Courtesy of Sherri O'Hara

8 Places to Cool Off This Summer in Colorado

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I’m a travel and lifestyle writer but, every year, around Memorial Day, I half-joke that I tighten my focus and become Colorado’s aquatics reporter. I learned how to swim before I could walk, and my love for pools and all things water runs as deep as the Mother Spring in Pagosa Springs, which, by the way, measures at 1,002 feet, making it the “World’s Deepest,” as certified by the Guinness World Records.
 
Yes, we’re in a landlocked state, but even without a coastline, I’d make the case that Colorado boasts some of the very best swimming holes in the country—from a pop-up pool courtesy of Mother Nature at Great Sand Dunes National Park each spring to alpine lakes, geothermal hot springs, creeks for cold plunges and top-notch water parks and pools.
 
Ahead, here are eight wet and wild places to cool off this summer.
 

Scott Carpenter Pool in Boulder

 

Courtesy of Jonathan Thornton/ Boulder Parks and Recreation Department

 
This isn’t your average municipal pool: Scott Carpenter’s fun features include a rock climbing wall that rises from the pool plus a lazy river, slides, a high dive and a lap pool. The zero-depth water play area is decidedly out of this world, with space-themed equipment and pop jets that are a nod to astronaut Scott Carpenter, a Boulder High School graduate who was the second American to orbit Earth.
 
1505 30th St., Boulder; bouldercolorado.gov/locations/scott-carpenter-pool
 

Water World in Federal Heights

 

Courtesy of Water World

 
With more than 50 attractions spread out over 70 acres, Water World is one of the biggest water parks in the country—and it’s just down the highway in Federal Heights. The water park has a mix of high-tech water coasters, like the hydromagnetic Mile High Flyer, as well as nostalgic rides like Voyage to the Center of the Earth, where animatronic dinos crane their necks and bear their toothy grins in dimly lit caves. Tube rides, slides, water playgrounds, a surf simulator and wave pools for both boogie boarding and wading are scattered about the park. Or, just kick back and take unlimited loops around the lazy river, detouring into the waterfalls when you need to cool down.
 
8801 N. Pecos St, Federal Heights; waterworldcolorado.com
 

Union Reservoir in Longmont

 
Carved out by glaciers, Union Reservoir (previously known as Calkins Lake) was on Colorado’s short list of natural lakes. It’s technically a reservoir now because, over a century ago, Union Ditch Company drilled a tunnel to pipe water into the St. Vrain Creek. Beach-goers can go for a swim in the 736-acre watering hole, go windsurfing or rent a paddleboard from Rocky Mountain Paddleboard. The outfitter also offers paddleboard lessons and on-the-water yoga classes. Regattas and races are also held at the reservoir, which is home to one of the state’s most active sailing clubs.
 
Other nearby and regional spots for “beach days” include the Boulder, Chatfield, Cherry Creek and Horsetooth reservoirs.
 
461 County Road 26, Longmont, CO; longmontcolorado.gov
 

The Springs Resort in Pagosa Springs

 

Courtesy of The Springs Resort

 
The cold plunge trend is going strong and one of the most unique places to embrace it is in Pagosa Springs. The Springs Resort has more than two dozen pools that range in temperature from 83 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and a stay here gets you 24/7 access to the pools. But the resort also conducts a daily “Warrior Plunge” ritual that involves stepping down onto the banks of the San Juan River and submerging yourself in the chilly waters. Howling is encouraged. The river’s temp varies from ice cold in the high 30s during winter months to mid-60s during the summer.
 
323 Hot Springs Blvd.; pagosahotsprings.com
 

Box Cañon Falls in Ouray

 

Photo by Brittany Anas

 
There’s plenty of outdoorsy fun to be had during a vacation in Ouray (aka the “Switzerland of America”) from via ferrata routes to soaking in hot springs. But to get a good overview of the area, spend an afternoon exploring the Box Cañon Falls Park & Nature Center, which bills itself as Ouray’s own world wonder. A 500-foot walk into the canyon shows off the thunderous 285-foot waterfall that rushes through a narrow quartzite gorge. The observation platform is a splash zone. While in the nature center, hike up the High Bridge Trail (a half-mile round trip) that gives you a solid aerial view of this old mining town. Spot pudgy chipmunks and other local residents on the Native Plant Loop.
 
30 Box Canyon Road, Ouray; visitouray.com/box-canyon-falls
 

St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs

 

Courtesy of Visit Clear Creek

 
When you need to beat the heat, dispatch on a day trip to St. Mary’s Glacier (which, technically speaking, is a “semi-permanent snowfield”). A moderate 1.6-mile round-trip out-and-back trail links hikers to the glacial lake. Snow clings to the surrounding terrain year-round here, but in the summer, wildflowers sprout up and the serene blue lake set against the white speckled peaks is one for the Instagram grid. If you dare, dip your toes into these glacial waters. Bring a $20 bill for parking at the trailhead, which gets pretty busy on summer days and requires some patience while waiting for a spot to open up.
 
visitclearcreek.com/st-marys-glacier
 

White Water Rafting on The Arkansas River

 

Courtesy of Arkansas River Outfitters

 
Late in the spring, Colorado’s famous sunshine melts mounds of snow up near Leadville, and the Arkansas River rumbles with whitewater and outfitters guide more than 175,000 people down the upper section of the river. You can choose your speed, from mellow float trips to navigating wild Class V rapids. Typically, the rapids are moving fastest in late spring when snowmelt is strongest, but you can raft throughout the summer. Cañon City is an adventurous summer playground, with outfitters offering full and half-day trips, with opportunities to swim in calm sections of the river.
 
Find an outfitter at arkansasriveroutfitters.org/outfitters
 

Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa

 

Courtesy of Visit Alamosa

 
One of the best times of year to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park is early summer, which is when snowmelt helps orchestrate a rare phenomenon known as “surge flow.” As the water streams, underwater ridges in the sand break down every 20 seconds, which creates a gentle ripple effect at Medano Creek. The waves at the base of the dunes aren’t powerful enough to surf, but you can splash around in them, maybe pick up enough speed to move your tube, and definitely build a sandcastle on the makeshift shore and in the shadow of North America’s tallest dunes. If you miss the peak surge, no sweat: Embark on a semi-steep, 1/2-mile hike to cool off nearby at Zapata Falls, a 25-foot-tall gusher hidden in a cave.
 
Visitor Center at 11999 State Highway 150, Mosca; nps.gov/grsa
 
 

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