Top State Parks On The Western Slope

July 17, 2011 1:05 AM

Rifle Falls in the spring of 2011 (credit: Heather Stone)

Head west from Denver over the Continental Divide and you’ll find a bevy of Colorado state parks offering plenty of opportunities for playing in the outdoors –- from boating, camping and hiking in the summer, to snowshoeing, ice fishing and cross-country skiing in the winter. Here are a few in particular to add to your list for your next day trip or vacation close to nature.
highline Top State Parks On The Western Slope


Highline State Park

1800 11.8 Road
Loma, CO 81524
(970) 858-7208

Powerboats and jet skis are permitted on Highline Lake at this state park not far from Grand Junction, while quieter Mack Mesa Lake is for wakeless boat traffic only. Highline is a popular place for locals to cool off when Western Slope temperatures reach 90 degrees or more in the summertime; if you’re visiting from out of town, shaded camping areas make overnights here easy. Ice fishing conditions are excellent in the winter, once the lakes have frozen over. Be sure to check the conditions of the ice before launching your double axels on skates.

steamboat lake Top State Parks On The Western Slope


Steamboat Lake State Park

61105 RCR 129
Clark, CO 80428
(970) 879-3922

Mountains loom above vast Steamboat Lake at 8,100 feet, providing visitors with some awesome only-in-Colorado scenery. Rent boats, pontoons, paddle boats, canoes and kayaks from a staffed marina. Campsites here are coveted here in the summer months; best to make reservations early. If you don’t want to pitch a tent or bring your RV, check out the rustic camper cabins: they each have mattresses but no bedding, a small refrigerator, but no stove. Note that this park in Clark is a good 30 miles from the resort town of Steamboat Springs, so it’s not like you can easily pop into town for a beer.

ridgway Top State Parks On The Western Slope


Ridgway State Park

28555 Highway 550
Ridgway, CO 81432
(970) 626-5822

This park is also known for its awesome water-based recreation: its five-mile-long reservoir surrounded by mountains is visually striking. In the summer, the swim beach features a bathhouse with changing rooms, toilets and lockers, and you can bike to the park from the town of Ridgway via a gentle, 4-mile paved trail. Camping is available year-round; check out the super-cool yurts, with propane stove heaters, refrigerators, microwaves, bunkbeds and futons (bring your own linens).

rifle falls Top State Parks On The Western Slope

Rifle Falls in the spring of 2011 (credit: Heather Stone)

Rifle Falls State Park

5775 Highway 325
Rifle, CO 81650
(970) 625-1607

The waterfalls here may not be Colorado’s largest or most dramatic body of cascading water, but they sure are pretty. If you’re passing through the state on I-70, it’s worth a detour off the interstate through the town of Rifle to picnic in the state park with its 70-foot triple waterfalls. The lush vegetation –- kept moist by the spray of water –- is unusual in our arid state; get up close and personal with it on three relatively easy trails up and around the falls and along Rifle Creek. Also check out the natural caves.

navajo Top State Parks On The Western Slope


Navajo State Park

1526 County Rd 982
Arboles, CO 81121
(970) 883-2208

I love that the Colorado State Parks marketing folks call this spot “Colorado’s answer to Lake Powell.” Indeed, if you own your own houseboat, you can launch it at the extensive boat ramp here and then cruise the 35 miles of lake that extends past the state border into New Mexico. Three log cabins at Navajo are fully furnished with restrooms, showers, refrigerators, stove, dishwasher and microwave, and two are pet-friendly.

– Freelance writer Kara Williams makes her home in the Colorado Rockies and blogs about travel at