The West's BEST LAKES

Colorado and Wyoming Lakes

In Colorado, where "lake" is often a synonym for "reservoir," any natural body of water is a welcome sight - none more so than Grand Lake. At 4.1 miles long, it's the state's largest nonartificial lake, formed aeons ago by a glacier.

It's a busy lake in summer. All manner of watercraft, including motorboats, sailboards, and kayaks, skim over its surface. Anglers reel in rainbows and wrestle mackinaws weighing up to 20 pounds. Photographers train their lenses across its deep blue waters to Mt. Craig, Mt. Enentah, Mt. Wescott, and Mt. Bryant in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Grand Lake Yacht Club, at 8,370 feet one of the world's highest yacht clubs, hosts the annual Grand Lake Regatta and Lipton Cup Races (Jul 29-Aug 5), which always draws a crowd. This classic sailing event dates back to 1905, when visiting British tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton decided to donate an ornate silver trophy to the club. You can rent a boat for cruising, fishing, or simply floating and gazing at the scenery. On the lake's north end, you'll find a marina and a small public beach, but only the hardy take a dip - and usually not before August.

Visitors have been coming to Grand Lake village since 1879, when the first hotel was built. Now, tens of thousands of people come through, since everyone driving west through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road ends up there. Still, it remains an endearing and old-fashioned tourist center - a laid-back, boardwalk, saltwater-taffy kind of place exhibiting the sort of individuality that's to be treasured nowadays. - Claire Walter

 

Grand Lake is on the southwestern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, about 70 miles northwest of Denver. For information, contact the Grand Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (800/531-1019, 970/627-3372, or www.grandlakechamber.com) and Grand County Tourism (800/729-5821 or www.grand-county.com).

Area code is 970 unless noted.

BOATING. SolVista Marina. Pontoon-boat lake tour; boat rentals. $10 tour. 627-8158 or www.solvista.com. Grand Lake Marina & Boater's Choice. Narrated 45-minute lake cruise; boat rentals. $9 cruises. 627-9273.

FISHING. Focus on East and North Inlets for rainbow trout; go farther out into the lake for mackinaws. Colorado fishing license required.

SWIMMING. A small public beach is next to the marina, but water temperature is chilly; no lifeguard.

DINING.  E.G.'s Garden Grill. Casual but good restaurant part of E.G.'s Country Inn (see "Lodging"). Grand Lake Lodge. Restaurant in lodge (see "Lodging"), serves all meals on the front porch or in the log dining room. Rapids Restaurant. Historic Rapids Lodge's dining room (see "Lodging") serves excellent dinners, ranging from fettuccine to filet mignon.

LODGING.  E.G.'s Country Inn. Luxurious rooms with lake views. From $155. 1000 Grand Ave.; 627-8404 or www.egscountryinn.com. Grand Lake Lodge. This 1920 log lodge sits on a hillside above town. From $70; 15500 State 34; 627-3967 or www.grandlakelodge.com. Historic Rapids Lodge. Rooms, condos, and cabins for rent on the Tonahutu River. From $75. 209 Rapids Lane; 627-3707 or www.rapidslodge.com. Lemmon Lodge. Cabins range from older, basic units to newer, grander ones. From $95. 1224 Lake Ave.; 627-3314 or www.lemmonlodge.com.

CAMPING: You'll find camping along Grand Lake's north and east shores. $12. 887-4100 or (877) 444-6777.

This small, jewel-like lake - set in a high valley beneath the Continental Divide - is the centerpiece of the Brainard Lake Recreation Area and gateway to the Indian Peaks Wilderness. You can take a scenic drive around the lake, stop for a picnic, or fish for brown and rainbow trout from nonmotorized craft (bring your own; no rentals).

 

LODGING: Gold Lake Mountain Resort & Spa: nearby in Ward, cabins from $195; (800) 450-3544 or www.goldlake.com.

CAMPING: Off State 72, west of Ward, Pawnee Campground has 55 sites for tents and campers, all with picnic tables and fire rings; $5 for five days.

CONTACT: Roosevelt National Forest, Boulder Ranger District: (303) 541-2500. - C.W.

Colorado's second-largest natural lake is also one of its youngest - formed some 700 years ago when the Slumgullion Earthflow blocked the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. The lake that backed up behind the dam nestles in a valley surrounded by 12,000-foot peaks; they wear snowy crowns well into summer, and in fall, their hillsides are aglow with golden aspens. The 350-acre, 80-foot-deep lake is also a draw for anglers, who are primarily after brown and rainbow trout.

LODGING. Lakeview Resort: from $65; (800) 456-0170 or www.lakeview-inc.com.

CONTACT. Lake City/Hinsdale County Chamber of Commerce: (800) 569-1874, (970) 944-2527, or www.lakecityco.com. - C.W.

Set in the middle of Yellowstone National Park, this 136-square-mile lake is said to be the largest natural lake above 7,000 feet in the United States. But Yellowstone is no mere book-of-world records' oddity: Vast, cold, and blue, it is a lake to remember, especially when glimpsed from the porch of the elegant Lake Yellowstone Hotel.

LODGING. Lake Lodge Cabins: from $50. Lake Yellowstone Hotel: from $100; (307) 344-7311 or www.travelyellowstone.com.

CAMPING. Camping available at Bridge Bay Campground; RV sites available at Fishing Bridge RV Park; (307) 344-7311.

CONTACT. Yellowstone National Park: (307) 344-7381 or www.nps.gov/yell/. - Peter Fish