Carter Lake, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Front Range -

Also known as:  Carter Lake Reservoir, Carter Reservoir

Carter Lake is a major source of fun for residents and visitors to the Loveland area of Colorado’s Front Range. The reservoir is one of two main storage basins for the all-important Big Thompson distribution system providing water to the East Slope. Most visitors think little about that critical feature while enjoying water sports on the 1,100-acre lake. Instead, water lovers focus on the opportunities for water skiing, wind surfing, jet skiing, scuba diving, swimming and fishing for the multitude of fish in this man-made reservoir.

Without the water stored at the Carter Lake Reservoir, cities such as Loveland, Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver would hardly have grown to their cosmopolitan size and diversity. The main Carter Lake Dam and two smaller dams contained the waters in a foothills valley beginning in 1954. A wide variety of recreational opportunities have since been developed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to enhance the quality of life for area residents and provide water-based attractions for visiting tourists and vacationers year-round.

One main focal point along Carter Lake’s shores is the concession-operated Carter Lake Marina. Because there is no private land along the eight-mile shoreline, the marina serves as the boating center, offering daily, monthly and annual boat moorings, rentals, lake access, and necessary supplies. Supplied with a restaurant, store and sporting goods shop, the marina rents all types of boats from fishing boats to ski boats and pontoons. One 22-foot sailboat is available for rent to experienced sailors only. One other boating concession exists on Carter Lake; the membership-controlled Carter Lake Sailing Club offers sailing regattas, racing and sailing lessons to junior members. In addition, several boat ramps manned for boat inspection are located around the shoreline. All visitors must obtain a daily permit and have their boats inspected for invasive aquatic species contamination before launch. The hours of the various boat ramp locations vary according to the season, so visiting boaters should check the current schedule.

Swimming is permitted only at the designated swimming beach on the east side of the reservoir. Surrounding the swimming beach, Carter Lake County Park offers hundreds of acres devoted to picnicking, hiking, rock climbing, camping, boating and fishing. Over three miles of hiking trails offer opportunities to observe nature and enjoy views over the lake. Campsites with electrical hook-ups and primitive sites are available, but reservations may be required on busy summer weekends. Five campgrounds are scattered along the shores of Carter Lake, all operated by the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources; each offers fantastic views and assorted amenities. Daily visitor permit fees and/or camping permits are required. Open year-round, the campgrounds are popular starting points for a day or more of mountain biking, horseback riding, or hiking the many trails around Carter Lake. Many fishermen stay at the campgrounds to be close to the lake access points.

Carter Lake is an excellent fishery, offering Kokanee salmon during snagging season, largemouth bass in the summer months, and some great walleye fishing year-round. Carter Lake seldom freezes over; no ice fishing is permitted on those rare icy occasions as fluctuating water levels make the ice unsafe. Some productive fishing can be reached from the trails and shoreline fishing for cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, an occasional brown trout and splake-the hybrid offspring of brown trout and lake trout stocked specifically for anglers. Yellow perch and bluegill add to the fishing opportunities. Water levels can vary as much as 60 feet, so anglers should check which boat ramp locations are open before heading to the lake.

Carter Lake Reservoir is conveniently located about 15 miles from Loveland and 35 miles from Boulder. Although there are no vacation rentals directly on the shoreline, several exist on the bluffs overlooking the lake. A vacation home rental overlooking the reservoir and surrounding mountains provides an ideal home base for forays into Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, the eastern gateway to the Park, is less than 30 miles to the west, providing a wealth of outdoor activities to visitors. The warmer seasons bring nature tours, hiking, whitewater rafting and backpacking, while winter provides the backdrop for fabulous cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding and sledding. Whether exploring on one’s own or by guided tour, there is plenty of opportunity to admire the expansive views, observe wildlife, and take photographs.

Colorado’s colorful pioneer history is enshrined in a number of small local museums dotted around the area. The area holds a wealth of small galleries and craft shops, while local eateries offer a wide variety of food choices and prices. Real estate is available for those wanting to put down roots, and small acreages as building parcels can still be found with fantastic views of the towering Rockies. Those attending to business interests in the area will find many hotel, condo and apartment rentals available near the highways within a half-hour’s drive of Carter Lake Reservoir. A vacation encompassing both city and lakeshore is easy to attain.

The September 2013 floods caused by heavy rain damaged many roads, dams and bridges in Larimer County. However, repairs are proceeding rapidly and most of the area will be accessible by the start of the 2014 vacation season. Carter Lake Reservoir’s infrastructure survived intact and continues to be a ready source of lake-based fun and adventure. So plan for a summer vacation with fishing rods and hiking boots part of the agenda. There is plenty to interest every member of the family at Carter Lake.

Things to do at Carter Lake CO

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wind Surfing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Carter Lake CO

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Brown Trout
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Splake Trout
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Perch

Carter Lake CO Photo Gallery

    Carter Lake CO Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

    Water Level Control: Bureau of Reclamation

    Surface Area: 1,100 acres

    Shoreline Length: 8 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,759 feet

    Maximum Depth: 180 feet

    Water Volume: 112,230 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1954

    Drainage Area: 4 sq. miles

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    Trophic State | LakeLubbers

    Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

    An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

    A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

    A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

    The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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    Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

    Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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    Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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    Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

    Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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    Completion Year | LakeLubbers

    This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

    The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

    You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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    Water Volume | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

    You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

    Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

    1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

    The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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    Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

    You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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    Average Depth | LakeLubbers

    This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

    Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

    Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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    Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

    At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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    Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

    Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

    When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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    Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

    This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

    You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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    Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

    This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

    A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

    When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

    You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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    Surface Area | LakeLubbers

    This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

    The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

    You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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    Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

    This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

    Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

    "Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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    Lake Type | LakeLubbers

    There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

    - A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

    - A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

    - A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

    "Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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