From the Lake to the River

Exit 205’s crown jewels—Lake Dillon and the Blue River—are just waiting to be explored on your next vacation.

By Meredith Powlison

I’m out of the office for the week. I’ll respond to your email when I return on Monday.

Those two little sentences are freedom. And they’re being read right now, as you drive up Interstate 70. You’ve already achieved the extraordinary feat of packing: all the gear you need and a few good reads—no laptop or briefcase allowed. Escape is near as the lights of the Eisenhower Tunnel flicker past your window.

Ahead, a glimpse of natural light breaks through. You see the mountains first, still snow-capped, radiating the morning light. Then the water appears as you start to descend from the tunnel. Dillon Reservoir, commonly referred to as Lake Dillon, sparkles in the early-morning calm, reflecting the peaks above. The Blue River is less apparent until you reach Exit 205 where you’ll find it snaking its way through
Silverthorne. The water is an unexpected oasis in this mountain haven, weaving two remarkable mountain towns together and offering endless recreation possibilities—and escape from the day-to-day.

Lake Livin’

At 9,017 feet, Lake Dillon is home to North America’s highest deep-water marina—the Dillon Marina—and the highest operating yacht club—the Dillon Yacht Club. Surrounded by the Gore and Tenmile Mountain Ranges, and the Continental Divide, snowmelt fuels this mountain reservoir. And it’s easy to enjoy the area, whether you’re looking to cruise on a powerboat, paddle, sail, or simply soak up the sun.

Dillon Marina is the epicenter of the Dillon shoreline, with more than 300 boats at the dock, boat rentals and lessons, a full-service shop, and even the obligatory tiki bar run by local restaurant Pug Ryan’s. Craig Simson has the inside scoop on the place, having kept boats at the marina since 1994, and worked there for the past three years after a 25-year stint as a ski patroller.

“If you’re up here with your family, an awesome way to get out on the lake is our pontoon boat rentals,” says Simson, operations manager

Grilling on a pontoon boat at Lake Dillon CO

for the marina. “A lot of people rent a boat from us and spend anywhere from two hours to a full day on the water, fishing or cruising around and taking in the sights. The boats will hold 12 to 15 people, and you can also bring Fido.”

If you’re looking for a shorter, less expensive option to get on the water, take the Lake Dillon Water Taxi, which runs regularly between the Dillon and Frisco marinas. Simply call them on the phone to schedule a pick-up. Or take Simson’s advice for a bike and boat adventure: “Rent a bike in Dillon, ride it over to Frisco on the Summit County Rec Path—which is a fairly easy and flat ride—and then take the water taxi back to Dillon. You’ll get the boat experience and the bike experience.”

Others looking for exercise and fresh air can try stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. Arrive first thing in the morning for ideal conditions before the wind picks up. Stand Up Paddle Colorado operates out of the Dillon Marina, providing paddleboard and kayak rentals and tours.

Silverthorne Colorado Outlet Malls

Under Sail

James Welch grew up sailing in Michigan and brought his passion for the water to the mountains when he moved to Dillon in 2009. “Lake Dillon is great for sailing,” says Welch, who’s been part of Dillon Junior Sailing since his arrival in the area and serves as director for the program. “There’s no swimming, wakeboarding, waterskiing, or tubing allowed, so that helps keep the waves and noise pollution down.”

Dillon Junior Sailing provides weeklong programs for all levels, from beginners to aspiring racers. “For beginners, it takes a few days to get the boathandling down, and then it’s all about practicing and owning their skills,” says Welch. “For intermediates, we get them on the water right away and promote being self-sufficient. For advanced sailors, we focus on getting into racing or exploring the lake: going far out, eating lunch on a beach or on an island. As the levels move up, it’s about getting out farther, exploring more, and feeling like you can handle it out there.”

Adults can get their sailing fix at the Dillon Marina. Sailing tours offer the option for newbies to get on the water for a few hours with a captain in a hands-off, relaxing approach. For a more hands-on experience, the Marina offers private and semi-private lessons, plus an American Sailing Association (ASA) basic keelboat course. The two-day ASA course is aimed to get students sailing solo safely and confidently. Simson says, “That’s a great stepping off point for anyone with aspirations of sailing on their own, or ever owning a boat.”

sailing on Lake Dillon Colorado

Whether you or your kids are learning to sail, Lake Dillon provides an ideal, dynamic learning environment. “Around 11 o’clock in the morning, the wind usually kicks up, and the sailors start coming out of the woodwork,” says Simson. “The mountain ranges affect the wind patterns, so it’s very dynamic. We get a lot of shifts in wind and velocity. I love it. It keeps you on your toes, and every day is a new challenge out there.”

Summer isn’t the only time to enjoy the lake. “The summer extends far past the actual summer months,” says Welch. “Last year, it was 65 degrees in November.” And when the temperature does drop, snowkiting and ice fishing keep the year-round activity going on the lake.   

