With a name like Grand Lake, it’s no surprise that this Colorado mountain community on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, offers outdoor activities that focus on water, namely, scenic boat tours, paddleboat rentals and kayaking on Grand Lake and neighboring Shadow Mountain Lake. Surrounded by mountains and National Forest land, there are naturally plenty of fabulous hiking trails, as well.
Kayaking in Grand Lake
Though my pal Gaylene and I woke to unusually windy weather one morning in Grand Lake, we had a plan to rent kayaks at Mountain Paddlers, and we decided to go for it — though Grand Lake was hardly smooth as glass (as it often is at 8 a.m. many mornings). Friendly Drew – the Kayak Dude – in a little kayak shack on the lakefront next to Headwaters Marina, set me up with a PFD (life jacket) and watch, so I’d know to return to the shore in a half hour. He walked with me over to the sandy beach area, where kayaks launch, and got me sized correctly in a stable, light-blue, sit-on-top kayak (moving the foot levers around, so they weren’t too short, or too long, but just right). He gave me a few safety pointers — like, don’t stand up in the kayak — and pushed me off!
Gaylene and I moseyed around Grand Lake, sticking close to shore, toward the opening of the canal that leads to adjacent Shadow Mountain Lake. Had the weather been a bit more accommodating (and we weren’t paddling against the wind), we would have entered the canal, where I’m told the next-door island-dotted lake is fun to explore. Still, even on our short stint on kayaks (a total of 40 minutes, really, since Drew gave us a bit more time to return), I very much appreciated the scenery around Grand Lake — not only the pine-tree-covered mountain that ascends from the lake, but the further afield snow-covered jagged peaks, as wells as the nifty lakefront homes (and cool boats docked in front of them). Really, what’s not to like about spending time on the water on a crisp, blue-sky day like this?
Mountain Paddlers offers solo and tandem kayaks for $20 and $40 an hour. Kids and teens 14 and under should kayak with an adult in their party on the water — but as long as they can paddle the kayak, there’s no age minimum to take out a single boat.
Hiking in Grand Lake
Never one to turn down an opportunity to hike (or rarely turn down, anyway), I trekked along two local trails during my two-night stay in Grand Lake. The first, to Adams Falls, is quite short — just .3 miles to the falls — so it’s highly trafficked with visitors. Plus, the dirt trail under pine trees is just moderately steep at parts, so children — even preschoolers — can complete the hike to the reward: huge cascading falls, whose spray offers a respite from the heat. (Don’t worry, there’s a fenced viewing area to keep small hikers behind.) Also, if you’re game to go further, the trail actually connects to a network of other trails, some of which lead to high-alpine lakes, five to eight miles away. Reach the trailhead near the East Inlet of Grand Lake; there’s plenty of parking here.
My second hike took about three hours round trip, along a moderately steep (almost easy), 3.4-mile path from the North Inlet trailhead to gorgeous Cascade Falls. The trail begins with a dirt road, and has a couple of creek crossings through pine forest (parts are exposed, for sure, so wear your sunscreen). The falls here are not fenced off, but rather you can scramble up to boulders above the falls for a bird’s-eye view. I highly recommend this hike because it’s not too strenuous — perfect for carrying on a steady conversation with your hiking partner!
I am one of three Colorado bloggers exploring the sights of Grand County, Colorado, this year, courtesy of the Grand County Colorado Tourism Board. See our adventures on Twitter with the hashtag #VisitGrandCounty.