The very best hiking, camping, paddling, fishing, climbing, mountain biking, and road cycling within two hours of Denver.
Still Learning Kingfisher Cove Chatfield Reservoir The reservoir can be a recreational zoo in the summer, but this inlet on the south side, north of the gravel ponds, is a sweet spot to get comfortable tossing a line. Loaded with bluegill, yellow perch, and largemouth bass, the bay has plenty of opportunity to hook a good-size panfish (don’t forget your fishing license). Throw down a camping chair and a bucket on the shore and start casting in peace—this section of the water isn’t disturbed by motorboats or Jet Skis. And when the kids get antsy? The parking is convenient, so head up the shoreline about a mile and a half to the swim beach—a godsend on a hot, sunny day. 303-791-7275, parks.state.co.us/parks/chatfield
Kick Back: If you neglected to pack enough picnic goodies, hop in the car for a stretch and upgrade your dining plans with a sunny deck seat—prime boat-watching real estate—at Seagull’s Restaurant on the marina. 303-791-5555, chatfieldmarina.com/seagullsrestaurant.aspx
Seeking a Challenge Cheesman Canyon South Platte River This gorgeous section of the South Platte near Deckers isn’t tough to fish because it’s unheard of or inaccessible or sparsely populated; it’s tricky because the fish are “smart.” That’s right: Some might say these are “educated” or “selective” trout; the water is clear, they’re used to people, and they’ve seen it all. In other words, fly fishermen here need to have panache. You’ll want to bust out your best nymph (subsurface larvae-stage insects) fishing technique here—go with tiny midge and mayfly varieties for the best shot at reeling in a whopping rainbow or brown. You’ll enter the canyon via the Gill Trail (take U.S. 285 south to Pine Junction and follow CR-126 about 22 miles to the roadside parking), which mirrors the river for several miles. The canyon can be crowded; just forge ahead down the trail past other anglers to find your money spot amidst the granite boulders and honeypot pools. coloradofishing.net
Get Prepped: Visit the Flies & Lies fly shop on the river in Deckers for licenses, rental gear, shop-tied flies, and anything you want to know from the knowledgeable staff about fishing the area. 303-647-2237
Best-Kept Secret Clear Creek East of Empire Humans have had a less-than-desirable impact on Clear Creek since the gold-rush era, so it’s no surprise that wild brown trout had to be brought in from Europe in the late 1800s. Browns are not stocked here anymore, yet they make up a large percentage of the fish population in Clear Creek between Georgetown and Golden. Public access is solid east of U.S. 40, on land owned by Clear Creek and Jefferson County open space, and unlike other rivers, the creek has no special regulations regarding lures, flies, or bait—use whatever you prefer. (Those in the know swear by the Puterbaugh Caddis fly in size 16—with a pheasant tail dropper if you want to go all out.) The rocky landscape of the creek makes for excellent pools brimming with browns ready to bite. 303-567-3000, wildlife.state.co.us; coloradofishing.net
Gear Up: Clear Creek Outdoors, across from Beau Jo’s in Idaho Springs, can hook you up with anything you might have forgotten or want to replace—fly lines, nets, vests, accessories, waders, tools, hooks, you name it—and give you the rundown on Clear Creek’s secrets. 303-567-1500, clearcreekoutdoors.com
ASK THE EXPERT Paul Winkle Aquatic biologist, Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Q: Do you have any concerns about this year’s low snowpack and its impact on water levels and fish/fish-population health?
A: Yes. The less-than-average snowpack will translate to lower-than-average flows in the rivers and streams of Colorado. The lower flows result in less habitat available for fish, for activities such as feeding and hiding from predators, and might affect the survival of eggs and the success of young fish. Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists regularly monitor fish populations to determine the poten- tial impacts of low stream flows.
Q: We always hear about “native” and “non-native” trout species in Colorado. Which species are indigenous?
A: Cutthroat trout is the only trout species native to Colorado, with three subspecies inhabiting different regions: Greenback cutthroat trout east of the Continental Divide in the South Platte and Arkansas river drainages; Colorado River cutthroats in the Colorado River drainage; and Rio Grande cutthroats in the Rio Grande drainage. Most other species were imported during the late 1800s and early 1900s as sport fish and as a food source.