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Grand Lake

By Mary Glass,

Formed by glaciers, Grand Lake is Colorado’s deepest natural body of water at 265 feet. The town that now sits on its banks, and shares its name, began as a summer camp for Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne tribes. In 1867 Grand Lake was first permanently settled by white miners and hunters, and in the late 1870s a silver boom in the area increased Grand Lake’s permanent population, and cemented its reputation as a pristine destination in the Colorado Rockies.

In 1902 the Grand Lake Yacht Club was established, and it is still one of the highest yacht clubs in America. Located on the banks of the largest natural body of water in Colorado, the Village of Grand Lake quickly became a Mecca for water enthusiasts in a largely arid state. Water activities including sailing, fishing, and water skiing are still popular not only on Grand Lake, but also on the neighboring Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby (the second largest body of water in Colorado).

Today Grand Lake is holding on to its traditional western roots. Wooden boardwalks not cement sidewalks line the stores on the main street (Grand Avenue), and cowboy themed almost anything is easy to find. Not many of the side streets are paved, but as most residents drive snowmobiles half the year it isn’t a big concern. There aren’t any big chain stores in Grand Lake, no fast food, and even the bowling alley is untouched by modern technology (meaning you keep score by hand). A rustic happiness pervades Grand Lake making it the perfect escape from the busyness of Denver just two hours west of the capital. Grand Lake is also a dog friendly town—most shops either have a canine mascot of their own or a few doggy treats ready if you bring yours. However, neither Arapahoe National Forest nor Rocky Mountain National Park, which surround the town, allows pets.

Grand Lake still lives a seasonal existence, with less then 500 permanent residents. Summers boast the largest crowds followed by winters; the town is virtually deserted in the fall and spring with many shops and restaurants closing during slow times. In the summer, hoards of outdoor enthusiasts use Grand Lake as a gateway to the quarter of a million acres in Rocky Mountain National Park whose western entrance is located just outside town. In the winter Grand Lake is the self-proclaimed snowmobile capital of Colorado where it’s legal to drive snowmobiles on city streets.

In any season there is something going on in Grand Lake. My favorite activities include:

East End Trail

Hot Sulphur Springs


Sagebrush BBQ & Grill

The Legend of the Lake

Rocky Mountain S’mores


Grand Lake is located in Grand County midway between Denver and Steamboat Springs. It is also accessible from Estes Park through Rocky Mountain National Park (summers only; fees may apply). To reach Grand Lake:

From Denver: Take I-70 west to exit 232 (US40). Take US40 over Berthoud Pass, past Winter Park, to US34 just outside Granby. Follow US34 around Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake to Grand Lake at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Total time: 2 hours, 145 miles.

From Estes Park: Take US34 over Trail Ridge Road (the highest continually paved highway in America) through Rocky Mountain National Park, coming out the western entrance just outside Grand Lake. Total time: 1 hour, 47 miles.

From Steamboat Springs: Take US40 east through Kremmling, past Hot Sulphur Springs, to US34 just before Granby. Follow US34 around Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake to Grand Lake at the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Total time: 2 hours 15 minutes, 150 miles

For more information visit the Grand Lake Area Chamber of Commerce website.


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