Some of the best rafting in the world exists among Colorado’s rivers. From easy, family-friendly trips to advanced whitewater rafting adventure, Colorado’s rivers have it all. Colorado’s rafting season runs from May through September, with the fastest and highest waters occurring earlier in the season and milder flows occurring in the later months. For more advanced rafters, the early months in the season, May and June, provide some of the most exhilarating rides, with the winter snow melt creating the most active whitewater adventures. August and September bring milder and more leisurely rides when the water flow subsides, allowing rafters to enjoy the beauty of the canyons and gorges they float through.
There are a couple dozen viable rafting rivers in Colorado that provide great adventure and fun for rafting enthusiasts. Here are five of the most popular ones that span the spectrum of excitement allowing time on the water for experienced adventure seekers and those looking for the equivalent of a nice stroll in the park.
The Arkansas River is one of the nation’s most popular rafting rivers running through some of the state’s most beautiful geologic landscapes. It cuts through central Colorado canyons and drops 5,000 feet in elevation in the first 125 miles, creating conditions for all rafting experience levels. The Browns Canyon National Monument section offers scenic, family-friendly rides. The Bighorn Sheep Canyon and Royal Gorge stretches offer much more advanced rides. Departure cities include Buena Vista, Salida, and Canyon City.
Colorado’s namesake, the Colorado River, provides some amazing sightseeing between the hard-charging rapids that can be found on this great river. Divided into upper and lower sections, the Colorado River can be accessed from the following cities: Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Kremmling, Breckenridge, and State Bridge.
For those with rafting experience and a sense of adventure, the lower Animas River offers challenging Class IV and V rapids considered among many as one of the toughest commercially rafted rivers in the country. The Animas River is most typically accessed through the city of Durango.
Outside Telluride and near Placerville, one can access the San Miguel River and raft through some amazing and diverse landscape, such as alpine forests and desert red-rock walled canyons. Beautiful and exhilarating, the San Miguel River is known for its Class II and III rapids and popular for family trips.
The Roaring Fork River is also split up into two sections, the upper and lower Roaring Fork, with the upper section known as “Slaughterhouse” for is extremely challenging rapids, and home to one of the state’s few commercially rafted waterfalls. The lower section is very popular with families and beginning rafters due to its calmer waters and wonderful scenery. Rafters often depart from locations in and near the city of Aspen when floating on the Roaring Fork.
To help plan your rafting trip, please refer to the International Whitewater Difficulty Rating Scale below and ensure you are aware of the water’s condition when you hit the river.
- Class I: Moving water, riffles, small waves
- Class II: Easy rapids, waves, clear channels
- Class III: Large waves, obstacles, narrow passages
- Class IV: Long rapids, unavoidable waves, many obstacles
- Class V: Violent rapids, extremely difficult, unseen hazards
- Class VI: Unpredictable, dangerous, nearly impossible to run
For a list of Colorado state certified rafting companies and outfitters, please visit the Colorado state tourism website at http://www.colorado.com/activities/colorado-rafting. The site is interactive and allows you to narrow your search by region and city.