Jackson Lake State Park
Considered one of the best beaches in Colorado, Jackson Lake State Park has got it going on. Located one hour and 15 minutes from downtown Denver and a half-hour from Fort Morgan on the state's eastern plains, here the waves lap at the sandy shore outside of Orchard every summer. Known as an “Oasis on the Plains” and ranked as one of the “Top 15 Park Beaches” by Reserve America, this campsite should be reserved — right now.
Set against a pale-blue sky, the azure water reflects bright sunlight, and you'll surely hear squeals of laughter from those on jet skis. Kiddos make sandcastles, and the faint smell of sunscreen rises to greet you — take a deep breath and enjoy it all. But this isn’t just about laying on the beach. Pack your fishing rods, hitch up your boat and bring those binoculars to spot incredible waterfowl. Then spend time stargazing before rolling into your sleeping bag — Jackson Lake is Colorado's first state park to receive International Dark Sky Park status.
What makes it special?
Yes, Jackson Lake is magical in summer, but it might be even more special during winter when there’s a light dusting of bright-white snow on the trees. Those quiet off-season times offer wildlife viewers opportunities to see long-eared owls, deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes, raptors and shorebirds. Weather permitting, you can also cut a hole in the ice and fish for glimmering trout or strap on ice skates and do your best impression of Kristi Yamaguchi — we won’t judge if you fall!
The most “Colorado” thing about this place
Hammock camping! Yes, you can, in fact, hammock camp in Jackson Lake State Park. Tent sites 49–52 in Lakeside and 79–82 in Pelican have three hammock posts, so string it up and sleep under the stars each night. Are you right now asking yourself, "What is hammock camping?" It’s literally how it sounds. Instead of pitching a tent, you tie up your hammock and sleep in it … kind of like a hanging sleeping bag!
Top sensory encounter you’ll experience
After you’ve dried off from swimming, cooled down from hiking and finished with dinner, you need to make your way down to the shore to watch the sunset. The light-pink sky is streaked with purple clouds and the sun turns into an orange orb on the horizon. Then it’ll be time to build your fire to make sticky s’mores before falling asleep to the peaceful chirping of crickets.
Our favorite traveler review
“This little lake is a perfect place you go camping if you're east of Denver. It's nice and quaint and the staff is professional and happy to help always. I hear they're installing a new dock — stay tuned! Our campsite consists of a fire pit, a table and power with 30 amp and 50 amp. The spot sizes are big enough for a 45-foot motor coach, plus a car and a boat. Make sure not to park on the grass. During the late evening sit out enjoying a nice fire but make sure you put everything up as you will get visitors from the raccoon pack — and you don't want to feed them anything. Mosquitoes are everywhere, so make sure to have your bug spray and/or mosquito repellent. I strongly encourage contributing anything that helps fund activities and events at this facility for the ever-changing future. Thank you for the memories and we will be back in the future.” — Todo K., Google
Things to do nearby
An hour north of the park is Pawnee National Grassland, home to the famous Pawnee Buttes. These towering structures are worth the drive, and it's an easy hike to see them. You’ll feel like you’ve reached another planet when you’re standing under them.
Down in Fort Morgan, the museum lets you look back in time with Native American artifacts and the Brush Area Museum and Cultural Center sports an 1863 Mountain Howitzer Cannon — talk about photo-worthy!
Begin your foray back into city life with a stop in Greeley for a citrusy craft beer at WeldWerks Brewing Company or a walk around the University of Northern Colorado’s campus.
Spend three days on the Pioneering Plains >>
Photos courtesy of Colorado Parks & Wildlife