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From the Shore
Landlubbers will gravitate to the paths, trails, and parks around Lake Dillon and the Blue River for views of the water and mountains. Take a family-friendly walk or bike ride on the Blue River Trail, a 3.5-mile paved path that goes from the Dillon Dam to North Pond Park. From the Dam, connect to the Lake Dillon Rec Path, with more than 18 miles on paved trails and roads. Or visit Marina Park, adjacent to the Dillon Marina, for a playground, access to the Rec Path and lakeshore, and picnic tables.
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Shop the Blue
The Blue River winds its way directly through the heart of the Outlets at Silverthorne, one of the area’s most popular destinations for visitors. The Outlets’ 50 high-caliber, name-brand stores offer savings up to 70 percent off, with the added bonus of a mountain experience. According to marketing director Anthony Benz, “The Outlets allow you to be in the mountain environment, within steps of the river, and experience the outdoors.”
Benz has lived in Silverthorne for 10 years, and worked at the Outlets for the majority of that time. He enjoys getting out on his mountain bike and notes that visitors don’t need to be outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the area. “You don’t have to go mountain bike 20 miles of singletrack or climb a 14er. You can visit the mountains and do something you’re familiar with, like shopping.”
The stores are laid out in three easy-to-navigate villages accessible from the Blue River Trail. You’ll find everything from apparel to footwear, and housewares to luggage. Brands include J.Crew, Levi’s, Guess, Nike, Under Armour, Coach, Le Creuset, and many more.
Events take place here all summer long—from weekend sidewalk sales to back-to-school festivities throughout August, plus a car show on July 8 and the Shopping Extravaganza, an annual charity event that will be held November 11.
blue river fishing

Fish Here

Lake Dillon’s waters flow from the Blue River via the Dillon Dam—a 5,888-foot long, 231-foot wide dam built in the 1960s. Like Lake Dillon, Silverthorne’s Blue River offers plentiful recreational opportunities—including fishing, rafting, and paddleboarding—in a breathtaking landscape. 

Fishing opportunities abound here, and first-timers should visit two outfitters in Silverthorne—Cutthroat Anglers and The Colorado Angler—to learn about the many options to get out on the Blue River and other nearby waters, including guided trips, lessons, and rentals.

The Blue River itself has high-quality fishing. Kent Scheel, who’s been a guide at The Colorado Angler for more than four years, says, “In town, the waters are considered Gold Medal. It’s the highest classification: catch and release only, with artificial flies. There’s a tremendous amount of big fish.”

Mitch Melichar, the director of operations for Cutthroat Anglers, has lived in the area for 30 years. He says, “Fishing in town near the store is an urban mountain experience. It’s hard to believe when you see pictures of the fish that come out of the Blue that you could go over to the Nike store and buy a pair of shoes right after catching a trout.”

For a more remote experience, follow the river as it flows north of town. “I think it’s—if not the most beautiful stretch of river to fish—it’s got to be right up there. You’re out in wooded valleys and meadows. You’ve got views of the Gore Range on a lot of the stretches. If you’ve never done it, just go and walk around down there. Are you kidding me? This is 10 minutes off the highway?”

Trout fishing can be had year-round on the Blue, with the prime season from July through September. Melichar advises that early-season fishing can be exceptional during high-water releases from the dam. Some trout in the area have come in at over 24 inches. Other species to be had include Kokanee salmon in the fall and northern pike in the spring and again later in the fall.

And fishing in the area extends past the Blue. According to Jim Buckler, owner of Cutthroat Anglers, “You have the opportunity to fish larger rivers such as the Colorado, medium rivers such as the Blue, and smaller streams such as the Snake and Ten Mile Creeks. There’s also great lake fishing—some of our high-altitude lakes are the most fun because of their unique setting. There’s something for everyone.”

Guided trips with The Colorado Angler go wherever the fish are. Scheel notes, “We have so many permits on various rivers. The guides go wherever they think the fish will be best for the client, unless the client has a special request. We’ll go to the Colorado or the Arkansas or the Eagle or the Roaring Fork.”


Paddle Away

In addition to fishing, paddling the Blue is a popular choice. For those new to paddling, book a float with KODI Rafting, one of the best outfitters in the state and a local favorite that’s been in business for more than 30 years. Their Blue River outing is their most popular, mixing three miles of calm float and three miles of fantastic whitewater in about an hour of fun.

“Rafting is the quintessential Rocky Mountain experience,” says Amy McGrath, who owns KODI with her husband. The outfitter runs 30 different river trips, and many of their guides have been on board (so to speak) for 15 or more years. New this year is a Tenmile Creek trip from Copper Mountain through the town of Frisco to Lake Dillon.

In addition to rafting, KODI rents stand-up paddleboards—including The Beast, a new jumbo board that can hold up to 10 adults—and partners with other local companies to provide bike rentals, ziplining, horseback rides, and more. “We’re all about helping our guests find what best suits them off of Exit 205,” says McGrath. “Whether you’re coming from Denver, the East Coast, or have small children, we can accommodate you.”

For an option that’s less intimidating than a river or Lake Dillon, check out North Pond Park in Silverthorne. With a warmer water temperature, this sheltered body of water offers a beautiful, quaint setting for beginners to paddle any time of the day. You can even try SUP Yoga with a class through the Silverthorne Recreation Center.

For an option that’s less intimidating than a river or Lake Dillon, check out North Pond Park in Silverthorne. With a warmer water temperature, this sheltered body of water offers a beautiful, quaint setting for beginners to paddle any time of the day. You can even try SUP Yoga with a class through the Silverthorne Recreation Center.

Dillon Marina
Dillon Water Taxi
Stand Up Paddle Colorado
Dillon Junior Sailing
Dillon Yacht Club
Cutthroat Anglers
The Colorado Angler
KODI Rafting
Outlets at Silverthorne

Photos courtesy of Zach Mahone, Town of Dillon & Town of Silverthorne