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7 Best Places for White Water Rafting in Colorado

royal gorge white water rafting colorado

Originally published on March 23, 2017, updated on April 24, 2019

There is something uniquely exhilarating about experiencing the Rocky Mountains from a raft. Paddling through the Colorado wilderness, you become part of your surroundings. You have just enough time to marvel at the towering granite walls on either side of the river and appreciate geological miracles up close and personal before you are pulled into another thrilling rapid that commands your attention.

The combination of these gorgeous views and addicting adrenaline rushes has made Colorado one of the top white water rafting destinations in the world. It is one of the most adventurous ways to experience all that the Centennial State has to offer. The only problem is how to choose between all of the great white water rafting spots. While we recommend making time for all of them, it’s possible to get a kick out of a single day on the rapids.

If you find yourself on a time crunch and want to make the most of your trip, here are seven of the best, not-to-be-missed stretches of white water rafting in Colorado.

 

browns canyon white water rafting colorado

 

The Numbers

 

This exciting stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado is not for the faint of heart. Class IV-V rapids await paddlers on The Numbers. The route gets its name from the nearly continuous rapids that — in a good way — barely give you enough time to soak in the stunning scenery lining the route.

With numerous rocks and narrow curves, The Numbers are highly technical. You can expect to work hard, elevate your heart rate, and test your limits. This trip is best for intermediate to advanced paddlers.

Fast Facts:

  • Classic Tour (Half Day): 6 miles
  • Deluxe Tour (Full Day): 16 miles
  • Class IV-V rapids
  • Continuous action

 

Browns Canyon

 

If visiting all of the national monuments is on your bucket list, check this one off in unique fashion by rafting through it! In 2015, President Obama designated 21,586 acres of the Colorado wilderness as the Browns Canyon National Monument, helping conserve this section of the Arkansas River so that it can be enjoyed by anglers and white water rafters for generations to come. Browns Canyon stretches from Buena Vista to Salida, and ranges in elevation from 7,300 to 10,000 feet.

There are more than 10 named rapids along this stretch, with some of the most iconic being: Zoom Flume, Big Drop, and Toilet Bowl. They range from class II-III, making it one of the most popular stretches of white water rafting in Colorado. It is just enough action to keep the adventure-seekers entertained, while not overwhelming those who are mostly along for the ride and scenery.

Fast Facts:

  • Classic Tour (Half Day): 10 miles
  • Deluxe Tour (Full Day): 17 miles
  • Class II-III rapids
  • Balance of rapids and calm
  • Raft through Colorado’s newest national monument

 

royal gorge white water rafting colorado

 

Royal Gorge

 

The Royal Gorge is the only place where you can raft under the highest suspension bridge in the U.S., and one of the highest in the world, the Royal Gorge Bridge. This bridge near Canon City, Colorado is a popular tourist destination, and it’s fun to wave to those walking across the 1,270-foot bridge standing 955 feet above you.

This section of the Arkansas River is challenging but gives enough downtime for you to take in the impressive bridge and sky-high canyon walls. Enjoy adventurous class III-IV rapids before and after your bridge sightseeing.

The Gorge is easily accessible from Colorado Springs and Pueblo, yet it feels as though it’s in the middle of nowhere. You can even combine rafting and visiting the suspension bridge in the same trip to make the most of your Royal Gorge experience.

Fast Facts:

  • Classic Tour (Half Day): 9 miles
  • Deluxe Tour (Full Day): 18 miles
  • Class III-IV rapids
  • Balance of rapids and calm
  • Raft under the highest suspension bridge in the U.S.

 

Yampa/Green River

 

Tucked in the northwest corner of Colorado, this trip offers some of the best white water rafting and sightseeing in the state. You’ll paddle through class III-IV rapids on two impressive rivers and get to explore Dinosaur National Monument which stretches across the Colorado border into Utah.

The Yampa and Green rivers curl through an area of archeological phenomena, fossils, and American Indian rock petroglyphs. Rafters have a lot to take in on this trip, including unique geological formations, sandy beaches, and plenty of sunshine.

This stretch is perfect for history buffs who will enjoy floating past significant rock formations such as the Grand Overhang, Cleopatra’s Couch, and Tiger Wall.

Fast Facts:

  • 72 miles
  • Class III-IV rapids
  • Balance of rapids and calm
  • Discover two rivers and a national monument all in one day

 

bighorn sheep canyon white water rafting colorado

 

Bighorn Sheep Canyon

 

White water rafting in Colorado wouldn’t be complete without spotting the official state animal: the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. Chances are high that you’ll spot a herd or two while rafting through Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

A day in this section of the Arkansas River Valley can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities, making it a popular choice for families. The rapids are all class II-III, including Five Points, Spikebuck, and Shark’s Tooth.

Eastbound between Salida and Canon City, Bighorn Sheep Canyon winds through a gorgeous high-desert landscape with plenty of wildlife. Kids and adults revel in spotting different animals and getting splashed.

Fast Facts:

  • Classic Tour (Half Day): 9 miles
  • Deluxe Tour (Full Day): 14 miles
  • Class II-III rapids
  • Balance of rapids and calm
  • Common Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep sightings

 

 

Animas River

 

In Colorado’s southwest, the Animas River is famous for its technical class IV and V rapids which steal the spotlight as some of the most challenging commercially rafted segments in the entire country. However, there is a big difference between the Upper and Lower Animas River trips. Rafting the Lower Animas is great for kids and beginners, while the Upper Animas is where you’ll find some of the most challenging white water rafting in Colorado.

The charming mining town of Durango serves as a delightful backdrop to the river as it snakes right through town, and you should take the opportunity for a drive or hike in the San Juan Mountains while you’re there. But first — rapids such as Smelter, Santa Rita, Pinball, and Sawmill await you.

Fast Facts:

  • Lower Animas: 8 miles
  • Upper Animas: 12 miles
  • Class II-V rapids
  • Balance of rapids and calm
  • Explore a unique side of Durango, Colorado

 

the numbers white water rafting colorado

 

Cache la Poudre River

 

The Cache la Poudre River is Colorado’s first and only federally designated National Wild and Scenic River. The designation helps preserve this incredible river for future generations and solidifies its high natural, cultural, and recreational value.

Easily accessed from just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, this river includes a taste of everything for everyone, with rapids ranging from class III to IV. Beginner and intermediate white water rafters can all experience plenty of excitement while floating among the beautiful jagged peaks and sprawling meadows of northern Colorado.

Fast Facts:

  • 8 miles
  • Class III-IV rapids
  • Balance of rapids and calm
  • Experience Colorado’s only National Wild and Scenic River

 

Keep in mind that conditions for all of the best Colorado white water rafting trips vary depending on the previous winter conditions and what time of year you decide to go. As the summer passes, rapid ratings tend to drop with the water level. However, lower water can also mean an increase in exposed rocks, making the paddling more technical.

No matter your skill level or experience, your perfect white water rafting adventure awaits you in Colorado!