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The Best Ways to Get on the Water in Summit County, Plus Other Iconic Summer Adventures

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by Kerstin08/14/2018 5:00 PM
Updated: 08/14/2018

The town of Dillon lies in the heart of Summit County, Colorado, with easy access from I-70 right at Exit 205. The town and the surrounding communities of Silverthorne and Frisco make for an outdoor adventure mecca year round, but in the summer, the Dillon Reservoir (known by locals as Lake Dillon) is the crown jewel, beckoning with inviting watersports that are unique in this landlocked state. The alpine lake is an inviting attraction for boating, rafting, and fishing—and simply enjoying the laid-back lifestyle of a water community.

You’ll also find some of the area’s best cycling and hiking here, which means it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to do in and around Dillon. Here are some of the best ways to spend a day around this beautiful lake region.

What to Do on the Water

Many visitors flock to the Dillon Reservoir in summer and never quite leave—and it’s easy to understand why. Whether you want to enjoy watersports or simply lie back and take in the mountain views, the Dillon Marina is your home base. It holds the distinction of the world’s highest deepwater marina, and visitors can rent watercraft by the hour or by the day. Call ahead of time to make a reservation, especially on the weekends. (Tip: If you’re into kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and other non-motorized crafts, shoot for the morning hours before the wind picks up on the lake.)

Adjacent to the Dillon Marina you’ll find plenty of sandy, beach-like areas, ideal for picnicking, sunbathing, and just hanging out. Many campgrounds dotted around the lake also feature day-use areas to access the lake. Swimming is not permitted in the reservoir, and you probably wouldn’t want to anyway, as it’s a high-altitude lake filled with snowmelt, which means it very cold!

Sailing: If you’ve never tried sailing, Lake Dillon is a great place to learn. The Dillon Marina is certified as an American Sailing Association training facility, and you’ll find instructors there who can help novices get started and experienced sailors learn more about the craft.

Boat Tours: Rather have someone else captain the boat? From the Dillon Marina, you’ll find several different options for tours on the water, including a historical overview of the lake, a Women and Wine on the Water outing, and a sunset sailing tour.

River Rafting: The Blue River offers the closest rafting to the Dillon area (Breckenridge, Keystone, and Frisco are all good jumping-off points for a river-rafting adventure). You can expect the incredible scenery of the Gore Mountain Range, plenty of wildlife viewing possibilities, and just enough whitewater to keep the heart pumping quickly. KODI Rafting, Performance Tours, Paddle Colorado, and The Adventure Company are local outfitters offering trips on the Blue that can be done in a fun day trip, leaving plenty of time for a beer on a patio overlooking Lake Dillon afterward.

Fishing: Dillon Reservoir boasts 25 miles of shoreline ideal for fishing. Among the best spots are the Blue and Snake river inlets and Giberson Bay. Pick up fishing licenses along with your gear at the Colorado Angler on Summit Place. You can also take advantage of three fishing outfitters who can organize a trip for you on the water. Using their knowledge and equipment, you’ll enjoy an unforgettable fishing experience.

Music: After a day on the water, there’s nothing better than enjoying live music at the recently renovated Dillon Amphitheater, which is now one of the state’s top concert venues. Enjoy the free outdoor concerts on Friday and Saturday nights, with artists performing bluegrass, reggae, jazz, and rock music from various decades throughout the summer. This year, see Broadway’s Wicked Divas with the Colorado Symphony on July 29. The concert features vocalists Alli Mauzey and Nicole Parker, both of whom starred in the musical Wicked on Broadway, performing selections from that show and other favorites with the orchestra.

Adventure Off the Water

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The Dillon Marina offers all kinds of watercraft for rent while serving as a home base for boating in the region. Dan

Want an adventure just off the water? Cycle around the reservoir. Rent bikes at Lake Dillon Bike Rentals, three blocks from Dillon Marina (inside Lake Dillon Liquors), and take the Dillon Reservoir Loop starting from town. The total paved loop around the lake is 18 miles, with just a bit of steeper terrain (up and back down) over Swan Mountain. If you’re starting on the Frisco side, bike rentals can be found at Kayak Lake Dillon at the Frisco Marina. You can also take advantage of the Summit Shuttle Water Taxi to transport you and your bike across the lake between Dillon and Frisco.

If you have kids wanting to try their hand at singletrack, but you prefer a controlled environment, hit the Frisco Adventure Park. Located at the Frisco Peninsula. This bike park is designed with everyone in mind and offers paths for all levels. There’s a dual slalom bike course, dirt jumps, slopestyle course, and a pump track, as well as a skatepark and a disc golf course. Best of all, the outdoor amenities are free and open to the public. Just don’t forget your helmet—they are required for the bike park!

Saddle sore? Hike Summit County instead. Upper Cataract Lake is easily accessible from Exit 205. This classic hike is the perfect example of Colorado hiking, with high alpine meadows, wildflowers as late as July, peak views, and cool mountain lakes. Upper Cataract Lake and Cat Lake is a 10-mile trek, which can be done in a day with a daypack and lunch. Don’t forget that the elevation might sneak up on you, so you may need to slow down your regular pace.

Determined to bag a 14er during your time in Colorado? Three 14ers lie within Summit County, easily accessed from Dillon: Grays, Torreys, and Quandary. Tackle the first two together in one hike. Both offer up big views of the Front Range and the Continental Divide. Be aware that these are serious hikes that require a high level of fitness and knowledge of hiking at altitude. They should be done early in the day before the possibility of afternoon storms.

Where to Enjoy Food and Drinks

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The Farmers Market in Dillon is one of the state’s best, attracting a big crowd on Fridays to enjoy the live music, fresh produce, prepared foods, crafts, and other local offerings. Town of Dillon

There are plenty of options for grabbing a meal in Dillon, from food trucks, lakeside tiki bars, and casual eateries around the reservoir. Make sure to take a trip to the farmers market on Fridays during the summer months from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Listen to live music as you peruse the fresh produce, prepared foods, crafts, and other interesting exhibits, including a play area for kids. Pick up a few items and plan a picnic for your lakeside bike ride or hike.

Each evening during your trip, end your day in the Colorado sunshine at Pug Ryan’s Lakeside Tiki Bar, next to the Dillon Marina. You’ll find great Mexican food, creative drinks and craft beer, and unforgettable views. The Island Grill in Frisco (located at the Frisco Marina) and the deck at Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon are other options for al fresco dining. Cafe Profusion features middle eastern cuisine that can be paired with local beer and wines. Of course, BBQing at one of the public areas around the beach is always a favorite evening activity.

Combining the elements of a Colorado mountain town with a beach getaway, Dillon makes for the perfect spot to enjoy summer. At just over an hour from Denver, it’s an easy-to-reach spot that seems a world away.

Written by Amy Whitley for RootsRated Media in partnership with Town of Dillon.