Rivers are up: Where to find your rafting adventures
Rafting, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are among the most popular summertime activities in Colorado, and the Colorado, Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers provide some of the best waters in the state for launching whitewater adventures.
The flow rates on these rivers can vary greatly from May to September, so it is recommended that visitors only take rafting trips led by experienced guides who are experts at reading the river.
Most rafting companies offer both half-day and full-day trips, which vary in intensity from easy floats to extreme whitewater rapids. They also offer a variety of boat sizes — from large rafts that hold six to nine people to smaller rafts that hold four or five. You can also take inflatable kayak trips with only three in a boat. Remember that the smaller the boat, the more likely you are to have an intense experience with the whitewater.
Many companies also rent stand up paddleboards (SUPs), which can be floated on the gentle waters of the Northstar Nature Preserve east of Aspen, or at Ruedi Reservoir up the Fryingpan Valley.
Where to go
Glenwood Canyon is an extremely popular rafting area that is 16 miles long and features stunning views of high, chiseled rock cliffs jutting up on both sides of the river. The water cascades through everything from churning whitewater rapids to long, easy stretches where you can simply take in the scenery. Some guided tours will allow visitors to stop at one of the in-river hot springs that dot the banks of the Colorado.
The Roaring Fork and Crystal River valleys are spectacular in summer with their high mountain peaks descending into vast forests of aspen and pine, and no place is better to experience all that beauty on a hot summer day than from the cool, invigorating waters of the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers. Guided tours on the upper Roaring Fork River are intense, with stretches of cascading whitewater through narrow channels and several obstacles to maneuver around. But the lower Roaring Fork is more family friendly with long stretches of gentle flowing waters.
If you’d rather be fishing, several fishing outfitters offer half- and full-day float/fishing trips on both the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers. The Roaring Fork, from Basalt to its confluence with the Colorado, is all Gold Medal fishing waters, meaning it offers some of the best trout fishing in Colorado. It also means that these waters are regulated as catch-and-release only.
Something for everyone
Skilled boaters may choose to put their crafts into the rivers at established launch points where the rapids don’t exceed their skill level. The Shoshone rapids in Glenwood Canyon are a rated Class III or IV depending on flow rate, while the rapids at Barrel Springs are expert-only, rated Class IV or V. Then, of course, there is the legendary Slaughterhouse Falls on the Roaring Fork River near Aspen, a Class IV-rated stretch of the river that plummets off a thrilling waterfall. (See break out box for description of classes.)
Experienced hard-boat kayakers also will find two water parks in the region. The Glenwood Whitewater Park and the Basalt Whitewater Park are both good places to practice and demonstrate boating maneuvers on the standing waves and other water features.
Summer schedules fill up fast, so it’s recommended that you make reservations with the rafting company of your choice in advance of your stay. And of course, safety always comes first when boating on Colorado’s many rivers, so choose your water adventure wisely and you’re guaranteed to have the time of your life!
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