Curious Nature: With Sylvan Lake closed, look to other state parks (column) | VailDaily.com

Curious Nature: With Sylvan Lake closed, look to other state parks (column)

Celeste Smith
Curious Nature

This summer Colorado Parks and Wildlife is undertaking a huge renovation at Sylvan Lake State Park. They are draining the reservoir and replacing an aging dam. While construction continues, most attractions within the park are closed, including the reservoir and campgrounds.

Today I want to help you find another state park with amazing views and outdoor activities located near Vail. Be mindful of fire bans for the county, and check the web page for the state park before you go. Each state park has a daily entrance fee, ranging from $3 to $9 per vehicle. These can be purchased with cash or check at self-service stations, or by credit card at the park's visitor center.

Under 2 hours away:

• Harvey Gap State Park: This park features expansive views and a lake with excellent fishing. Swimming, boating and picnics are allowed, while camping and pets are not. This natural preserve is dedicated to maintaining its charm for the next generation, and will leave you wanting more.

• Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Golden Gate Canyon State Park is only an hour and forty minutes away, near Denver. This park boasts expansive hiking and biking trails with sweeping views of Mount Tom. Check out the Snowshoe Hare Trail for a difficult, but short, hike to a lake. For something more family friendly, try Upper Mule Deer trail. This is an easy hike that's 3.7 miles, with dilapidated cabins and mountain views.

Under 3 hours away:

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• Eldorado Canyon State Park: Eldorado Canyon offers amazing recreation for all levels and interests. With over 500 technical climbing routes, Eldorado Canyon is a climber's dream. Hikers and bikers can see incredible canyon views while connecting with Boulder's trails. Summer weekends are frequently crowded, so get there early or go during the week.

• Eleven Mile State Park: This popular spot is worth the planning ahead for spectacular fishing, canoeing and camping along the lake shoreline. There are also excellent winds for sailing and windsurfing. Eleven Mile State Park also provides great opportunities for backcountry camping, with designated sites that include picnic tables and fire pits.

• Spinney Mountain State Park: Less crowded than nearby Eleven Mile State Park, Spinney Mountain has many of the same features. Rated as a Gold Medal trout fishing location, you can't beat the birding and fishing options available. Look out for waterfowl, waders and birds of prey as you wander near the reservoir. Be aware though, there are no hiking or biking specific trails.

• Mueller State Park: While no one can promise a wildlife spotting, there is a spot where it's more likely to happen. Mueller State Park is a watchable wildlife area, providing opportunities for wildlife sightings of elk, bear, mule deer, small mammals and birds. Dogs (even on leash) are not permitted on hiking trails to increase the chances of wildlife sightings.

Living near the White River National Forest grants Vail residents and visitors world class recreation all year-round. The mountains are beautiful, but there is also a grace that comes only from wetland birds or ranging buffalo. Exploring other parts of Colorado can enrich your experience and appreciation for the outdoors if you are willing to be a little adventurous.

Celeste Smith was a summer naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. She is passionate about getting people outside, and spends her free time reading and hiking.