Would you believe us if we told you that people sail at 9,000 feet in the high desert state of Colorado?
After all of our photo booth bus events were cancelled or rescheduled due to COVID-19, we decided to do that very thing and discovered what we had been missing out on all this time up at Lake Dillon, CO. What would normally be a busy summer of wandering in the bus to weddings and events across the state, quickly turned into an empty calendar that led us to an unexpected and adventurous summer of sailing at high elevation—including some thrilling moments sailing through a hailstorm, getting caught in a race between 20 sailboats, and finding our way back to the marina with barely any wind.
Where have you found solitude or adventure in the challenging times of 2020?
We searched and found both on the pristine waters of Lake Dillon and camping in our VW bus. Whether you are local to Colorado or visiting from out of state, we have put together the reasons you should add this awesome town to your list of places to visit, along with snippets from our adventures there this summer.
Where Is Lake Dillon?
Lake Dillon is technically referred to as "Dillon Reservoir" as it is a large freshwater reservoir that supplies water to the City of Denver, but most refer to it as "Lake Dillon", and legend has it The Old Town of Dillon sits at the bottom of the reservoir--an underwater ghost town never to be seen again. Lake Dillon is located in Summit County right off of Interstate 70, about 2 hours drive west from Denver International Airport. It sits between the towns of Dillon, Frisco, and Silverthorne and the U.S. Forest Service manage the campgrounds in the area that are part of the White River National Forest, as seen on the map below.
If you live anywhere on the front range in Colorado, it is easy to get to Lake Dillon for a weekend trip, or even a daytrip if you are feeling motivated. If you are visiting from out of state, it's a straight shot from Denver International Airport (DIA) up I-70 to Lake Dillon, and any of the towns mentioned above are great options for accommodations. Here are examples of one way travel times from various towns on the front range to Lake Dillon:
Fort Collins to Lake Dillon --> 2.5 hours
Loveland to Lake Dillon --> 2 hours
Boulder to Lake Dillon --> 1.5 hours
Greeley to Lake Dillon --> 2.5 hours
Colorado Springs to Lake Dillon --> 2.5 hours
For those of you who thought we only adventured in our VW bus, we also have a huge passion for sailing and our dream is to live on a sailboat one day! I come from a family of sailors and Leo caught the sailing bug over 10 years ago when he first went with my family. Leo fell so in love with it he went to a sailing school and became a certified skipper a couple years ago, and we have been trying to sail every chance we get. We always joke and call our VW bus our "land vessel (L/V)" and dream of the day we might add a sailing vessel (S/V) to the fleet.
Most of our sailing has been in the Caribbean, other than a recent sailing adventure to Catalina Island off the coast of California with my 65 year old brother. You'll want to bookmark that to read over a cup of coffee later, or to read after this. But this year we started turning to local adventures even more than usual to fuel our spirits during the pandemic. We save up all our pennies to make these adventures happen, and it takes a lot of not eating out, skipping the shopping, and more- but it's well worth it to us as we fill our life with more memories than things. Do you have the same mentality? Tell us about it in the comments below, and send any hints on how to save those pennies.
When we found a way to sail in Colorado, we were thrilled to try a place closer to home where we could get out on the water to work on building our skills and have some fun on the weekends. We found the marina at Lake Dillon, CO where you can rent various water crafts including small sailboats, and planned a weekend adventure to camp in the bus by the lake and sail during the day.
It turned out to be one of the best local trips we have had here in Colorado, and we spent most of our summer returning there on the weekends, escaping the craziness of the world and getting back to ourselves. Lake Dillon isn't just for sailors--there's a little something for everyone in the area and so much natural beauty to soak in. We have put together the top 3 reasons you need to visit sometime soon.
