Stand up paddle boarding, or SUP, is a highly popular water sport along coastal communities, but it’s also taking the High Country’s alpine lakes and rivers by storm and quickly becoming one of the most sought-after summer mountain activities. If you’re planning on visiting the mountains this summer, a SUP excursion is probably already on your radar. If it isn’t, be sure to add it to your bucket list. To help you have the best experience possible, we compiled a first-timer’s guide to stand up paddle boarding in the mountains, including a couple of key questions to ask yourself.
Should I take a SUP lesson?
Yes. Stand up paddle boarding seems simple enough. You just stand up on a board and simply paddle, right? Wrong. If you want to be effective, you will need to understand how to utilize the paddle and your body weight to help guide the board in the direction you want to go, whether that’s turning right, left, completely around or moving in a straight line. Depending on your past experience with kayaking or canoeing, you may only need a half-day lesson to pin down the fundamentals. Whether it’s your first time or you’re quite experienced, taking a SUP lesson is always a good decision because it encourages good habits and proper technique—just like skiing!
In addition to providing safety instruction, Aspen Kayak & SUP owner and river SUP pioneer Charlie MacArthur points out that a lesson includes paddleboard and paddle selection to match your size and ability level.
“You don’t want something that’s too big or too short,” says MacArthur.
A longer, wider board is suggested for beginners, as the surface area makes for easier standing. A board that’s going to be more nimble, but also more challenging to stay upright on will be shorter and narrower. MacArthur also notes that instructors will make sure your board is properly inflated.
Where should I SUP?
Both lakes and rivers offer prime venues for learning to SUP. Many first timers find that they prefer lakes to nail down basic skills before embarking on a river adventure, but don’t rule out rivers just because you’re a beginner. There are many flat-water sections of rivers that provide gentle conditions for learning to SUP. Also, a stand up paddle boarding guide is not going to take you on something over your head—which is just another reason to take a lesson.
Top mountain lakes for stand up paddle boarding
Lake Tahoe, California
South Lake Tahoe’s El Dorado Beach offers an excellent setting for picking up stand up paddle boarding. Board rentals are readily available at El Dorado, and the shallow waters along the beach provide a gradual introduction to the sport. Located about two miles from Heavenly’s top accommodations, El Dorado Beach offers an easy and convenient setting for learning to SUP.
Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes, California
Situated in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevadas, Convict Lake is a bit off the beaten path, but offers paddlers exceptional views of the beautiful, metamorphic Mount Morrison. Convict Lake is situated about 10 miles from Mammoth Mountain.
Blue Mesa Reservoir, Gunnison, Colorado
The largest body of water in Colorado, Blue Mesa Reservoir is located about 45 minutes from Crested Butte, but the 96 miles of shoreline waiting to be explored on a paddle board make it well worth the travel.
String Lake, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Offering picturesque views of the rugged Tetons, String Lake is located in Teton National Park about 25 miles from downtown Jackson and 20 miles from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Teton Village. Local outfitters provide lessons and rentals.
Lake Dillon, Dillon, Colorado
Featuring 27 miles of shoreline, a marina and several watersports outfitters, Lake Dillon provides an exceptional experience for stand up paddling. It’s also easy to access. Lake Dillon is visible from I-70 and convenient to Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne.
Grand Lake, Granby, Colorado
As the most extensive natural body of water in Colorado, Grand Lake offers miles of paddle board exploration and exercise. The lake features a handful of public marinas as well as outfitters providing lessons and rentals. While you’re in the area, add on a trip to nearby Winter Park, where you can enjoy some of Colorado’s best lift-served mountain biking. Grand Lake is also situated near the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Top mountain rivers for stand up paddle boarding
Glenwood Whitewater Park, Glenwood Springs, Colorado
The confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River, Glenwood Springs is a hotspot for river sports enthusiasts. If you’re just getting into stand up paddle boarding, Glenwood Whitewater Park provides plenty of calm sections where you can get your legs under you and practice. Plus, you can watch SUP and kayak pros test their mettle on the famous “Wave.” Rentals and full- or half-day lessons are available.
North Star Preserve, Aspen, Colorado
Stand up paddle boarding along the gentle headwaters of Aspen’s Roaring Fork River through the North Star Preserve is akin to experiencing a Rocky Mountain safari by water. Situated just a mile east of town, the preserve is home to migrating elk, bear, deer and a variety of bird species, including blue heron, whose large nests can be seen in the treetops. A lesson with Aspen Kayak & SUP is recommended, and if you’re a summer guest at the Limelight Hotel it’s a free activity.
Ruby-Horsethief, Loma, Colorado
If you’re looking for a longer SUP adventure, hire a guide service to take you on the popular 25-mile Ruby-Horsethief stretch of the Colorado River. Featuring Class I and II waters, Ruby-Horsethief is typically enjoyed as an overnight trip and offers optimal river conditions for beginners as well as spectacular desert canyon views. The trip starts from Loma, Colorado, which is just 25 minutes outside of Grand Junction, and ends in Westwater, Utah. Permits are required.
What should I bring stand up paddle boarding?
If you’re renting and/or taking a lesson, the outfitter will provide the basics: a paddle board, if a paddle, a PFD (personal flotation device), helmet and a wet suit (depending on the weather and water temperature). Here are some additional items you will want to have on hand:
- Sunglasses with a strap, a.k.a. “Croakies”
- Hat that you can attach to your self
- Water bottle that you can attach to your board
- Waterproof camera
- A dry bag to hold items like your sunscreen, camera and water bottle
- Water shoes or Chaco or Teva-like sandals
If you’re ready to experience a stand up paddle board adventure in the mountains this summer, book your trip today. Start by building a customized quote. If you have additional questions, call or chat with one of knowledgeable Mountain Travel Experts.
Director of SEO + Content
Originally from the icy trails of New Jersey, I moved West to pursue powder and a career in writing and editing. Now living in Aspen, Colo. and working for Ski.com as Director of SEO + Content, I've been able to combine a litany of skills, passions and interests. You'll find me skiing at Aspen Mountain or Aspen Highlands in the winter and mountain biking at Snowmass in the summer.