Lake Dillon, Colorado: Camping, Floating, Fishing and More
Special to the Daily
Prepare for your day
Bring cash and age identification for food and drinks at the Island Grill in Frisco or Pug Ryan’s Lakeside Tiki Bar in Dillon, waterproof layer and an easy-carry, long-sleeve pullover, sunscreen and sunglasses, helmet for biking or hat for sun protection, water, snacks and a change of shoes and clothes after biking or water recreation, if desired.
On a summer day at Dillon Reservoir, land and water come together to create Summit County’s most iconic recreational playground. Known fondly as “Lake Dillon,” it’s one of the only places in this land-locked state where mountain sports are inspired by a combination of bikes, boats and tiki bars.
“We call Lake Dillon the ‘Tahoe of Colorado,’” said Javier Placer, co-founder of Stand Up Paddle Colorado, following a sunny Sunday lunch at Pug Ryan’s Lakeside Tiki Bar at the Dillon Marina. This is the third year the paddleboard and kayak rental company has been out on Dillon Reservoir.
“Here, you’re surrounded by mountains,” he said. “You have this long bike trail that goes all the way around, so you can walk and ride; on the water, you can kayak, you can canoe, and you can paddleboard.”
The total paved loop around the lake is 18 miles, with 1,100 feet of elevation gain, achieved mostly in the uphill ascent (and fast descent) over Swan Mountain on the south side of the reservoir.
“There are options to start from essentially anywhere in Summit County,” said Kerstin Anderson, marketing and events director for the town of Dillon. “The cemetery at the Frisco Marina, Dillon Amphitheater, Sapphire Point parking lot at the top of Swan Mountain being some of the most common.”
Parking near the amphitheater in Dillon and heading clockwise on the trail is a great way to start, with a rolling beginning that makes its way toward Keystone for several miles and then up and over Swan Mountain.
Swing down toward Frisco after taking a scenic water break at Sapphire Point on the top of Swan Mountain, taking in views of the Gore, Williams Fork and Ten Mile mountain ranges. After heading down the road and crossing Highway 9 at the high school, ride for a few miles before taking a right to go toward the Frisco Peninsula and the Frisco Marina.
In the summer, the Frisco Adventure Park at the Frisco Peninsula has a bike park for all levels, with a dual slalom bike course, dirt jumps, slopestyle course and a pump track, as well as a skate park and a disc-golf course. Helmets are required for the bike park. The outdoor amenities are free and open to the public, weather dependent.
Make your way to the Island Grill at the Frisco Marina for some fuel and a cold brew and then head toward Dillon on the path — another 6 1/2 miles of gently rolling hills followed by a traverse over the top of the Dillon Dam.
“The undulating topography — everywhere, except over Swan Mountain — gives you time to recover from the uphill climbs,” Anderson said. “It’s fun to stop along the way and play at the ‘Dillon Beach,’ stop at Marina Park or grab lunch from the Tiki Bar.”
If you take your time, with stops along the way that allow for a sit-down session in Frisco or Dillon, allow at least three hours for the experience. Fast riders could do the loop in less than two hours. For a more leisurely cruise, bike from Dillon to Frisco and back on the 13 miles (round trip) of rolling trail.
Rent bikes at Lake Dillon Bike Rentals, three blocks from Dillon Marina (inside Lake Dillon Liquors), for one hour, three hours, a full day or an overnight, and full-day bike rentals are available from Kayak Lake Dillon at the Frisco Marina.
“A ride around the marina is so much fun with friends and family,” Anderson said. “It is incredibly scenic with fun stops along the way.”
Stay and play
Boat rentals of all kinds are available at the Frisco and Dillon marinas. Locals and visitors can paddle canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddlboards all around the lake and its inlets.
“The great thing about the lake is that you’re in a confined space,” Placer said. “So even if you’re out there and the wind blows, typically you’re going to be blown to shore; it’s not like you’re going to be blown into the middle of the ocean.”
Early starts are always recommended for playing in and around the lake to avoid being caught outside during one of Colorado’s notorious afternoon summer thunderstorms.
“We always recommend planning, checking the weather and always starting early,” Placer said. “In Colorado, weather can pick up in the afternoon, and winds can gust at 20 to 40 mph, so knowing that and having the right information and the right equipment — like having your life jacket on — is always smart.”
Most of the rental hubs take drop-in customers, but reservations are always recommended. Stand Up Paddle Colorado has a fleet of more than 30 paddleboards, as well as sit-on-top kayaks.
“Because we are right on the water, people do walk in,” Placer said. “But there are certain blocks when we are completely booked out, so the best is to call ahead of time.”
Dillon Reservoir also has 25 miles of shoreline for fishing. Check out the Blue and Snake river inlets and Giberson Bay.
“Adjacent to the Dillon Marina and down around the Dillon Amphitheater there are flat, sandy, beach-like areas, great for hanging out, picnicking and fishing,” Anderson said.
Most campgrounds are open to use until the week after Labor Day in September. Day-use picnic areas are also nice to use for day gatherings on the water. Some day and overnight spots can be reserved, and some are first-come, first-served.
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