If you’re like me, the hustle and bustle of multi-sport adventures tend to fill summer weekends, especially here in Colorado. Despite the joys that come with climbing mountains and floating rivers in one day, there’s also something really fulfilling about slowing down for a weekend of more casual outdoor recreation and camping. In fact, I’ve found that it can be the perfect way to catch up with friends and live simply for a few days—no phones, internet, and a lot less driving.
After a summer of racing around the state, hiking 14’ers, backpacking deep into the wilderness, and pushing my big mountain fitness, I was ready for a sleepier and slower weekend involving mountain air, sunshine, scenic flat-water paddling, and the amenities of an established campground. Living outside of Aspen, I knew of the perfect location. Twin Lakes would not only deliver all the chill criteria, but it would also be an easy drive for friends from Denver.
Sitting at 9,603 feet, Twin Lakes is a charming little historic village that’s home to two beautiful alpine lakes with panoramic views of the Rockies and the largest glacial lake in Colorado. It’s tucked away 15 minutes from Leadville, a few miles from the eastern entrance of Independence Pass, and nestled underneath the shadows of Colorado’s tallest mountains.
From May to October, Twin Lakes becomes a natural home base for day tripper and overnighter outdoor enthusiasts due to its reservoir, roadside village allure, and access points to the Colorado and Continental Divide Trail. The recreation around this area is abundant from cycling and mountain biking to fishing, hiking, and flat-water paddling with both designated and dispersed camping throughout.
Alongside the adventure access, there are a few basic amenities available (gas, food, beer, ice, lodging) and plenty of Colorado history including several buildings in Twin Lakes Village that are still standing from the 1860s. To keep things simple and cheap, I loaded up my truck ahead of time with all the supplies I needed for paddling, camping, and cooking.
While there are plenty of recreational adventures to be had in the area, stand-up paddling and camping was on our list for the weekend. We reserved a spot at the White Star Campground, which we found spacious, quiet, and conveniently located near the Red Rooster Day-use area—the easiest put-in at the lake.
In the mornings and evenings, the lakes are calm and glassy, reflecting the towering shapes of the surrounding peaks. But in the afternoons, be weary. The winds and thunderstorms can create challenging and down-right dangerous board and boat conditions.
One afternoon, wind gusts hit us with such force, it reminded me of paddling in oceans or through canyons. I’d like to consider myself a strong stand-up paddler, however I easily got swept down the reservoir. The weather forced me to my knees, and I had to take out at another beach far from where I had launched.
We stuck to the goal of keeping things simple. We paddled around the lakes during the day on Saturday and spent the night camping under the stars. Sunday morning shone bright and warm, the perfect conditions for a morning paddle. After taking a swim to rinse off the dirt, we made tailgate tacos in the parking area, before loading up and heading back home in our rightful directions.
For summer Colorado road trippers, front rangers, and western slopers, this area is an ideal destination for a weekend of recreation and relaxation. When you think of paddling in a majestic Rocky Mountain setting, this is one of the best locations in the state. You can easily access it by any type of vehicle without worrying about a challenging backcountry portage or bumpy fire road commute, and it’s accessible and inclusive for all levels of paddlers and camping enthusiasts.
10/10 would do it again.
Editor’s Note: Guest Contributor Jake Wheeler is a standup paddler based out of Basalt, Colorado. To help pay for the gas in his truck and coffee in his mug, he is a graphic designer and creative brand strategist in the outdoor industry. Read about Jake’s ultralight SUP trip in Labyrinth Canyon here.