Best Whitewater Rafting in Colorado by Difficulty
Summer is coming, which means so is whitewater rafting season. In fact, the best time to go whitewater rafting in Colorado is mid-May to mid-June, when snowmelt in many areas brings river flows to their peak. If you’re up for a big adventure, it’s time to start making plans (including locking down a summer job). So here’s our list of the best whitewater rafting trips in Colorado.
Colorado’s Best Class III Whitewater
Browns Canyon – Arkansas River
Put In: Fisherman’s Bridge
Take Out: Hecla Junction
Few areas of the country can match the sheer, untouched beauty of Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River, making this the most popular Class III run in the state (sorry Shoshone). The area is so perfect that in 2015 President Obama designated it as a national monument. The lower portion contains a handful of crowd-pleasing rapids such as Seidel’s Suckhole and Zoom Floom.
Upper Roaring Fork – Roaring Fork River
Put In: Jaffee Park
Take Out: Wingo Junction
Sometimes called Woody Creek and Toothache, this is a great option for Aspen area paddlers who aren’t quite ready for Slaughterhouse (below). The season for this run is relatively short but generally runs from mid-May and well into June depending on how long the snowmelt lasts. That also means the water is cold, so don’t fall in.
Shoshone – Colorado River
Put In: Shoshone Power Plant (I-70 Exit 123)
Take Out: Grizzly Creek (I-170 Exit 121) for rapids only or you can float to West Glenwood
Located below I-70 between Glenwood Springs and Vail, this is one of the most popular trips for commercial raft companies because of the convenience. The usual trip begins with a mile of Class III rapids, followed by a scenic float down to Glenwood Springs. This is a controlled flow section, so it typically stays open far later in the season than natural fed runs in the area (like the Roaring Fork and Arkansas rivers. This is also one of the best whitewater rafting trips in Colorado for families.
Colorado’s Best Class IV Whitewater
The Numbers – Arkansas River
Put In: The Numbers
Take Out: Most take out after #5 or you can continue to the Railroad Bridge
The Numbers is one of the most popular Class IV runs in Colorado, located upstream of Buena Vista and Browns Canyon. The run is made up of six rapid sections, numbered #1 through #6, although many will take out after #5. This is a classic fun Class IV run with fast, consistent rapids and the Arkansas river beauty to match.
Slaughterhouse – Roaring Fork River
Put In: Stein Park
Take Out: Jaffee Park
Slaughterhouse is the quintessential Aspen whitewater rafting run. It combines the scenic beauty of the Roaring Fork Valley with a consistent, one-after-another set of intense whitewater rapids including Entrance Exam, Hell’s Half MIle, and Slaughterhouse Falls. If you’re looking for adventure only 5 minutes from downtown Aspen, this is definitely the trip for you.
Lower Canyon – Clear Creek
Put In: Idaho Springs
Take Out: Mile marker 260
Clear Creek is a challenging section of river located only 30 minutes from Denver in Idaho Springs. Trips generally run from mid-May thru August, making this a very popular area for paddlers. There are several sections of varying difficulty, but the Lower Canyon section is the most challenging.
Cross Mountain Canyon – Yampa River
Put In: East Cross Mountain
Take Out: Deerlodge Park
This is a beautiful desert canyon in Northwestern Colorado, well off the beaten path of other traditional commercial whitewater runs. The nearest major resort is Steamboat Springs, almost 2 hours to the east. It is known for running early (sometimes as early as March) making it popular early in the season before other rivers get moving.
Royal Gorge – Arkansas River
Put In: Parkdale Recreational Site
Take Out: Centennial Park
The Royal Gorge is another legendarily beautiful section of the Arkansas River and is well known for rapids like Sunshine Falls, Sledgehammer and Boat Eater. This section is a bit downriver from Browns Canyon and The Numbers, ending at Canon City.
Colorado’s Best Class V Whitewater
Gore Canyon – Colorado River
Put In: Kremmling
Take Out: Pumphouse
Gore Canyon is the ultimate run for whitewater rafting in Colorado. Prepare for an extremely dangerous set of rapids, where unlucky swimmers are assured of a punishing swim. This section is typically run later in the summer, anywhere from mid-July to mid-September. Survive rapids like Applesauce, Gore Rapid (and Ginger Hole!), and Tunnel Falls, and you’ll for sure have bragging rights over all the noobs over at Shoshone.
Pine Creek – Arkansas River
Put In: Granite
Take Out: The Numbers
Another Arkansas river classic, Pine Creek is usually combined with The Numbers for a longer run. This is a super fun set of rapids but can be dangerous if not taken seriously. Pretty much every major raft company from Vail to Aspen heads to Pine Creek with their most adventurous clients for an unforgettable day on the river.
Upper Animas – Animas River
Put In: Silverton
Take Out: Tacoma
The Animas offers over 24 miles of continuous class IV whitewater that can be broken up in different ways with different put-ins and takeouts. Along the Upper Animas, you’ll find three Class V rapids known as Garfield Slide, No Name Falls, and Broken Bridge. This is a very challenging section of river, which some local outfitters argue is the most difficult commercially run river in the U.S.
Don’t Miss Whitewater Season this Summer!
Ski season may be over, but that means the summer fun is just beginning. It’s time to get ready! So get your plans together and make sure you have an epic summer you’ll never forget.
Need a job to pay for all this fun? No problem! We’re here to help you get a job that will land you right in the middle of all the action, close to all the activities you love. So head to PeakSeason.com and check out all the brand new summer job posts we have!
Where will you head this summer? Let us know in the comment section below.