Summit County, Colorado, has plenty of hidden gems, but its crown jewel is in plain sight: At more than 3,000 acres and with nearly 30 miles of shoreline, Lake Dillon regularly causes jaws to drop as drivers crest I-70 before descending to Exit 205. The scenic mountain town of Dillon takes full advantage of the enormous alpine lake, providing access to watersports and a laid-back waterfront vibe that’s unique in the state.
Like so much Colorado history, Lake Dillon’s story dates back to the Gold Rush. Prospectors discovered gold near the headwaters of the Blue River in 1859, and modern-day Summit County’s population skyrocketed as hopeful miners flocked to the area to make their fortunes. Dillon itself was incorporated in the early 1880s, but the idea to dam the Blue River and create Lake Dillon didn’t take shape until the early 20th century. The earth-filled dam wasn’t actually completed until 60 years later.
Today, Lake Dillon is a major water source for the Denver Metro area. (Amazingly, the water actually tunnels through the Continental Divide.) After the dam was finished, the old Dillon townsite was flooded, and the Denver Water Board set aside a plot to rebuild the town. One thing has remained the same—the water is a central aspect of life in Dillon.
Around the Lake
Considering that Lake Dillon’s shoreline is a little over 26 miles, it’s not exactly a quick jaunt to stroll around the lake. Still, lakeside hiking is gorgeous and offers incredible views of the Tenmile Range. Kick things off with a hike to the Old Dillon Reservoir, accessible off Dillon Dam Road. The old reservoir was created in 1930 to hydrate the now-underwater town, but it has become better known as a great hiking destination and beloved fishing spot (just remember to get a current fishing license).
You also can take in the whole lake with a bike ride or long run that circumnavigates Lake Dillon. Begin at the Dillon Amphitheater and follow a series of roads and bike paths for an 18-mile trip with sweeping views all around. There’s also an excellent 13-mile round-trip ride along the bike path between the Dillon Amphitheater and Frisco Marina.
On the Lake
Whether you like your boats big or small, you’ll find plenty of ways to experience Lake Dillon on the water. The Dillon Marina Sailing School offers two-hour sailing lessons and keelboat courses for newbies, plus sailboat tours during the day and at sunset for those who prefer to have others man the sails. You also can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Stand Up Paddle Colorado, whose instructors will give you a safety rundown and show you some great paddling spots on the lake. If you’ve got your own boat, explore near shore or head to the Snake River Inlet.
The Dillon Marina also rents pontoon boats and runabouts in two-, three-, and four-hour blocks, so you can take the whole family out on the water. If you’re not ready to operate your own seafaring vessel, sign on for one of several seasonal tours offered from the Marina, including a historical tour of Lake Dillon.
Fishing is also a great way to embrace the slow pace of lake life. There’s an abundance of spots to cast along the lake’s many miles of shoreline, and you’ll be rewarded with brown and rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, and even Arctic char, which were stocked in the lake beginning in 1990. The lake continues to be stocked annually with 50,000 rainbow trout. You can check fishing conditions before you hit the water.
After the Lake
One universal truth about time spent on the water is that no matter how slowly you’re moving, you’ll work up a major mountain appetite. Fortunately, Lake Dillon’s surroundings have you covered on that front, too. You won’t have to go far off the water for your first post-adventure stop. Infuse your lake time with some island vibes at the Tiki Bar, open from May to September, located right at the Dillon Marina. It’s not just a gimmick: the Denver Post named it one of Colorado’s best beach bars.
If beer is more your style, you’re in luck. Pug Ryan’s Brewery has won almost two dozen medals for its beers at local and national beer competitions, and its menu doesn’t disappoint. Knock back a few pints during happy hour, which runs from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily. There’s also the Dillon DAM Brewery—they love corny puns, but the beer is serious. Another heavily awarder brewer, Dillon DAM has a huge space great for laughing with friends or taking a self-guided brewery tour at your own pace.
If it’s food you’re focused on, head to one of Dillon’s many open-air restaurants, where you can enjoy your meal in the fresh Rocky Mountain air all summer long. Arapahoe Cafe is a local favorite with a rich Summit County history and delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus. For quick, casual dining head to Cafe ProFusion, which also serves local beer and carefully selects its wine pairings. After dinner, of course, you’ll need to stop for frozen yogurt, a traditional lake life evening event. Cameez FroYo is your one-stop shop for build-your-own sundaes.
Whether you’re spending a weekend or an entire summer in Dillon, you’ll never run out of things to do around the lake. And no matter what you do, you’ll enjoy the lake vibes that make this town a unique Colorado experience.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Town of Dillon.