Why we love it: The thick ice at this relatively small suburban lake (about one-fifth the size of the better known Chatfield Lake) is perfect for beginners to get in touch with their inner hunter-gatherer—without the long high country drive.
When to go: January through March
It’s surreal walking on water, even when it’s frozen. The ice cracks and snaps and makes all sorts of unnerving sounds. “Wait till you see a crack come running straight toward you,” says a grinning Mark Taylor, owner of Ice Fishing Colorado  (pictured, top right). He’s supplied the gear and joined a few friends and me for our first day of ice fishing. Fortunately, the only chasms I spot in Lakewood’s Bear Creek Lake are the holes Taylor drills with our gas-powered auger through the six-inch ice.
Unfortunately, I don’t see any fish, either. We give it from 9 a.m. until noon. Lake ice is most solid in the earliest hours, but following a recent cold spell, it should remain safe all day—despite its groanings. We aren’t the first to arrive, but many more anglers soon join our ranks. The number peaks around 60, and most are still there when we leave. On our way out, the park ranger tells us that no one has been lucky on this quiet morning. On a good day, you can expect to pull out four or five rainbow trout—or an even bigger catch of perch if you locate a school. Regulations here allow you to keep four trout or 20 perch. I was hoping to bring home dinner.
Instead, I settled for a quintessential Colorado day and relaxed in the 40-degree January sunshine. I sat on a foldout stool jigging my line (that’s fisherman speak for snapping my rod upward to try to lure in a gullible trout). I could see Creation and Ship Rocks jutting out over Red Rocks, with Mount Morrison rising into the horizon behind. I watched cyclists and hikers trace singletrack around the lake. The fish may have won the morning, but these suburban swimmers are close to home. I’ll be back for another try.
Tips: Check ice conditions before you go at wildlife.state.co.us/fishing/reports . Anyone 16 and older needs a valid Colorado fishing license; get one at your closest outdoor retailer or online . A $7 park entrance fee allows full-day access. For more beginner tips, read this how-to guide  (from our November 2011 issue).
Getting there: Take CO-470 West to the Morrison Road exit and head east. Make your first right onto Kumpfmiller Drive and immediately enter the park.
—Top image courtesy of Bill Dehmlow; others courtesy of the author