Sylvan Lake State Park is often called the most beautiful state park in Colorado, and it takes about two seconds to understand why. The 42-acre lake is surrounded by a dense, lush forest (Sylvan means “peaceful, wooded place”) with scenic hillside trails branching off in every direction. Visitor demand has skyrocketed during the pandemic—“We’ve almost doubled our numbers in the last two years,” says park manager Matt Westerberg, who’s worked at Sylvan since 2010—but it’s still possible to nab one of Sylvan’s coveted overnight locations. The park’s campground includes 46 sites and flush toilets ($28 per night, cpwshop.com), and you can also rent one of its nine cabins and three yurts overlooking East Brush Creek. Cabin 1 is the most deluxe, with running water, bedding, and a full kitchen; it sleeps 12 and costs $190 per night. Cabins 2–9 are more primitive and sleep five, and the yurts ($90 per night) sleep six. Those wondering how the 3,700-acre Sylvan Lake Fire in June 2021 affected the park should know it could have been much worse. “The fire came down to the lake in two spots, but it really doesn’t look that bad,” Westerberg says. “It’s still very green.” In addition to fishing for trout, overnight visitors can also steal away to the quiet of the forest on the Sneve Gulch Trail, which starts below Cabin 6 and is a two-mile out-and-back.
Closer to Vail, anyone who has ever taken in the Gore Range splendor from Piney River Ranch (pineyriverranch.com) forgets the view. Set on 40 acres of land abutting a lake of equal size 12 miles north of Vail Village, the ranch makes the most of its short season, which runs from the summer solstice through the golden-hued end of September. Though plenty of day-trippers make the 45-minute drive into the White River National Forest to fish, hike, and camp from the end of the road, the best way to savor Piney Lake is by renting one of the ranch’s 320-square-foot glamping tents or lakefront cabins. The cabins sleep four to eight and rent for $299 to $389 per night. The tents sleep four and cost $269 per night. Be sure to try the ranch’s house-smoked pulled pork sandwich or fish tacos topped with cilantro-lime slaw, as well as its signature blueberry vodka lemonade (the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays).