White water rafting is something that everyone needs to try once – at an absolute minimum. And those who do take the plunge and try it out find that they want to go again – and again and again and again. Whitewater rafting can be as extreme or relaxing as you want to make it so, if you choose the right class for your desired experience, there’s no way for you to have a bad time on the river. Floating along with family or fighting the rapids with friends can be some of the most fun you have all summer. And Colorado, with its big stores of melting snowpack during the summer months, creates some of the greatest water for white water rafting in the US. So, we’ve created a little list of the best white water rafting in Colorado for your viewing pleasure to see if we can’t get you out on the water for your first – or second or third or fourth or fifth – time.
What to Consider
There are really two major considerations that you have to take care of when scheduling your whitewater rafting trip. Of course, most people want to go during the summer months so that they don’t have to buy any extreme equipment and can enjoy being splashed during the warm summer months. Most of us only get the opportunity to enjoy whitewater rafting every now and then, after all. But, for everyone, the two most important thoughts to have as you schedule your run are the following:
Class of the Run
- Some people are not aware of this but the term “whitewater rafting” doesn’t actually require tremendous rapids or clusters of whitewater to be present at all. In fact, there are six classes of water, ranging from running water with riffles and small waves to nearly impassable rapids where rescue is impossible.
- For the first timers or those looking for a gentle float to enjoy nature’s beautiful calm around them, Class I is where the fun lies. Class II is similar but features bouts with tiny rapids and rocky obstacles that are easily seen and avoided. Class III is where some difficulty begins to show up with moderate rapids and obstructions. As you keep climbing the ladder, the difficulty keeps on heightening, little by little, until you reach Class VI, a level that’s nearly impassable.
- Rafting trips can last anywhere from a half-day to a couple days at a time (punctuated by camping). Of course, deciding the right length of trip for you is a good thing to do before you make your purchase. If this would be your first ever experience, we recommend going for a half-day, just to keep things light for your first time out. The best white water rafting in Colorado is best enjoyed for the right length of time – not too much but not too little.
Best White Water Rafting in Colorado
The Gunnison River
Just outside of Grand Junction, the Gunnison River offers awesome opportunities for a gentle float on the water. Nature’s beauty shines along this waterway and the water serves to send you through the facades in one of the most peaceful ways imaginable. The Gunnison Gorge has only the gentlest ripples on its way through the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area in some of the most serene lands of Colorado. Beginners and kids are certain to enjoy this float on inflatable kayaks and mom and dad can take a moment to relax as they float along. This makes for some of the best white water rafting in Colorado if you are looking for a gentler ride.
As far as difficulty, this stretch of the Gunnison River is meant for those looking for a simpler experience. This river scores on the lowest ends of complexity at Class I and II and will bring out the nature lover in you. With few ripples and smaller waves to navigate, this experience is sure to make things easy on those who are new to white water rafting or perhaps lower on the energy scale. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen on this trip and next to no people to contend with. In this way, a trip down the Gunnison River will put you in touch with nature’s beauty and a fun family time.
San Miguel River
If you have ever visited Telluride, Colorado, you may be familiar with the San Miguel River. It rather boringly trickles its way through town such that a lot of people use it for some leisurely tubing. However, earlier in the summer when the snow begins to melt, the San Miguel is a perfect place to enjoy some scenery – with a few rapids mixed in. This provides you with a nice combination of calm and rough water for a leisurely pace broken up by some bouts of excitement.
The San Miguel is a Class II-III river when you put in at the Specie Creek Recreation Site just outside of Telluride. This gives it the family friendly characteristics that we previously mentioned: lighter times to relax for mom and dad with more intense bits for the kids to enjoy. The floats down the San Miguel are good for a half-day trip, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day around some of Telluride’s other fantastic attractions. This makes the San Miguel River near Telluride one of the best white water rafting in Colorado candidates available – especially for families.
The Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River
This stretch of the Arkansas River is nothing short of special. It features beautiful rock formations, classic rapids, and an amazing view from inside the Royal Gorge. There is also a manmade sight to behold in the form of the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, providing a little opportunity to learn about some local Colorado history and old water pipelines. The water here features some moderately big surf for the adventure lover in you and is famous for its multi-line runs. You’ll get to challenge your moxie on this waterway’s waves, ledges, dips, and rapids, letting you get a lovely pump of adrenaline for some of the best white water rafting in Colorado.
As alluded to, this stretch of river is between classes III and V. So, if you’re looking for a little challenge or a good amount of intensity, this is the spot for you. As long as you are able bodied and up for a bouncier ride, you will have a ton of fun out on this river. For first timers, we recommend a half-day trip. But for those who go for a full day, you’ll get to enjoy Bighorn Sheep Canyon (where you will probably actually see some of the sheep) or even take two go-arounds through the canyon.
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With this short list, we hope to meet the needs of anyone hoping to get in some rafting in Colorado. We’ve got options here all the way up to Class V for the most adventurous amateur white water rafters. Finding the right trip for you is key to the best white water rafting in Colorado experience. The differing difficulties and lengths of trips make it so that you can find whatever sort of adventure you are looking for. The only thing that we can recommend is that you get out there in the first place!