Dillon, Frisco and
Silverthorne offer big fun next to a big lake

by Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer

There’s nothing better than being on the water, especially after a long, cold winter. Dillon Reservoir offers much more than just a pretty view from I-70. It’s the centerpiece for a plethora of options for dining, shopping and excursions.

Three Summit County towns ring that large body of water: Silverthorne and Dillon to the north, Frisco to the southwest. Travelers often drive past or through these towns, stopping only (if at all) to fill the gas tank and the travel coffee mug. There are good reasons, however, to make the Lake Dillon resorts a destination this year – and it all starts with the reservoir.

Completed in 1963, Dillon Reservoir is a 3,200-acre resource owned by the Denver Water Board. It supplies roughly a third of Denver’s drinking water via Roberts Tunnel, which empties into the South Platte River near the town of Grant. Easily accessible from I-70, the reservoir is popular with fishermen who catch rainbow and brown trout, Kokanee salmon, Arctic char and other coldwater species in its chilly depths.

Summit County’s free bus system, the Summit Stage, links the three reservoir towns to each other and to the ski resorts, lodging centers and other points of interest around the lake. Thanks to the Stage, you can get anywhere you want without fighting (or paying) for parking. This indispensable asset operates year-round, and it’s a great way to explore all three reservoir communities’ countless entertainment opportunities on water and on land.

Frisco Bay Marina is one of two full-service marinas at Dillon Reservoir. | Photo by Todd Powell

Paddleboarding is the latest greatest thing on the reservoir. | Photo by Todd Powell

In its current incarnation,
the town of Dillion revolves around
Dillon Marina, which is the
highest deepwater marina in
North America.
Silverthorne
Best known for its cluster of factory outlets, Silverthorne is bisected by I-70. It’s an affordable lodging option during ski season and a convenient base for a Dillon Reservoir adventure.

Many people visit Silverthorne solely to shop at the Outlets at Silverthorne, and who can blame them? With stores like Lucky Brand, Nike Factory Store, Calvin Klein and many more, the Outlets are a true shopping haven.

But Silverthorne offers far more than name-brand merch. Exhibit A: Angry James Brewery, which opened last year just downstream of Dillon Dam. Angry James’ bright, airy taproom and sunny patio are favorites of locals and tourists alike. You can order a bite from Cultivate Kitchen, which does business inside the brewery. Just step up to the window and place your order. Everything is fresh, and much of the fare is homemade (such as the fire-roasted tomato sauce that’s on the bagel bites).

Red Buffalo Coffee is another must-stop, whether you’re passing through or spending several days in the area. Located along the Blue River, this charming coffee shop offers excellent drinks and riverside seating. You can hop on the Blue River Trail, coffee in hand, for a stroll along the paved 3.8-mile path, which runs from Silverthorne Elementary School and North Pond Park through downtown. The trail eventually climbs 250 feet to the top of Dillon Dam, where it connects with the Summit County Recpath’s trails to Dillon, Keystone and Frisco.

Dillon
The original town of Dillon, built in the 1880s as a stagecoach stop, lies underneath the reservoir. It got flooded when the waters backed up behind the dam and the whole community moved to higher ground.

In its current incarnation, the town revolves around Dillon Marina, which is the highest deepwater marina in North America. A bustling neighborhood has grown up in the lakefront part of town, just minutes from Silverthorne.

Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar, located at the marina, plays Dillon’s waterfront setting for all it’s worth. With the sun on your face and an umbrella drink in hand, you might forget (for a moment, anyway) that you’re on a beach in Colorado and not in the Caribbean. The summer-only hot spot, which has won accolades as the state’s best beach bar, is affiliated with the all-season Pug Ryan’s Brewery, a staple of the community since 1975.

While the marina provides endless possibilities for on-lake entertainment, you have to stay out of the water. There’s no swimming in Dillon Reservoir, and you wouldn’t want to anyway, because the water is frigid. Boating’s the way to go. Dillon Marina rents out craft of all kinds, including pontoon boats, speedboats and sailboats. Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards are available, too. If you’d rather let someone else take the helm, you can choose from an array of boat excursions at Dillon Marina. Options include sunset sailing tours, history-themed cruises and Women & Wine on the Water.
Dillon Amphitheater hosts concerts on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer, as well as dances, movies, yoga events and more. With 360-degree views of water and mountains, it’s an awe-inspiring destination and gathering spot, regardless of what’s happening on the stage.

Frisco
The third town bordering the reservoir, Frisco, often is regarded as the gateway to Breckenridge. But it’s worth a visit in its own right. With a busy waterfront and a charming downtown, this village of 3,000 has lots to offer. From boat rentals at the Frisco Bay Marina to the town’s bike trails, adventure park, golf courses, disc golf and other attractions, Frisco truly is a summer playground. There’s even a free kayak park upstream on Ten Mile Creek, one of the streams that flow into the reservoir.