3 REASONS YOU NEED TO VISIT LAKE DILLON, CO
1. Endless Opportunities to Enjoy the Outdoors
The list of activities you can enjoy at Lake Dillon is long and includes kayaking, biking, hiking, canoeing, sailing, camping, and more! Here are a few favorites we recommend:
RENT A CANOE
We highly recommend spending an early morning canoeing on the lake, and you can get a canoe rental for around $45 through the Frisco Bay Marina. They also have options to rent SUPs, kayaks, and other water crafts. If you do choose this activity, the early morning slot is our favorite because the water is still, the sun is lower in the sky, and you can usually spot at least one bald eagle drinking a cup of coffee as you are paddling around. One of our favorite parts of canoeing out of that marina is passing by all the sailboats in the water floating on their moorings, waiting patiently for their owners to take them out.
EXPLORE BY PONTOON BOAT
The marina at Lake Dillon claims to be the world's highest deep water marina, so we definitely recommend getting out on the water for the full experience. Sailing is usually our first choice when it comes to enjoying the water, but we realize it is not for everyone--and you definitely need to have experience to sail safely on Lake Dillon and be allowed to rent one of their sailboats. Due to the mountain ranges surrounding the water, there are unpredictable and sometimes extreme winds that can challenge even the most skilled sailor. Safety is number one if you are going to sail here (and anywhere, for that matter), and we are happy to answer any questions regarding sailing and what to expect if you are planning to get out there, so drop us a line if you want. The staff and manager of the Dillon Marina are a great resource in preparing for your sailing trip there and are always willing to help.
For those who want to get out on the water but preferably not on a sailboat, the pontoon boat rental is an amazing option! We rented one this summer when we had family in town and it was an absolute blast. Here are their 2020 rental prices off their website that break down to a reasonable price/person if you have a group:
You must be 18 or older to rent a pontoon and you have to complete some paperwork and watch a safety video before going out on the water, but most people can rent one and they are fairly simple to operate. Our favorite time of day for this activity is as close to sunset as you can get so that you can enjoy the Colorado sun sinking low behind the mountains, casting orange light across the water. Head over to their website for more information and to book your adventure.
CAMPING WITH A VIEW
We spent most of our evenings up at Lake Dillon camping in our VW bus at the Prospector Campground in the White River National Forest, adjacent to the reservoir. You can spot sailboats out on the water throughout the day, and it has one of the best views and the facilities are very clean and accessible.
You have to book ahead for this campsite and bookings are made through recreation.gov. Sites average around $25/night and you have access to fresh water, toilets, and firewood sold by the bundle. Some of the sites have a view of the lake and it's a perfect area to cozy up for the night and fall asleep in some cool, mountain air.
These are other campsites near Lake Dillon that we have not tried yet, but we drove through and they look like great spots. You can click on the link to be taken to the website for booking:
2. Easy Mountain getaway
Lake Dillon is the perfect mountain getaway that's easy to access when you only have a weekend and want to get out of town. Or you can make it a longer trip if you have more time! We are based on the front range and love how easy it is to jump in the car on a Friday evening after work and head up the mountain to set up camp and have the weekend to enjoy the area. You can fill up your day with activities, or just relax in the outdoors and get a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Some areas in Colorado take much longer to get to by car, so Lake Dillon ranks high on our list of easy mountain getaways and we know you'll love it too.
3. The Stars at Night
There are great places to see the stars across Colorado, and Lake Dillon is in our top 5. For those of you traveling from busier towns and cities with light pollution or moody weather--there is nothing like the evening sky here, and it's worth seeing. Trust us. Even if there is some weather around the lake during the day, it's typical for it to clear out and then the night sky takes your breath away. You'll forget to add wood to the fire while you're staring up at the night sky in awe. On one of our weekend getaways we did our best at capturing it with our Canon camera and had fun late into the night, gazing up. Give your soul a much needed reset soaking up the starlight at Lake Dillon. You won't regret it.
Close your eyes and imagine pristine, blue waters surrounded by 14,000ft mountains dusted with snow. It can be easy to overlook the little gems located in your own home state, that are often just around the corner. We hope you are encouraged to explore the places all around you, no matter where you live, and that next time you are looking for a Colorado adventure-- you consider Lake Dillon. We would love to hear about your stay there and any tips you want to add in for fellow travelers.