It is a testament to Summit County’s mountains that our water culture often gets overlooked. But it is real, and it’s more vibrant than you might imagine. Come summer, when all the frozen water we ski and ride each winter melts and trickles into creeks and lakes, we morph into beach bums, river runners, anglers, and sailors. We plan our days around flow rates, surface winds, and bug hatches. We get soaked and chilled in our kayaks and rafts, charged like electrons by white water–borne adrenaline. We hunt massive fish in gold-medal streams. And when we’re ready to call it a day, rum punch in hand, we toast the miniature freshwater ocean that balances our high-country lives.
To celebrate Summit’s liquid gold, we offer the following guide. No matter how you enjoy the water—on it, in it, or just sitting by it—you’ll find out how to do it here.
Get On It
ALL HANDS ON DECK
Summit’s sailing scene makes waves.
You won’t find a more classic way to enjoy Summit’s blue-water bliss than sailing. In fact, despite our landlocked status, Dillon is a world-class sailing destination, known for attracting some of the best skippers in the world. The 44-year-old Dillon Yacht Club has hosted numerous North American and US championships, the latest being the prestigious J-24 nationals held this June. Here’s how to catch the wind with the best of them.
To start, sign up for a two-hour lesson at the Dillon Marina, which offers private (one person) or semi-private lessons. You’ll learn how to read wind direction, how to perform basic sailing maneuvers like tacking, and for more advanced sailors, how to handle varying winds like the ones these mountains are famous for. (You can also learn from the Frisco Bay Marina’s concessionaire, Windrider of the Rockies, but you have to rent a boat in addition to hiring an instructor.) If you’re really serious about becoming a captain, you can sign up for the two-day Dillon Marina Sailing School, which prepares you for American Sailing Association certification. Weekend classes are taught in two six-hour blocks.
Rental Prices (two hours):
- 22-foot Catalina sailboat from Dillon ($110)
- 18-foot Catalina from Frisco ($105)
- 22-foot Santana from Frisco ($120)
- 22-foot Ensign from Frisco ($140)
ENJOY THE GLIDE
Rowing offers a smooth ride and a killer workout.
On summer mornings, long before many of us have risen from bed, Greg Ruckman, a coach at the Frisco Rowing Center, is already on the water. His long, sleek scull cuts a smooth wake across the surface. The only sound is the rhythmic slosh of the oars as they dip into the water.
Lake Dillon isn’t a place most would expect to see rowing like this. Also known as sculling, the sport is better known along the East Coast, where competitive crew teams skim down rivers. But it’s also a recreational sport—and a great workout.
And Ruckman is all too happy share the experience with first-timers courtesy of the rowing center’s wide, (relatively) easy-to-pilot boats. Balancing the wobbly craft takes practice, as does maneuvering the oars, but as Ruckman demonstrates, accomplished rowing is smooth, graceful, and meditative. Or, as he says, “It’s the closest I’ve come to flying.”
Lessons from $55: friscorowing.com or 970-333-8320
Get In It
Local anglers dish on where to hook the big fish.
Want to catch Silverthorne’s biggest fish? You need to think small. As in shrimp-size. Specifically, the Mysis shrimp in Dillon Reservoir, one of just a few Colorado waters to hold that species. “To the fish, Mysis shrimp are like a steak dinner,” says Matt Bowman of Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne.
Conveniently, the shrimp flow into the Blue River by the millions and fatten the fish below the Dillon Dam into giants. “I’ve seen pictures of 30-plus-inch (10- or 12-pound) fish caught under the dam, usually rainbows,” Bowman says. “You can get into monsters all through town here, it just depends on your timing.”
Park at the southernmost Silverthorne Outlets lot and try your luck under the I-70 overpass with either a Parachute Adams dry fly or a pheasant tail nymph wet fly.
Gear Tip: Sick of losing expensive flies? Learn to tie your own. Many shops offer fly-tying classes in the fall and winter, including Mountain Angler in Breckenridge. mountainangler.com
Finding good white water around Summit can be fickle, but Matti Wade, owner of Tenmile Creek Kayaks in Frisco, offers a paddle plan for all skill levels.
- The Run: Pump House to Radium (4.5 miles) on the Colorado River
- Wade’s Take: “All of the rapids have pool drops after them, so if you swim, you won’t have to worry about swimming all the way down the river.”
- Start Here: To get to the Pump House, go west on Trough Road, just south of Kremmling, for about 10 miles.
- The Run: Silverthorne Town Run on the Blue River (outlet area to the elementary school about a mile north of town)
- Wade’s Take: “A lot of us like the town run because it’s easy access, there are a bunch of fun, playful features, and you can walk back up the recpath and do it again really easily.”
- Start Here: Park at the Silverthorne Outlets (either Red or Blue village).
- The Run: Copper to Frisco Bay on Tenmile Creek (can be broken into three shorter legs if needed)
- Wade’s Take: “Last year Tenmile Creek peaked at 1,400 cfs (nearly a record); this year it’ll probably peak at 400 to 600 cfs. But it’s still a fun creeking run.”
- Start Here: Park in the lot next to the Copper Conoco just off of I-70.
Gear: Kayaks from $25 per hour; canoes from $35. tenmilecreekkayaks.com
Just Enjoy It
LIFE'S A BEACH
Sandy shores are closer than you think in Summit County.
Think A-Basin has the only “Beach” in town? Odds are you haven’t burrowed your toes in the sand at Green Mountain Reservoir. Located 26 miles north of Silverthorne, the reservoir is the next best thing to Tahiti, says Mike Meindl, president of the High Lake Ski Club and a regular in Green Mountain’s warm waters since the ’80s.
“It’s only 30 minutes away, but it’s kind of like leaving the county and going to a beach somewhere,” he attests. “You drop 1,500 feet in altitude, and it warms up 15 degrees.” The best camping is found on the west side of the reservoir, at Cow Creek North or South. Sites run $10 a night.
No boat? No problem, Meindl reassures: “Everybody’s really cool about pulling people behind their boat—as long as you help ’em out with gas or beer.” recreation.gov
These alpine lakes guarantee a rocky mountain high.
(Upper) Mohawk Lake Best for: fishing and adventure.
If you cruise by ever-popular Lower Mohawk Lake and continue west-southwest, you’ll come to the valley’s real gem, a trout-packed beauty at 12,200 feet.
Chihuahua Lake Best for: getting away from people.
Just below Montezuma on Summit County’s eastern edge, drive up Peru Creek Road to the Chihuahua Gulch trailhead and trudge four miles up a gorgeous basin. Fourteeners Grays and Torreys loom above you.
Crystal Lake Best for: four-wheeling or camping.
Accessed from the popular Spruce Creek Trailhead, Crystal Lake is a less frequented—but no less stunning—alternative for 4WD traffic and camping lakeside in the midst of a giant cirque.