to Golden and play in the Clear Creek Whitewater Park , which runs right through the heart of downtown. The slalom course has six fun drops in a row that you can lap all day. If you get into trouble, there are usually people on shore who are willing to lend a hand. Even so, it’s probably best for beginners to steer clear of here.
Alex's insider tip: You don’t have to shuttle a car because the run is pretty short. Park at the end so you don’t have to walk too far to your car when you’ve worn yourself out in the waves.
To get here, drive to downtown Golden and park in the lot at Lion’s Park at 10th and Maple. The put in is about 150 yards up the river, and the take out is right here. There’s no charge to use the park.
Learn more about whitewater opportunities in Colorado in our article: Eight Awesome Whitewater Parks in Colorado
If all this talk has you itching to give SUP a try, then get after it. Start with a lesson so you can learn the fundamentals, which will help you progress a lot faster. These retailers can set you up.
Larson’s Ski and Sports, 4715 Kipling Street, Wheat Ridge (303) 423-0654
This is a great spot for buying or renting a paddle board and gear. Lessons are offered at Big Soda Lake for $60/hour with all the necessary equipment included.
L.L. Bean, 8525 South Park Meadows Center Drive, Lone Tree (888) 615-9975
L.L. Bean makes it easy for shoppers to find their perfect board. Looking to buy? Bean offers demo boards to try out as well as lessons through its Outdoor Discovery School.
Mountain Rentals, 401 East Eisenhower, Loveland (970) 667-2922
Mountain Rentals sell and rent paddle boards. Their staff is here is to help you find the equipment you need to get out on the water.
REI, 1416 Platte Street, Denver (303) 756-3100
REI is a top outdoor retailer offering everything you need to cover your next big adventure outside. REI carries paddleboards and gear and also offers SUP lessons through the REI Outdoor School.
Surf’SUP Colorado – 14011 W. Quincy Ave., Morrison (720) 635-7873
Dedicated solely to SUP, this retailer truly has everything you need to get after it on the water, including a retail shop with boards and gear, rentals, and lessons.