Rafting is an exciting and scenic sport in warm weather in Colorado. The season lasts from April to October and is centered when the sun melts the snow in the mountains. It spills down the slopes into rivers, raising water levels and the speed of the current.
Colorado has about 30 different main areas for whitewater rafting, so finding a nearby river and professional provider is not difficult. Popular rafting towns include Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Vail, as well as Fort Collins and southwestern cities like Durango and Buena Vista.
However, with so many options, it can be difficult to narrow them down. Here’s a closer look at the top six places to go whitewater rafting in Colorado, depending on what you’re looking to experience.
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Before you leave
Before embarking on a whitewater rafting tour, here are some important things to know:
Anyone can do it. You don’t have to be just an adrenaline junkie. There are rivers for all levels of experience and courage, even families with children.
Choose a certified provider with good reviews and lots of experience. Don’t try to go it alone, and don’t just pick the first seller with a tube that you see at banks.
You can choose from a variety of different trips, from half-day adventures to multi-day adventures with camping and other outdoor activities.
The fastest rapids are typically in May and June when the thaw is highest, but it changes every year and by the river, even from one place to another on the same river.
Learn the definition of the different classes, from Class I (the easiest) to Class VI (these are so wild and dangerous that they are rarely attempted).
Wear a swimsuit and / or quick-drying clothing. You have to wear a life jacket. Some providers may rent you a wetsuit to help control cold water, even in summer. Dress for the weather, with waterproof sunscreen and water shoes or sneakers that will stay on your feet. You may want to pack dry clothes to change into later.
The Colorado River is one of the most famous rivers in the state. First, this massive 1,450-mile-long river stretches beyond Colorado, through seven different states and two more in Mexico, while crossing 11 national parks.
This is one of the best whitewater destinations in the country. While the most famous stretch is in the Grand Canyon, rafting Colorado in Colorado is also a must-try. This diverse and exciting river stretches through different canyons with jaw-dropping views, spanning wild rapids and quiet stretches. This makes it a good fit for all levels of experience.
Colorado is huge, so there are several different popular starting points, like Breckenridge, Grand Junction, and Glenwood Springs, to name a few.
The Arkansas River is one of the most popular rafting spots in Colorado and across the country. The river has an insane 5,000-foot drop in a span of 125 miles, beginning near the Continental Divide. Arkansas is also easily accessible as it is not far from Denver. This popular river is suitable for anyone; It is rated from Class I to Class V, depending on where you go.
The views here are incredible. The river meanders through the canyon, and the stretch that runs through the Royal Gorge is beautiful.
For a Royal Gorge whitewater adventure, a reputable company to speak of is Echo Canyon River Expeditions, which claims to be the premier whitewater tourist destination in central Colorado. It is one of the oldest and largest tour companies in the Royal Gorge area. The 40-plus-year-old company was named one of the best adventure resorts in the country by US News & World Report. It offers all kinds of rafting adventures, from family floats on calm waters to adventurous rides, as well as places to stay and eat.
For a complete getaway, stay in the Royal Gorge Cabins’ new glamping tents and luxury cabins (opened by expedition company). These are the first luxury accommodations located near the famous gorge and river; The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is only four miles from the cabins.
The Dinosaur Experience (another popular stop in the area, with a ropes course and a children’s area) is next door. It’s also close to The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey if you need some mulled wine to calm your adrenaline. The Royal Gorge Route Railroad and historic Canon City are also fun things to add to your river trip.
Clear Creek stands out for its comfort. It is close to Denver, just off I-70, the popular mountain road that leads to the ski resorts of Vail and Breckenridge. Although it is close to the highway, it feels remote. You are likely to meet wild animals along the way, especially sheep and beavers.
Due in large part to its convenience, it is one of the most popular rivers for rafting in Colorado, according to Clear Creek Rafting Co. This company offers day trips to Clear Creek from mid-May to mid-late August. You can find all levels of rafting here, from kid-appropriate beginner patches to adventure challenges to Class V and some of the toughest rapids you could dare to conquer, despite the humble and disarming ‘creek’ designation of the Water.
Head to the sleepy (but gradually awakened), old mining town of Idaho Springs for a good starting point. Clear Creek flows for approximately 66 miles through Clear Creek Canyon.
Roaring fork river
There are a few reasons we love the mighty Roaring Fork River for rafting in Colorado. First, it’s a convenient adventure if you’re visiting Aspen or Carbondale, two popular towns in the Colorado mountains. Second, it brings a great adventure; The upper part of the river is called Matadero, a rather ominous nickname for a reason. These rapids are extreme. But the reward is worth it. Here, you will find one of the state’s commercially rafting waterfalls.
Roaring Fork starts super high, 12,000 feet above sea level at the stunning Independence Pass.
Looking for a smoother ride? Go further downstream. Softer water is lower. In this section, you can also kayak. The water is remarkably clear.
In total, the Roaring Fork winds for approximately 70 miles and empties into the Roaring Fork Valley, ending at Glenwood Springs. End your adventure in the water with a dip in Glenwood’s famous natural hot springs.
The Rio Grande River (which means “big river” in Spanish) is such an important river in the nation that it feels very special to know it first hand on a raft. In fact, it is the fifth-largest river in the country, stretching 1,760 miles in Colorado. The Rio Grande begins in south-central Colorado and flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
In Colorado, drive through the scenic San Juan Mountains. The “upper drawer” part of the river is best for experienced rafters, with classes III and IV. But the lower section is smoother. In general, that is the popular rafting region, where you can find familiar floats and relaxing class II and III rapids.
A popular starting point is the small, historic town of Creeds. As with many mountain towns, this one was founded as a mining town. Silver was the score here.
If you visit the lively mountain town of Steamboat Springs in the summer, a tour of the Yampa River is essential. The Yampa River runs through Steamboat Springs, restaurants and bars, and even meanders through the exciting Dinosaur National Monument. As the name implies, this area is full of dinosaur remains that you can see on the rocks, and you can also find petroglyphs from yesteryear. It is a whitewater ride with an ancient curve.
Another thing that makes the Yampa so unique is that it is one of the last free-flowing tributary rivers on the Colorado River and the only free-flowing river in the state, which means that it is not clogged by large dams and diversions. The Yampa is just over 260 miles long, and you can find whitewater trips for all experience levels, including some major challenges if you crave the adrenaline rush.
A memorable tour is a rafting trip through the canyons of the Dinosaur National Monument, though it’s just as fun to raft directly into town. Spectators dining or drinking a beer on the benches will cheer you on.
You can simply walk through downtown Steamboat to find a provider, but in the busiest season, you’ll want to plan ahead and book online.
A highly recommended way to organize your rafting trip is through Moving Mountains concierge services, which can connect visitors with vacation rental properties and assist with vacation planning in the area.