Whitewater Rafting Rivers in Colorado

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Written by Cassidy Barnes posted on Friday, February 26th, 2010

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Colorado is home to some of the best whitewater rafting in the nation. Many mighty rivers flow down from the snowcapped peaks in the Colorado Rockies to mountain valleys and canyons below, providing plenty of rapids to go around.

Whitewater rafting is one of the most popular activities in Colorado. (Colorado Tourism Office)

Generally, rivers are high enough to raft from May to late August. The earlier in the season, the faster the water.

Rivers like the Colorado, Dolores, Arkansas, Animas, Cache la Poudre, and Roaring Fork provide rafting trips for those looking for intense or mild excursions.

There are dozens of companies with professional guides ready to guide you through this thrilling experience, based out of rafting-centered towns like Glenwood Springs, Steamboat Springs, Salida, Buena Vista, Cañon City, Fort Collins and Grand Junction.

Read below for brief descriptions of a few rafting rivers in Colorado.

Colorado River
The Colorado River flows through the state into Utah and Arizona. There are several excellent stretches, including Gore Canyon, with Class V rapids. The Upper Colorado is milder and flows through Granby, Steamboat Springs and Vail. Shoeshone and Glenwood Canyon are good warms up runs during the whole year for those close to Aspen.

Yampa River
This river flows through Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The Town Run is a fun Class II paddle during spring runoff. Later in the spring, it’s a fun river to float down in an inner tube. Farther away from Steamboat Springs, into a wild desert canyon, you’ll find some scenic Class III-IV whitewater. The Yampa also takes you through Dinosaur National Monument and into northern Utah.

Arkansas River
The Arkansas River Valley attracts more paddlers than any other in the state. This river is famous for its Class V expert rapids and has most stretches in Colorado to enjoy- over 60 miles! Professional rafters and kayakers flock here to experience the fastest rapids, while families love the calm Class I runs in other parts of the river. The Granite and Pine Creek sections have Class III to V whitewater, and Numbers is a class IV stretch that shouldn’t be missed. For those looking for a milder trip, head to Frog Rock, a nice float that heads into Buena Vista’s town run and kayak park. These are all recommended, but Brown’s Canyon is the most popular stretch of river in Colorado. Keep going and you’ll get to the Royal Gorge, a 1,000-foot high canyon with Class III-IV rapids.

Cache La Poudre River
This river in northern Colorado has rapids from Class II to Class IV. The wild river flows down from Rocky Mountain National Park along the Continental Divide and is a favorite for locals in Fort Collins and Estes Park, Colorado. Great for rafting, kayaking and inflatable kayaking.

Animas River
This river flows through the southwest town of Durango, Colorado. Right there in Durango, you’ll find a fun Class III stretch that hundreds of visitors enjoy every year. The Upper Animas has a wild Class V stretch that goes from Silverton into the mountain backcountry for 27 miles. A great overnighter!

Dolores River
This river offers multi-day river trips in the wilderness of Colorado. Its not overcrowded, so you can really get away from it all on this beautiful river. The river flows crystal clear through a treed alpine area and then to a sandy juniper dessert at the end of its 50 miles. Consistent Cass III and IV rapids keep things interesting for a good three-day trip. No special-use permit required!

Gunnison River
The Gunnison allows paddlers from Ouray to Grand Junction multiple options for rafting. Warm up on the Red Bridge stretch by Lake City, graduate to Class II at Gunny and Lake Fork Box, and then head to Gunny Gorge for a Class III canyon run. Even the hike down into the gorge to the put in is beautiful- imagine the trip!

Roaring Fork River
Aspen paddlers head to this river to enjoy the non-stop Class IV action, especially around the “Slaughterhouse” run. The Roaring Fork is also home to one of the few commercially run waterfalls in Colorado. The lower section is a nice float apt for inflatable kayaks and rafts. Great fishing in this river as well!

Bucking Rainbow Outfitters: This Colorado outfitter organizes trips for fishing and rafting fans. Fly-fish the still waters of Bucking Rainbow leased river and have the trip of a lifetime! Rafting trips are also available through Bucking Rainbow. The trips range from intense rapids tackling to relaxing floating trips on the North Platte, Yampa and Colorado Rivers. Bucking Rainbow organizes trips for everyone- from beginners to experts!

Colorado Rafting: This company offers rafting trips of all levels. They have seven outposts and rafting on five different rivers in the state- (the Arkansas River, Clear Creek, Eagle River, Blue River, Dolores River, Animas River and the mighty Colorado River). Their expert guides have an average of eight years of experience, so relax, climb onboard and get ready to have some fun!

 Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting: This Colorado rafting company has river trips for every age and ability. With outfits all over Colorado, they pride them selves on having the best equipment and best service in the industry, so you’ll be in good hands. Let their enthusiastic and professional employees guide you through the best outdoor experience possible! 

Colorado River Guides: See the beauty of Colorado on a rafting trip! This “mom & pop” company is small, family owned, and takes your safety seriously. Let them plan a guided trip whitewater rafting, horseback riding or fly fishing in remote areas of the state. Take your pick from easy floats to daring rapids trips!

Red Tail Rafting: Come rafting on the scenic and wild Colorado River. This rafting company is based in Winter Park/ Fraser and is the valley’s finest! The trained guides at Red Tail Rafting will show you through mild to moderate rapids on the Upper Colorado. They pride themselves on offering smaller, more personalized trips for guests. Safety and enjoyment are their priorities!

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