For those of us who do our boating on coastal waterways or inland rivers, mountain lakes are a pleasant diversion from familiar surroundings, but plan your trailering trip carefully (and watch Towing in Mountainous Terrain, if you'll be hitting any steep grades). A little common sense and some basic preparations are enough to insure that your mile-high boating will be trouble free and delightful. There are four areas that need to be prepared, starting with your boat, of course, as well as your tow car, trailer and, surprise, surprise, you!
As with any cruise, you'll want to check over your boat to make sure that everything is in good shape. Now would be a good time for that oil change and minor tune-up, a check of the various belts to make sure they're uncracked and, depending on your energy, a good waxing of the hull which will make road grime and bugs rinse off easily when you arrive.
High altitude on a mountain lake means thin air, and you'll want to check with your mechanic about tuning the engine to run with sea level power even in the mountains. Every engine is different, and some modern engines have sensors that automatically adjust the fuel mixture to match varying air densities, but you may want to rejet the carb or tinker with the idle stop on older engines. If time is not a problem, one solution is to get a quick carb adjustment when you get to your destination lake.
Your tow vehicle will also have added strains put on it, not just from the thin air that reduces your usable towing power, but from the rigors of towing uphill on twisting roads. Heat is the number one enemy of your tow car, as you know from watching as your radiator boiled over after towing up a 10-degree incline in 90-degree summer heat.
Treat your land vehicle to a tune-up and lube job, and your trailer is just as important, so get the bearings repacked, check the tires for signs of misalignment or damage (and proper pressure), and test the running lights, too. With the boat on the trailer, make sure that all the pads and/or rollers are supporting the boat evenly without deforming the hull and, assuming that you have the correct hitch package, check the tongue weight to make sure it doesn't exceed the marked limits. By the way, you can reduce your towing effort by emptying the fuel and water tanks on the boat.
Once boat, trailer and vehicle are in shape, it's time to take a look at yourself. The thin air at high altitudes (as low as 5,000 feet) can seriously affect your breathing and subsequently your heart rate. That easy hour of waterskiing at sea level can leave you limp as a dishrag on a mountain lake, and a hike up a nearby hill can finish you for the day. Take it easy until your body adjusts to less oxygen, and you'll soon be back at peak performance. By the same token, those mountain lake waters, so inviting on a hot afternoon, are probably a lot colder than you're used to, and that can dangerously sap your energy. Even at midsummer, deep mountain lakes can maintain a temperature that is well into the hypothermia danger zone, especially if they're snow fed.
While towing to or from the mountains, it's easy to try to cover too much ground. Cranking your rig around winding roads is both physically and mentally tiring, so you should plan regular stops to rest both car and driver. Besides, you'll probably be traveling slower than your normal highway speeds, so you'll need to allow for additional time.
Prepare thoughtfully, drive carefully, and don't forget to smell the pine trees ... there's nothing like a mountain lake for summer boating pleasure!
Check out these articles and videos, to become an expert trailer-boater:
What to Look for in a Tow Vehicle
How to Tow Hunting Boats
5 Tips for Towing
Tips for Launching and Retrieving a Trailer Boat
How to Back a Boat Trailer Like a Pro
Boating Tips: Basic Trailer Maintenance
10 Trailering Tips: Haul Your Boat with Confidence
Safety Tips for Trailering a Boat
Editor's note: this article was updated in August of 2017.