A paddleboarder on Union Reservoir. Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Paddleboard

How to cool off in Boulder’s hot summer months


It’s hot, hot, hot this summer — averaging a few degrees above normal — and many public pools are still closed due to the coronavirus. Fortunately, there are still plenty of opportunities to hop in a refreshing lake or river fed from Colorado’s cold mountain water.

Social distancing is still mandatory for any outdoor recreation opportunities. Outdoor facilitators such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks everyone engaging in outdoor activities to follow Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommendations. Masks are not generally required outdoors but are a good idea to have on hand for times when social distancing is impossible.

Boulder Creek closed in May due to overcrowding; Clear Creek in Golden closed over the Fourth of July holiday weekend for the same reason. Lakewood closed Big Soda Lake, in Bear Creek Lake Park, shortly after. Colorado state park swim areas, such as the one at Chatfield State Park, are operating at limited capacity (meanwhile, the one at Cherry Creek State Park is currently closed due to algae).

But there are still ways to get wet and stay safe around Boulder this summer. We rounded up some favorites below.

Wherever you go, remember your packing list:

  • Mask (buffs and light-weight gaiters work well)
  • Water (always)
  • Snacks and other drinks (check the individual facility’s regulations on alcohol)
  • Sunscreen (and other methods for managing the sun – shirt, hat, sunglasses)
  • Water shoes (there is no concrete flooring around these locations!)
  • Towel (if you’re tubing, remember to leave it in the car at the end of the run)
  • Cooler (look into a floating cooler if you’re rafting or tubing!)
  • Money for parking/entry fees (check the individual facility)


Tubing a river can require a little more planning than other activities. It’s a good idea to map about three miles of the river (which will take three to four hours to float) and leave a vehicle at both ends. You can call a local outfitter that rents equipment for the river to get up-to-date information on the river at the time you want to float it so you know whether there are any rapids or other hazards to be concerned about.

Cache la Poudre River

One good run (about 3 miles) is from Gateway Natural Area to Picnic Rock. $7 parking at Gateway.

South Platte River

One good run (about 3 miles) is from Deckers Bridge to Bridge Crossing Picnic Area in Sedalia. $6 parking at Bridge Crossing.

St. Vrain Creek

Longmont has set up a convenient tubing run on this creek that you can access east of Main Street and exit at takeout points that are marked by signs east of Martin Street or at 119th Street. Free admission.

Tubing down St. Vrain Creek.

SUP or non-motorized boating

Many bodies of water around Boulder allow “on top of the water” activities — like kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding — but no swimming. It’s still a good opportunity to get on the water and enjoy some natural social distance. Plus, non-motorized boats are available to rent at shops around the Front Range for a low-commitment water adventure.

Boulder Reservoir

Recreational swimming and tubing is banned at the reservoir this year. Small motorized boat permits are also sold out for the year. The best way to enjoy the water here is to sign up for an activity such as kayaking, paddleboarding or SUP yoga through Rocky Mountain Paddleboard. $9 daily admission.

Boulder Reservoir. Photo by Flickr user SparkFun Electronics

Gross Reservoir

This watery gem is tucked into the woods south of Boulder and feels remote. Free admission.

McIntosh Lake

Swimming is prohibited, but bring your canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, belly boats, sailboards, sailboats and small carry-able boats to this lake with an incredible view near Longmont. Free admission.

Union Reservoir

Wakeless boating, canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding are currently permitted at Union near Longmont, but no swimming. Rocky Mountain Paddleboard also offers lessons and rentals here. $10 daily admission.


Swimming (for fun and to cool off) might seem hard to come by this summer, but it’s not impossible. The natural non-wilderness areas that are allowing swimming this year have strict requirements for limited capacity and social distancing on any beach area.

Aurora Reservoir

Swimming is available in a coned-off area, along with non-motorized boating options elsewhere in the water. $10 daily admission.

Cache la Poudre River

Picnic Rock is a popular, though small, rocky beach area near Fort Collins. It’s also the take-out spot for a lot of river rafters and can get busy. The large rock that gives this spot its name is a great place to take a flying leap into the cold mountain water. Free admission.

Chatfield State Park

Chatfield’s swim beach in Littleton is open until Labor Day with capacity limits including limits on group size (must be under 25 people). $10 entry fee.

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