5 Northern Colorado swim beaches to enjoy this summer

By Dan England

Colorado won’t inspire The Beach Boys, but our region still offers plenty of spots to dig your toes in the sand.

In fact, there are at least five good options in our area for what us Coloradans call a swim beach. Is it California? No. But it’s also not the shallow end of a swimming pool packed with screaming kids.

Think of a swim beach as a wilder experience than a chlorinated neighborhood pool: there will be deep areas, mild waves, boats, critters, sharp rocks and dirty water, meaning you don’t want to swallow it (to be fair, you probably don’t want to drink from a neighborhood pool either). Some swim beaches test for E. coli and toxic algae and will prohibit swimming if the levels are deemed unsafe, but others don’t, and the tests are no guarantee that the water is clean.

“All natural bodies of water always come with inherent risks,” says Sarai Castellanos, communications coordinator for Windsor Parks, Recreation and Culture.   

There also aren’t any lifeguards.

But there’s a chance to spread out, a more relaxed feel and no one with a whistle yelling at your kid to walk, not run. The admission price might even be less expensive than a city pool.

Boyd Lake State Park

Hours: The swim beach typically opens on Memorial Day and closes after Labor Day, but this year, lower water levels mean the park will not open for swimming until the lake receives additional water. At press time, the Greeley-Loveland Irrigation Company projected water reaching Boyd Lake in early June. The park is always open for visitors actively angling from shore or from a boat, or for campers at the campground. All other use is restricted to 5 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

Admission: $10 for a daily vehicle pass. An annual pass is $80.

What to expect: Boyd’s swim beach in Loveland hosts hundreds of people each weekday and a few thousand on the weekends, with long, sandy beaches to picnic at or launch your paddleboard from. Call 970.669.1739 to check on water levels.


Horsetooth Reservoir

Hours: Quiet hours are from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., but the reservoir is otherwise open.

Admission: $10 per vehicle per day. An annual vehicle pass is $100.

What to expect: There are two swim beaches at Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins: one at the popular South Bay Campground and another at the Sunrise Day Use Area. They are crowded during the summer (especially if it’s hot), so consider getting there early or visiting on a weekday when fewer people are out enjoying the sunshine.


Jackson Lake State Park

Hours: The Orchard park is open 24 hours a day, but swimming is only permitted from sunrise to sunset.

Admission: $10 for a daily vehicle pass. An annual pass is $80.

What to expect: This lake features two beach areas: one on the south side in early summer and one on the west side as water levels drop later in the summer. Swimming was restricted to the beaches until recently.

“We did away with that a couple years ago,” says Tyler Seward, park manager at Jackson Lake. “It doesn’t make sense to have a big reservoir and not let people use it.”

The beaches’ fine sand and gradual drop-offs have earned Jackson Lake national recognition—it was named a top-15 beach in the country by ReserveAmerica in 2016.


Lake Loveland

Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. The city tries to open the swim beach by the Saturday after Memorial Day (June 3 this year), but water levels may be too low. The beach is closed July 2 through noon on July 5 for the city’s July 4th Festival. Ideally, the city keeps it open until Labor Day, but it typically closes in mid-August due to low water levels.

Admission: Free

What to expect: Most of the lake is private, but the City of Loveland operates the south shore. North Lake Park has a swim beach, along with a playground, a train and traditional recreation such as tennis, basketball and softball fields. The water rights are owned and controlled by groups outside of the city’s control; the City of Greeley uses the lake as a primary domestic water supply (which explains the lower levels after August), and the surrounding homeowners own the recreational rights.


Windsor Lake

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. The swim beach is open year-round but is more popular in the summer.

Admission: Free

What to expect: Windsor Lake is the town’s centerpiece: Concerts are held on Thursday nights every summer, and you can find area residents crowding the beach every day. Watercraft is available for rent, including aqua trikes, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. Rentals are available seven days a week starting May 27, but only on the weekends from Aug. 19-Sept. 17. There’s also a two-mile trail that surrounds the lake and picnic tables, and a playground, outdoor gym and climbing net at nearby Boardwalk Community Park.