Sylvan Lake State Park is a popular, but not overused, unit of the Colorado State Parks system. Located just 15 miles off the I-70 corridor in the middle of the state, it is fairly easy to get to and well worth the effort.
The lake that gives the park its name was a meadow and part of a cattle ranch until 1945. Between 1945 and 1962 the land was owned by Otto Zurcher, who dammed the creek and ran a fur farm and a fishing resort here until he fell on hard times. The State of Colorado was able to purchase the land in 1962, and a contest to rename Zurchers Lake resulted in the much more pleasant Sylvan Lake. In 1987 the area was made a state park, and in 1999 land was added to the park along East Brush Creek and West Brush Creek that today makes up eight conservation areas surrounded by White River National Forest.
The lake is still the centerpiece of the park. Flanked by a very nice campground and rental cabins, the lake has a boat ramp, a trail around the shore, a day use area. You'll also find the trailheads for Sneve Gulch and the West Brush Creek Trail that meanders nearly 6 miles to the visitor center at the north boundary of the park. There are also three yurts available to rent that are located on the East Brush Creek Road in an isolated part of the park. Fishing is excellent and very popular in the lake and the creeks, and boating (no gasoline motors) on the lake is a pleasant way to pass the time.
Beyond the immediate vicinity of the lake there are numerous national forest trails, many of which head into the nearby Holy Cross Wilderness. Nolan Lake, Eagle Lake, and Lake Charles are favorite hikes, as is the more strenuous Mount Thomas Trail that gives panoramic views of the Sawatch and Elk Mountains, including the Maroon Bells, Snowmass and even the more distant Gore Range. Fulford Cave is another nearby attraction that is popular with novice spelunkers and only requires basic caving gear (a permit is needed, available online). The state park conservation areas along Brush Creek are relatively undeveloped but generally have picnic tables and paths down to the creek.
It is easy to spend a day or a week at Sylvan Lake State Park, whether you are just relaxing on the lake or using it as a base camp to explore some lightly-visited wilderness areas nearby.