Kayaking Dillon Reservoir

Dillon Reservoir, Colorado

The cove inside of the large island on Dillon Reservoir

Dillon Reservoir (or Lake Dillon as some people say) is the largest part of the Denver water system in Colorado.  It features plenty of lakeside camping, as well as the towns of Frisco and Dillon on the water’s edge for a more civilized experience if desired.  Both towns are pretty touristy, and seemed to be following in the footsteps of nearby Breckenridge – pricey, but enjoyable, and not as crowded as Breckenridge.  Restaurants in both were great (but again, pricey).  Kayak rentals, and even guided tours, are available in nearby Frisco from KayakLakeDillon.

We camped at Heaton Bay, which would normally offer easy access to the water, but with the lower water levels in August, we ended up driving the kayak to the nearby Giberson Bay day use area to put in instead (if you’re camping, there’s no fee to park there).  If planning a trip, you can find the current water levels here.

This area has been hit hard by pine beetles, so we were a bit concerned about how the scenery would be, but were pleasantly surprised.  While evidence of the beetles’ destruction surrounded you, the area still maintained a great sense of beauty and we didn’t really notice all the dead trees unless we were looking for them.  One unexpected benefit, though, was that the campground host actually encouraged us to go collect firewood, pretty unusual from our experience.  In the campground and day use areas, dead trees have been removed, but the smaller trees, and branches, have been left on the ground making for abundant firewood opportunities.

The reservoir itself was as expected – big!  And windy in the afternoons, but no surprise as this is a popular sailing destination.  Sticking around the west shore though, the wind wasn’t much of a problem at all.

If you check out this area on Google Maps, you’ll get a good sense of the number of islands there are to explore…but the jewel is the large one in the middle, with a nice cove accessible to shallow draft boats only.  Well, when the reservoir is full, that is.  It was around ten feet down from full when we visited, and the cove was landlocked and not visible from the reservoir.  A short portage, though, and we were able to enjoy this landlocked cove all to ourselves, much to the chagrin of the abundant wildlife taking refuge there.  We were greeted by two great blue herons, a flock of canadian geese, and an adult AND baby river otter!  It was well worth the very short hike to get there.

All in all, Dillon Reservoir was a great place and is our current favorite Colorado Kayaking Destination!

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Kayaking North Catamount Reservoir


North Catamount Reservoir

The view of Pikes Peak from North Catamount Reservoir

North Catamount Reservoir is one of three reservoirs on the north slope of Pikes Peak available for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.  With gasoline engines not permitted on boats, and no boat trailers allowed, the result is a quiet, peaceful mountain lake that’s great for kayaking.  North Catamount is the largest of the three reservoirs in this area, with 6.58 miles of shoreline and 210 surface acres of water (when full).  There are plenty of great inlets to explore, and once you get away from the dam and parking area, very few other people sharing the water.

To get there, you need to drive on part of the toll road that takes you to the top of Pikes Peak.  Turn north off of highway 24 at the stoplight in Cascade, following signs for the Pikes Peak Highway.  Just past the North Pole (a great place to take young kids!), you’ll get to the entrance for the toll road, where the fee is $4/person if you’re just visiting one of the reservoirs on the North Slope Recreation Area (the toll to drive to the top of the peak is substantially more…check here for the latest rates).

Driving the toll road, you’ll pass Crystal Creek Reservoir (another great kayaking place), before seeing signs indicating your turn to the right to get to the North and South Catamount Reservoirs.  The road takes you to the South Catamount Reservoir first, just continue on to get to the North.  There’s a well marked place in front of you where you can park your car to load or unload your boat, though the main parking lot is not much further away (you’ll see it on your right).

While our reason for going here was for kayaking, the number of people fishing suggested this is a good fishing lake too.  We saw many fish jumping mere feet in front of our kayak, and when observing from the shore while resting, were constantly seeing ripples from more fish jumping.

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Review: Harmony Aluminum Kayak Paddles

These paddles came free with our kayak, a promotional deal from Outdoorplay.com, so were a logical first option for reviewing here!  They normally sell for ~$72 at that website, making them definitely more of an entry-level paddle, so I wasn’t expecting much.  That said, they’re perfectly adequate for a relaxing paddle around the lake. The integral drip guards worked well, and they stowed easily in our car since they split in half.

My one complaint is the length, with 225cm being the only available option with these paddles.  The kayak we got was a very wide tandem kayak, ~33″ wide, which proved a bit inconvenient with these paddles…I really think a longer paddle, 240cm or so, would be more appropriate and I plan to eventually upgrade to that.  For a narrower solo kayak, I think these would suit the casual user just fine.

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Kayaking Manitou Lake

The view of Pikes Peak, from Manitou Lake near Woodland Park


Manitou Lake is a quiet, small lake a few miles north of Woodland Park, Colorado.  The $6 (per car) entrance fee gets you access to a poplar family hangout destination, with good family fishing, picnic areas, and hiking trails.  There are also two campgrounds very close by, and a semi-paved bike trail running from this lake all the way to Woodland Park seven miles south.  This is also a great lake to try out kayaking, so was our choice as a shakedown cruise in our new Acadia II kayak.

Being such a small lake, there’s no boat ramp or floating dock to serve as launching points for the kayak.  However, the shoreline is generally easy to use, with steep shores allowing the boat to be positioned parallel to the shoreline for easy entry (like what you’d do at a dock).  Great views of Pikes Peak and the surrounding forest make this a really relaxing place, though you may grow bored soon by the small size.  This would be a great place to take the family or large groups of kids…there’d be little concern with sending kids out on their own on this lake while the grownups relaxed shore side.  There are two mostly-submerged tress to watch out for, but apart from that, it’s a small, safe lake, perfect for kids to start out kayaking on their own.

GPS Info. (Latitude, Longitude):
39.08833, -105.09806
39°5’18″N, 105°5’53″W

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Transporting a tandem kayak on a Subaru WRX

Given the choice between waiting for UPS freight to deliver my kayak the following Wednesday, or driving to Colorado Springs to pick it up on a Friday and thus have a chance to go kayaking on the weekend, I of course opted for the later.  The intended carry vehicle was not ready for this duty though, so I threw the kayak rack parts onto my WRX and used that.

Outdoorplay.com did a great job of protecting the kayak during shipping.  The kayak was wrapped first in a thick clear plastic bag (probably from the manufacturer), then in a long heavy duty bubble wrap bag, and finally in a really tough thick black plastic outer bag.  The boat arrived undamaged and, since I was picking the kayak up directly from the UPS freight center, I was able to leave those huge volumes of packing material with them.

The first thing we noticed, apart from the sheer size of this kayak, was its weight.  Looking at specs for various tandem kayaks, this is nothing special, it’s a very typical weight (~70-75lbs), but the reality is that it’s not easy to load onto a car and takes a bit of practice figuring out a system to make this easier.  Once loaded, the drive home was uneventful, though I did notice that my Yakima cross bars are not very securely mounted to the roof and the weight of the kayak pushed them down a bit, interfering with the windows on this car.  For a short term solution it was fine to get the kayak home, but for long term use, I’d recommend a more secure roof rack than this.

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