Like most Colorado mountain towns, Frisco can thank mining for its existence. The olden days still ripple through the fabric of the town, from the Frisco Historic Park & Museum to the Foote’s Rest Sweet Shop, housed in an 1870s-era assay office (later the town’s post office). Take a walk along Main Street and the adjacent blocks to get immersed in the ambiance of the place.

If you work up an appetite while you’re on foot, pop into one of the best sandwich spots in the state. Once you’ve tried a Deli Belly’s sandwich, you’ll never be able to drive past Frisco again without exiting I-70 for another delicious lunch. If you’re looking for breakfast instead, Butterhorn Bakery & Cafe has a loyal following, and their home cooking is the reason. Try one of four kinds of frittatas or order a bacon bloody mary to get the day started right.

Silverthorne
Best known for its cluster of factory outlets, Silverthorne is bisected by I-70. It’s an affordable lodging option during ski season and a convenient base for a Dillon Reservoir adventure.

Many people visit Silverthorne solely to shop at the Outlets at Silverthorne, and who can blame them? With stores like Lucky Brand, Nike Factory Store, Calvin Klein and many more, the Outlets are a true shopping haven.

But Silverthorne offers far more than name-brand merch. Exhibit A: Angry James Brewery, which opened last year just downstream of Dillon Dam. Angry James’ bright, airy taproom and sunny patio are favorites of locals and tourists alike. You can order a bite from Cultivate Kitchen, which does business inside the brewery. Just step up to the window and place your order. Everything is fresh, and much of the fare is homemade (such as the fire-roasted tomato sauce that’s on the bagel bites).

Red Buffalo Coffee is another must-stop, whether you’re passing through or spending several days in the area. Located along the Blue River, this charming coffee shop offers excellent drinks and riverside seating. You can hop on the Blue River Trail, coffee in hand, for a stroll along the paved 3.8-mile path, which runs from Silverthorne Elementary School and North Pond Park through downtown. The trail eventually climbs 250 feet to the top of Dillon Dam, where it connects with the Summit County Recpath’s trails to Dillon, Keystone and Frisco.

Dillon
The original town of Dillon, built in the 1880s as a stagecoach stop, lies underneath the reservoir. It got flooded when the waters backed up behind the dam and the whole community moved to higher ground.

In its current incarnation, the town revolves around Dillon Marina, which is the highest deepwater marina in North America. A bustling neighborhood has grown up in the lakefront part of town, just minutes from Silverthorne.

Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar, located at the marina, plays Dillon’s waterfront setting for all it’s worth. With the sun on your face and an umbrella drink in hand, you might forget (for a moment, anyway) that you’re on a beach in Colorado and not in the Caribbean. The summer-only hot spot, which has won accolades as the state’s best beach bar, is affiliated with the all-season Pug Ryan’s Brewery, a staple of the community since 1975.

While the marina provides endless possibilities for on-lake entertainment, you have to stay out of the water. There’s no swimming in Dillon Reservoir, and you wouldn’t want to anyway, because the water is frigid. Boating’s the way to go. Dillon Marina rents out craft of all kinds, including pontoon boats, speedboats and sailboats. Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards are available, too. If you’d rather let someone else take the helm, you can choose from an array of boat excursions at Dillon Marina. Options include sunset sailing tours, history-themed cruises and Women & Wine on the Water.
Dillon Amphitheater hosts concerts on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer, as well as dances, movies, yoga events and more. With 360-degree views of water and mountains, it’s an awe-inspiring destination and gathering spot, regardless of what’s happening on the stage.

Frisco
The third town bordering the reservoir, Frisco, often is regarded as the gateway to Breckenridge. But it’s worth a visit in its own right. With a busy waterfront and a charming downtown, this village of 3,000 has lots to offer. From boat rentals at the Frisco Bay Marina to the town’s bike trails, adventure park, golf courses, disc golf and other attractions, Frisco truly is a summer playground. There’s even a free kayak park upstream on Ten Mile Creek, one of the streams that flow into the reservoir.

Like most Colorado mountain towns, Frisco can thank mining for its existence. The olden days still ripple through the fabric of the town, from the Frisco Historic Park & Museum to the Foote’s Rest Sweet Shop, housed in an 1870s-era assay office (later the town’s post office). Take a walk along Main Street and the adjacent blocks to get immersed in the ambiance of the place.

If you work up an appetite while you’re on foot, pop into one of the best sandwich spots in the state. Once you’ve tried a Deli Belly’s sandwich, you’ll never be able to drive past Frisco again without exiting I-70 for another delicious lunch. If you’re looking for breakfast instead, Butterhorn Bakery & Cafe has a loyal following, and their home cooking is the reason. Try one of four kinds of frittatas or order a bacon bloody mary to get the day started right.