The water in Rocky Mountain National Park is clear, clean, and extremely inviting, so it is easy to understand why so many people who visit Rocky Mountain wonder about swimming.
So, can you swim in Rocky Mountain National Park? Yes!
Although Swimming is allowed in any lake or river within Rocky Mountain National Park, with the exceptions of Bear Lake and Sprague Lake, visitors rarely swim due to the average lake temperatures being near 50 degrees in the summer. Rocky beaches, mossy lake bottoms, and leeches are also reasons people do not swim in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Disappointed? Don’t be. There are several locations NEAR Rocky Mountain National Park where guests can enjoy a swim.
I’m Cheryl and my husband Matt and I live in the Rockies. We love exploring the national parks. We are full-time travelers and write guides to help people have amazing vacations to the West.
If you are interested in dipping your toes in the crisp Alpine lakes of the Rockies, read on. I’ve got some ideas for you.
Does the Park Allow Swimming?
Yes! Swimming is allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park, with little-to-no restrictions! However, there are other water-related activities, like boating and bathing, that involve more rules.
First, no motorized boats are allowed on any of the lakes within Rocky Mountain National Park. In fact, the national park does not even offer chartered boat tours.
Non-motorized watercraft are allowed such as kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and paddle boats. The NPS does not rent watercraft. You either need to bring your own or rent one in Estes Park or Grand Lake.
The other trick is getting your watercraft to the lake. Rocky Mountain National Park has many lakes and some are more accessible than others. Lily Lake and Lake Irene would be good bets of where you can park relatively close to the lake, instead of having to hike to it.
No watercraft or swimming is allowed at Sprague Lake and Bear Lake because these are such accessible lakes that if everyone got in them, it would harm the habitat for the plants and animals living there.
Bathing in the waters of Rocky Mountain is heavily discouraged in the other lakes because the introduction of soap and other chemicals to the water damages the ecosystem and does not follow the principles of Leave No Trace. Don’t do it!
How Cold is the Water?
The water in Rocky Mountain National Park varies in temperature depending on the time of year and the location, but one truth remains constant. The water is COLD. It hovers just around freezing, even in the summer.
These mountain lakes are at the headwaters of the snowmelt and are frigid.
Most people who swim at Rocky Mountain usually lower themself in the water for only a few minutes and then jump right out. Sort of like the Polar Plunge! The water is so cold that being submerged in it for a long time is uncomfortable and can be extremely dangerous.
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Where are the Best Places to Swim Near Rocky Mountain National Park?
The good news is that there are a few lakes near Rocky Mountain National Park that are a bit more conducive to swimming and water recreation. They are all still mountain lakes, with mountain lake temperatures, but offer amenities visitors are familiar with at other lakes.
|Lake||Average Summer Temperature|
|Lake Estes||49-53° F|
|Grand Lake||44-48° F|
|Boulder Reservoir||70° F|
Grand Lake, CO
Located just outside of the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park is the town of Grand Lake, home of the largest natural lake in CO, Grand Lake. It was formed by a glacier and is 384 feet deep and 500 surface acres across. It is big and it is beautiful!
What is desirable about Grand Lake is that it has sandy beaches, unlike the rocky ones within Rocky Mountain National Park. Kids love to play on the beach and adults adore the spectacular views. The water is about the same temperature as the lakes in Rocky Mountain, but people enjoy the water sports here.
Motorized boats are allowed on the lake and the watercraft rentals are available at the marina. Pontoons, fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards and boats are all options. Grand Lake is also a popular lake for sailing.
People enjoy the picnic tables and clean bathrooms.
Boulder Reservoir may be the best bet for swimming near Rocky Mountain. It’s a little under an hour away from the east entrance of Rocky Mountain and offers the warmest water (in the 70s in the summer) and a lifeguard on duty throughout the summer.
Something unique about Boulder Reservoir is that they will not permit swimming if the water temperature dips below 60 degrees.
- Picnic Area
- Volleyball Court
This is a popular area and there are actually a few businesses that rent water sports equipment. Both motor boats and paddle boats are available.
Although swimming is NOT allowed in Lake Estes, water sports are and it is the most convenient access to water. Estes Park is a 10-minute drive from the east entrances of Rocky Mountain National Park and the most popular location for people to stay.
Lake Estes’s water is as cold as the lakes within Rocky Mountain so the city has prohibited guests from swimming in the water for their own safety.
- Volleyball Court
- Picnic Tables
- Sandy Beach
- Bike/Walking Path
Visitors can also rent motorized and paddled watercraft. Bikes are even available if you would rather explore the lake on wheels.
Estes Valley Community Center
If you want to do some actual swimming, there is a pool at the Estes Valley Community Center. It has lap swimming and a “Rocky Mountain” themed kids area. I know when my family travels, getting in the water is a must so this could be a good alternative if your crew wants to do more than get their feet wet.
- Check out other things to do in Estes Park in How To Spend One Day In Estes Park, Colorado.
How Do I Stay Safe While Swimming?
If you do choose to swim in any lakes or rivers in or around Rocky Mountain National Park, here are a few ways to stay safe.
Wear water shoes/aqua socks. Even though there may be sand on the beach, these mountain lakes are prone to have lots of rocks, including sharp ones!
Do not swim in rivers or near waterfalls.
Fast-moving water, and even water that appears to be moving slowly, can be incredibly dangerous—especially if the water is cold.
Be cautious around water, even if you have no plans to enter it. Swift, cold water, mossy rocks, and wet logs can all become extremely dangerous. A slip into cold water or a river can mean injury or death, so take the dangers seriously.
Be aware of hypothermia. Hypothermia is the physical collapse and reduced mental capacity of the body, which happens when the inner core of the body is chilled. If it is a hot day, you have been hiking, and you feel like you could stay in the water for hours—DON’T!
People who are exhausted have an increased risk of hypothermia. Hypothermia has warning signs, which include uncontrolled shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory loss or incoherent speech, loss of coordination, drowsiness, and difficulty walking.
It is important to remember that water is more dangerous than it might appear. In fact, drowning is one of the top three causes of death in national parks.
Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
Water sports and swimming are just one of the many cool things one can do in and near Rocky Mountain National Park. Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain is hard and confusing because it’s huge and there are so many things to do!
Most travelers want to visit the most popular sites, yet still, avoid crowds. We have a detailed itinerary that gives you a step-by-step game plan so you can get to the best places at the right times!