Crested Butte is famous for skiing in the winter season, but what about paddle boarding? The summer months bring glorious sunshine, illuminating lakes and long winding rivers surrounded by alpine forests and breathtaking views. What more can SUP lovers ask for?
Located in the epic Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Crested Butte is 12,162 feet above sea level. The region has picturesque lakes and rivers, guaranteed to be one of the most memorable and unique places in the world to paddle board.
We recommend using an inflatable paddle board to explore the Crested Butte area. This will allow you to pack your iSUP into a lightweight SUP backpack, hit the hiking trails, and discover even more locations to paddle board.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your paddle and pack your bags, this paddle boarding adventure is not to be missed. Check out these 9 best places to paddle board in Crested Butte!
Slate River is one of the main places in Crested Butte to check out with a paddle board. This long winding river flows through the center of town and continues for over 20 miles through the Gunnison Valley. Popular launch sites are at Gunsight Bridge and the Town Recreational Path. The best place to exit is at Skyland, Brush Creek Road.
The water is generally calm and gentle. But remember - it is a river, so the water is moving. Water levels can vary, with extremely low levels towards the end of July, so using stumpier river fins on your paddle board will be a good idea.
While suitable for beginners, we do recommend you have tried out the basics of paddle boarding on a lake beforehand. Once you’ve got the balance nailed, grab your buddies and hit the water with our Manta Ray Multi-Person Inflatable SUP for the ultimate day out!
Slate River is one of Colorado’s best places for an abundance of nature. Paddling and enjoying a float down the Slate is ideal for wildlife enthusiasts as the birdlife here is sensational.
This is why there are certain regulations around Slate River to ensure the protection of the blue heron population. There is a voluntary no-float period on the upper Slate River before June 15th while the herons are in nesting season.
Be sure to check with locals if you’re clear to go for a paddle. And remember to respect the land so as not to disturb any nest sites.
Gunnison River is another ideal place to complete an A-B paddle, with the lower section one of the best parts of the river to paddle. Launch your SUP from Riverway Recreation Area, exiting at Beaver Creek.
Other access points for a shorter route are:
While the water is constantly flowing, it never gets too choppy or challenging. However, you should always be careful after heavy rainfall when the river levels are higher.
Emerald Lake is guaranteed to blow you away. Located in the heart of the Elk Mountains, this beautiful lake is only 15 miles away from Crested Butte. However, the road leading up to the lake can be challenging, best left to the more adventurous SUP enthusiasts with 4x4 vehicles!
As the name suggests, the emerald waters are picture-perfect; the clarity and color make this a knockout location. You can paddle this lake in the early season with skiers whipping down beside you on the last of the winter snow.
It’s best to come late Spring with a packed picnic along with your iSUP so you can enjoy a full day surrounded by wildflowers and nature.
Lake Irwin is the closest lake to Crested Butte. Loved by locals and tourists alike, it’s a popular spot for hiking, fishing, swimming, and paddle boarding. Why not combine it all for an awesome day out – SUP fishing could be the next best thing for you! There are tons of rainbow trout and brook trout stocked in the lake waters.
This is a family-friendly lake, perfect for beginners to try paddle boarding for the first time. There is a campground close to the lake, so you can turn it into a full weekend trip. Just note there is no cell phone service at the lake.
Lost Lake is Crested Butte’s hidden gem, tucked away between the West Elk and Ragged Wildernesses at 9,600 foot elevation. This is the place to go to escape Crested Butte’s summer crowds. The Lost Lake Campground is situated right on the lake and has some of the best hiking trails in the area.
This is another amazing location for anglers to cast a line, hooking a native cutthroat trout. From Lost Lake you can hike further afield and access Dollar Lake, which is even more remote with great secluded fishing. This is best tackled with an inflatable paddle board for lightweight portability, so you can manage all your fishing gear as well.
Meridian Lake, also known as Long Lake, is famous for its spectacular views and proximity to Crested Butte. It’s an ideal place for a Summer cool down dip. However, Fall is particularly special with the golden foliage lining the waters edge.
To get to this lake, you need to be prepared to hike – this is when an iSUP comes into its element! The quickest and easiest way to access the lake is to park at the tennis courts on the Washington Gulch Road. Make sure you stay on the well-maintained trails as you walk.
If you want to have an epic road trip out of Crested Butte, then head over to Taylor Reservoir. The drive is beautiful as you snake along the Taylor River – a good fly-fishing spot. Once you reach Taylor Reservoir, you’ll be greeted by unrivaled views of the Collegiate Peaks and have access to some of the best fishing in Colorado.
This reservoir is one of the largest in the state, so there is plenty for you to explore. The waters are safe and generally calm, so beginner paddle boarders will be able to find their feet and practice their paddle technique here.
There are two highly recommended campsites on the shores of Taylor Reservoir. Just beyond the water is Taylor Park, great for hikers, mountain bikers, and motorsport enthusiasts. If you choose this spot for a SUP weekend, you’ll have plenty of other things to do in between your paddles to keep you busy.
The Blue Mesa is the largest body of water in Colorado. With over 90 miles of shoreline, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find somewhere new to explore each time you visit. The Blue Mesa is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, and there are two full service marinas, perfect for SUP launch sites, among others:
Dry Creek, located 15 miles west of Gunnison on Highway 50, has a rocky beach with a sheltered cove which is perfect for flatwater paddling. This spot also has all the required amenities like restrooms and picnic tables. It’s a great spot to spend the day paddling and swimming.
The Old Highway 50 Beach is the most popular “beach” on the Blue Mesa Reservoir. The sandy area is perfect for relaxing for the day and soaking up some vitamin D after a paddle. From here, you can paddle to the Bay of Chickens. This spot is 16 miles west of Gunnison and is next to the Elk Creek Campground, providing access to restrooms and camping areas.
Spring Creek Reservoir is a man-made body of water located high up in the mountains between the Taylor River and Cement Creek. This is a fantastic place to take your paddle board and simply escape the world, maybe with a spot of SUP yoga to completely melt the stress away.
There are several campsites scattered all around the reservoir, ideal if you want to have a weekend escape off the grid. Mosca Campground on Spring Creek Road has the best access to the water.
Have we convinced you to get paddle boarding in Crested Butte yet? Don’t worry if you haven’t got your own SUP gear yet. There are some fantastic SUP rental stores in the region that provide excellent quality equipment, expert knowledge of the area, and lessons for those wanting to excel in their skills.
Here are three highly recommended stores that are open year-round, providing rentals for winter and summer sports activities.
All three can help deliver the SUP equipment to your desired location, provide additional information on the spot, and even give SUP lessons for rookies.
Lake Irwin and Taylor Reservoir are two excellent locations in Crested Butte that are good for beginner paddle boarders. Both have calm and flat waters with plenty of shoreline and space for you to get to grips with the SUP, paddle, and balancing. Beginner paddle boarders should consider joining a lesson with a local school to learn how to paddle board properly.
Sections of Slate River are available for paddling all year round, although winter months could be a bit chilly. However, a large part of the river has a no-float policy for the protection of the local blue heron population. These magnificent birds will only nest without human disturbance. The state asks for SUP and nature lovers to wait until after June 15th before taking to the water.
Colorado law views paddle boards as vessels and deems a PFD should be available on the SUP at all times. Anyone under the age of 13-years old must be wearing the life jacket at all times. All PFDs must be a USCG-approved standard and be an appropriate fit for the user.
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