6 Best Rivers to Raft in Colorado
The Rocky Mountains are known for their epic whitewater rivers, and the state has its fair share of top rafting locations. Colorado has more than a dozen commercial rafting rivers, from the Arkansas River to the Animas River. In this post, we’ve rounded up some of the most popular and best rivers in Colorado for whitewater rafting. You’ll find these waters in every corner of the Rocky Mountains. The peak time for white water rafting is around June to September, depending on the conditions. The earlier the season, the heavier the white water due to snowmelt.
There are floats for everyone on these rivers, from beginners and novices to seasoned adrenaline junkies and thrill-seeking families. You can choose from half-day or full-day tours, and some rivers even offer a combination of overnight tours and camping. You’ll find it right here, no matter what type of rafting you seek. Commercial guides provide the necessary equipment. Here are the 6 best spots for whitewater rafting in Colorado, in no order:
1 Colorado River
The Colorado River is a massive river that flows through seven different states and 11 different national parks. The most famous part of the river is the Grand Canyon stretch, but rafting on the Colorado River in Colorado is a must. The Class V Gore Canyon section is perfect for experienced paddlers looking for thrills. After Gore Canyon, the weather becomes much milder, making it ideal for families, especially those with young children. The section near Kremmling will be a Class II section with Class III rapids.
The Colorado River is recommended for rafters of all ages. It is a safe, fun option if you have young children. Kids as young as age 2 can raft the Upper Colorado.
The best time for whitewater rafting on the Colorado River is between May and October. However, springtime journeys offer fewer crowds, cooler temperatures, and more wildlife viewing. Summer is a good time, as other rivers in the state may be closed for low or high tide. The Colorado River runs safely no matter how much water it gets. Fall is perfect for seeing the prettiest colors and, again, missing the crowds.
If you’re looking for an even more thrilling experience, hop on a paddleboard or kayak and float down a raft to make it even more challenging.
2 Arkansas River
The Arkansas River is one of the most popular rafting locations in Colorado and offers stunning views of Browns Canyon, the most rafted rapids in the world. The Arkansas River is a good choice for those with young kids and beginners. Numbers and Pine Creek are good options for more adventure near Buena Vista. From this section, you can turn it into an all-inclusive experience with an overnight trip and add zip-lining or rock-climbing lessons for even more outdoor fun.
The best time of year to raft the Arkansas River is from late April through September. The river is appropriate for kids aged 7 and older. Although, at certain times of the year, the minimum age may be raised to age 12, or even 15, depending on the severity of the rapids. If you have kids, we recommend rafting this river in May, July, August, and September. For those looking for a thrilling experience, June is a fabulous time to go rafting.
3 Clear Creek
For those who are closer to Denver, Clear Creek is the best choice. It is one of Colorado’s most popular lazy rivers, conveniently located off I-70. Don’t let the “creek” moniker sway your opinion; this is one of Colorado’s best rafting sections. Young adults looking for their first time on the river should try the Gold Rush section. Intermediate rafters should try the Upper Colorado or Lower Canyon tour for an adrenaline rush.
The best time to raft Clear Creek is between May and September. If you want to raft Clear Creek Canyon, we recommend going in May, June, or July. Clear Creek is appropriate for ages 6+. However, the minimum age can increase during certain times of the year as the river swells and becomes more hazardous. If you’re looking for a more exhilarating experience, Clear Creek presents many options for adrenaline seekers – even a Class V section for experienced rafters.
4 Animas River
Durango is the most populous mountain town in southwestern Colorado, with approximately 20,000 residents. This historic city may be best known for its narrow-gauge railroad, but the Animas River provides energy and entertainment year-round.
Animas River is 126 miles long and is a tributary of the San Juan and Colorado Rivers. Since the river does not freeze over in winter, it serves as critical habitat for resident bald eagles. The Animas River is fantastic for beginners, families, groups, and those who have rafted previously.
The best thing about the Animas River is that you can find lazy rafts and wild rapids on both half-day and full-day tours. The Lower Animas River runs through downtown Durango and is the easier of the two sections. It’s an adrenaline-packed family ride as you sail the artificial rapids at Durango Whitewater Park. The Upper Animas River originates just north of town, near the mountain resort of Purgatory in Durango. It is the longest continuous stretch of commercially operated Class IV and V rapids in the nation at more than 30 miles.
The best time to raft the Animas River is between May and July. It is appropriate for rafters aged 7 and above. However, the minimum age may increase to 12, depending on water levels.
5 Yampa River
The Yampa River is terrific for rafting. It’s located in Steamboat Springs and runs through Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado. The area is full of dinosaur remains that can be seen everywhere. Another remarkable fact about the Yampa River is that it’s the only river in Colorado that flows freely and, thus, isn’t hindered by dams or diversions.
Yampa River trips are typically easy, multi-day lazy floats, perfect for a peaceful getaway and sightseeing in the Yampa Canyon. The river meets the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument. Vernal, Utah, is the most popular town around Dinosaur National Monument. Vernal is where many overnight excursions meet and shuttle back. Most are multi-day camping and rafting trips; some are four or five days. During high season, it’s a good idea to book your rafting adventure far in advance. (There are also shorter half-day tours that depart from downtown Steamboat Springs.)
The best time to raft the Yampa River is from May to June. This river is perfect for rafters aged 7 and older. Sometimes the minimum age is raised to 12. There are excellent sections of Class III and IV rapids for adventurous rafters.
6 Roaring Fork River
The Roaring Fork River is another prime choice for rafting. The Roaring Fork is a highly convenient stopover from Aspen or Carbondale and offers a great adventure experience. The Roaring Fork begins at the stunning Independence Pass at an elevation of 12,000 feet. The upper reaches of the river are known as the Slaughterhouse. The Slaughterhouse section of this river is between Class IV and V, making it the perfect stretch for adventurers and experienced rafters alike. These rapids are extreme, but the payoff is worth it. You’ll find one of the state’s rare commercial rafting waterfalls here.
You can also head further downstream for a gentler ride. Kayaking is popular in the lower waters. The Roaring Fork meanders about 70 miles into the Roaring Fork Valley, ending in Glenwood Springs. You can complete your aquatic adventure with a dip in Glenwood’s famous natural hot springs.
The best time to raft the Roaring Fork River is between May and August. The Graveyard section is perfect for younger kids, while the Woody Creek section is better for kids ages 12 and older.