Grand Lake, Colorado: Water, Wilderness and Western Charm

The sky blushes as the first rays of dawn creep over the Colorado mountains. Grand Lake appears glassy smooth, forest and rocks reflecting in its mirrored surface. One peak dominates.

“That’s our signature mountain,” says resident Polly Lawler. “It’s called Mount Craig, but we affectionately know it as Baldy.”

Covering 600 acres, Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest natural body of water and headwaters of the Colorado River. Here, at the scenic verge of Rocky Mountain National Park, sailors tack and jib across its sapphire surface. Kayakers and canoeists paddle past shoreline deer, elk and moose. Others employ piston power to ply its waters onboard everything from rented pontoon boats to home-owned wooden speedsters. Anglers troll for trout and kokanee, picnickers dine on grassy slopes and swimmers splash in the icy liquid of this glacial-carved retreat.

Beside its shore lies the village of Grand Lake, a 500-resident hamlet that hasn’t yet succumbed to the tour-bus crowd. While it offers trinket and T-shirt emporiums, visitors also find artisan enclaves vending paintings, sculpture and log furniture along its wooden boardwalks.

“We don’t have any chain hotels, restaurants or fast food,” Lawler says. “Our Western heritage has been preserved.”

Landlubbers find the area rife with dry activities. Bikers peddle paths, hikers tackle trails and golfers yell “fore” down fairways. For those who simply want to ogle the scenery, the recently renovated Grand Lake Lodge offers a spacious deck overlooking lake and countryside.

That platform is always a prime viewing site on July 4 when the community hosts one of Colorado’s largest fireworks shows, a pyrotechnic barrage launched from a floating raft. Mid-July brings the town’s annual Western Weekend, complete with parade, country music, ice-cream social, pancake breakfast and barbecued buffalo meat. Grand Lake is also home to the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater, which presents summer stock Broadway musicals from mid-June through late-September.

“Amazingly enough, that makes our town a destination for some people,” Lawler boasts.

While folks may come for the stage, she agrees they stay for the beauty. It’s difficult not to fall under the spell of Baldy’s reflection.

If You Go

Contact the Grand Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, 800-531-1019,, to learn more about visiting Grand Lake or to book lodging.

Dan Leeth is a freelance writer who lives in Aurora, Colorado. Visit his website,