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.
Navajo State Park
With 15,000 surface acres of water, Navajo State Park is the Colorado parks system's self-proclaimed "Answer to Lake Powell." We're not going to quibble—the 35-mile reservoir is a tad smaller than Powell, but extends way into New Mexico and provides plenty of water to explore. Though only about a quarter of the reservoir resides on our side of the state line, Colorado's end wins the beauty contest, with views of the oft-snowcapped Sandoval Mesa and the surrounding mountains. The lake, which is at the confluence of the San Juan and Piedra rivers, is bounded by shrubland and stands of piñon pine and Utah juniper.
The Draw Laid-back boating. Pick your floating device: Houseboats, motorboats, sailboats, and Jet Skis are all popular on Navajo Lake, as are water skiing and tubing. Drive to the New Mexico side to rent a boat at the Navajo Lake Marina. Or rent an 18-foot pontoon boat and stay overnight ($265 per day, $120 overnight).
The Alternative Camping. Because Navajo Lake attracts the boating set, the park's camping culture skews toward RVs and campers, with most sites offering electrical hookups. But if you want to pitch a tent, check out the lake-view spots in the Rosa Campground. For fancier digs, rent one of the park's two-bedroom cabins ($80 per night).
Stay the Night The lake offers a private cove where you can anchor a houseboat. You'll need to make a reservation at one of the designated campgrounds to sleep on shore.
When to Go The water is the warmest in the summer, but that's also when the reservoir is the most crowded. Go midweek for more solitude.
Get There Take U.S. Highway 285 south to Highway 122; at Del Norte, hop on U.S. Highway 160 for 74 miles. Past Pagosa Springs, turn left on Highway 151. For more information, call 970-883-2208.