Swimming Hole

Tucked into the mountains of northwest Colorado, Steamboat Lake has everything you need for a quintessential summer weekend.
July 2012

The next morning, after downing camp coffee and bacon, we consider taking a hike before our boat trip begins at 1 p.m. Sand Mountain (10,847 feet) and Hahn’s Peak (10,849 feet) dominate the horizon and require short hikes of less than three miles one way; we opt for the 1.7-mile trek to the fire tower atop Hahn’s. A 10-minute drive lands us at the trailhead. From there, the hike initially follows a jeep road but soon narrows into a footpath that contours across meadows and emerges past wind-stunted trees for the rocky push to the summit. The panoramas underscore just how unpopulated this area is: In every direction, we look out over wide swaths of undeveloped country. We can hardly make out roads or houses—just a rolling sea of green and gray in all directions.

Back at the marina, we waste little time hitting the water. The rental clerk points out our pontoon boat and gives us basic instructions on how to drive it; then we haul our cooler onboard and chug slowly away from the docks. I can barely wait to toss our burgers on the grill (most pontoons are equipped with propane cookers), but Ben insists on waiting till we’ve hit open water.

The mountain views unfold as we leave the shoreline behind, and initially they’re enough to keep us entertained. Then, to suss out what our craft is capable of, we throw the throttle to max speed—which turns out to be a pretty sluggish pace (the pontoon fleet is new for 2012, but these barges are no speedsters). Finally, Ben gives the OK to fire up the grill, and we motor into a quiet cove to relax.

The sun scorches my back as I flip the patties, but I’m enjoying it. I’ll cool off with a splash in the lake after lunch. For now, I’m savoring the interplay of sun and heat, along with the burger’s overpowering aroma and the sound of water smacking the boat’s hull, in a moment of delicious discomfort that feels like pure summer.


Stay: Steamboat Lake State Park is located 185 miles northwest of Denver. Lakeside campsites fill quickly; reserve well in advance. Daily park pass $7/vehicle; campsites from $18/night. 970-879-3922; 1-800-678-2267 (reservations);

Boat: A private concession within the park, the Steamboat Lake Marina rents camper cabins (from $80/night) and boats. Nonmotorized crafts start at $35, fishing boats at $70, and pontoon boats at $179; a MasterCraft ski boat (with driver, water skis, surf and wakeboards) starts at $450/half day. 970-879-7019;

Eat: Hahn’s Peak Café, 61070 County Road 129; 970-871-1495.