From the rugged Medicine Bow Mountains of State Forest State Park to the frothy rapids of the Arkansas Headwaters, Colorado has a state park system that makes other countries jealous. Funny thing is, many Coloradans don't know about these outdoor gems. Here, we introduce you to the best of the best.
Eleven Mile State Park
Just 40 miles west of Colorado Springs, the clear waters of the South Platte River get bottled up at the Eleven Mile Canyon Dam. The resulting 3,400-acre reservoir is stunning, surrounded by wetlands and grasslands amid the rolling hills and plains of Park County. Anglers, boaters, windsurfers, hikers, and campers flock to this oh-so-close park for its variety—and beauty.
The Draw Chockablock fishing. Eleven Mile Canyon Reservoir boasts gold medal fishing for brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout, and northern pike. You'll catch the biggest fish during the ice melt (April), but if you're a fair-weather kind of guy (or gal), June and July won't disappoint.
The Alternative Boating of all kinds is allowed on the reservoir, so while Mom's getting her line wet, Dad and the kids can tool around on the reservoir in kayaks, sailboat, or a motorboat (swimming is prohibited). An even better bet: Reserve one of the 25 backcountry campsites and hike—or boat—in for a quiet night and lazy morning of camping. If you're feeling energetic, hike the park's five miles of trails.
Wildlife Flocks of birds make Eleven Mile home, including rare bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and white pelicans. Coyotes, elk, black bears, and antelope also call the park home.
Only Here Bowfish (yep, like with an arrow) for carp close to the shoreline.
Before You Go Check out the fishing report at www.11milesports.com. Don't forget to bring a jacket—there's not much protection from the wind, especially on the lake's south side.
For the Adventurous Eleven Mile hosts the Colorado Classic Ice Fishing Tournament (dates in January, February, and March), as well as the annual No Name Fishing Tournament on May 16, 2009.
When You Go Unless you're ice fishing, stick with April through September. While popular, the park rarely fills up; weekends, particularly holiday ones, will attract the heaviest crowds.
Get There Take I-25 to Colorado Springs, then follow U.S. Highway 24 west for 38 miles. One mile past the town of Lake George, take a left on County Road 90; go six miles to County Road 92. Drive five miles to park entrance. For more information, call 719-748-3401.