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For whitewater rafting enthusiasts, there are few places that match the same quality of whitewater rafting in Colorado. From steep canyons to rolling rapids, the state boasts an array of whitewater rafting rivers that cater to every skill level. — beginner to expert. In this blog, we’ll explore the top 10 rivers for whitewater rafting in Colorado, each with its unique character and challenges.

a group of people riding on a raft in a body of water

1. Arkansas River

As one of the most rafted river in the United States, the Arkansas River holds our top spot for whitewater rafting in Colorado. Known for its thrilling rapids and stunning scenery, the Arkansas River is a favorite among whitewater enthusiasts — rafters and kayakers alike. With multiple sections catering to different skill levels, the Arkansas River offers everything from beginner-friendly Class II runs to the heart-pounding Class V rapids of the Numbers. The river flows through the breathtaking Royal Gorge, providing rafters with a combination of challenging whitewater and awe-inspiring canyon views.

  • Location: The Arkansas River flows through the heart of Colorado, from its headwaters near Leadville through famous rafting meccas like Buena Vista and Salida to the front range.
  • Highlights:
    • Offers multiple sections catering to different skill levels.
    • Royal Gorge section provides heart-pounding Class V rapids.
    • Numbers section challenges rafters with technical Class IV and V rapids.
  • Skill Range: Suitable for a wide range of skills, from beginners (Class II) to experts (Class V).

a close up of a hillside next to a river

2. Colorado River

The Colorado River might be the most well known river in this list due to its grandeur reputation. From supplying water to over 40 million people in 7 states throughout its course to carving its way through the breathtaking Grand Canyon, the Colorado is a river that deserves the hype. As it winds its way out of Rocky Mountain National Park, it winds and weaves through the west side of the state, offering a variety of Colorado whitewater rafting experiences. Sections like the Shoshone Rapids near Glenwood Springs provide exciting Class III rapids, while the Gore Canyon stretch challenges even the most seasoned rafters with its Class V intensity. Rafting the Colorado River allows adventurers to navigate diverse terrain, from canyons to open valleys.

  • Location: From its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake to it’s border crossing near Grand Junction.
  • Highlights:
    • Shoshone Rapids near Glenwood Springs present exciting Class III rapids.
    • Gore Canyon offers a challenging Class V stretch for experienced rafters.
  • Skill Range: From intermediate (Class III) for family outings to advanced (Class V) for seasoned rafters.

a rocky river with trees on the side of a mountain

3. Clear Creek

Located within a short drive of the major metropolitan area of Denver, Clear Creek is a natural choice for a top river for whitewater rafting in Colorado. This river is renowned for its steep drops and technical rapids, making it a favorite for experienced rafters. The advanced sections, such as the Lawson to Idaho Springs run, boast exhilarating Class IV and V rapids, ensuring an adrenaline-packed adventure for those willing to conquer its swift moving flows.

  • Location: From Loveland Pass following I-70 and Hwy 6 to Golden and beyond.
  • Highlights:
    • Lawson to Idaho Springs run features advanced Class IV and V rapids.
    • Offers thrilling and technical challenges for experienced rafters.
  • Skill Range: Geared towards advanced rafters, ranging from Class IV to V.

a river running through a forest

4. Animas River

Naturally, Animas River rafting is making our list. As our home river and the one that we know and love the most, it is well deserving of the mention. Flowing through the picturesque town of Durango, Animas River white water rafting provides a mix of scenic beauty and challenging rapids. Rafters can enjoy the Class II to Class IV rapids, experiencing both the tranquility of the surrounding San Juan Mountains and the excitement of the Smelter Rapids. The Animas is a perfect blend of adventure for all skill levels.

  • Location: From Silverton to Durango.
  • Highlights:
    • Smelter Rapids provide excitement with Class IV rapids.
    • Family-friendly sections with Class II to III rapids.
  • Skill Range: Ideal for both families (Class II to III) and experienced rafters seeking more challenging runs (Class IV).

a large waterfall over a body of water

5. Cache la Poudre River

As the state’s only designated Wild and Scenic River, the Cache la Poudre offers a pristine whitewater rafting in Colorado. Rafters can tackle the lower sections for a family-friendly adventure with Class II and III rapids or take on the challenging Poudre Park and Pine View Falls for a wilder ride through the canyon’s rugged beauty.

  • Location: From Rocky Mountain National Park to Fort Collins.
  • Highlights:
    • Lower sections provide family-friendly Class II and III rapids.
    • Poudre Park and Pine View Falls offer challenging Class IV and V runs.
  • Skill Range: Suitable for families (Class II to III) and advanced rafters seeking a wilder ride (Class IV to V).

a canyon with a mountain in the background

6. Yampa/Green River

Embark on a multi-day rafting expedition through the Yampa and Green River canyons for an immersive Colorado whitewater rafting experience. Offering a mix of Class II to IV rapids, this journey takes rafters through Dinosaur National Monument, showcasing ancient rock formations and breathtaking landscapes.

  • Location: Northwest Colorado and Dinosaur National Monument
  • Highlights:
    • Mix of Class II to IV rapids through Dinosaur National Monument.
    • Ideal for extended rafting trips exploring diverse landscapes.
  • Skill Range: Suitable for various skill levels, from intermediate (Class III) to advanced (Class IV).

a tree with a mountain in the middle of a lake surrounded by trees

7. Dolores River

For those seeking a remote and unspoiled rafting experience, the Dolores River delivers it and more. With stretches like the Slickrock to Bedrock section, rafters encounter challenging Class IV and V rapids surrounded by stunning red rock canyons and desert scenery.

  • Location: Flowing from SW Colorado to its confluence with the Colorado River in SE Utah near Arches National Park
  • Highlights:
    • Slickrock to Bedrock section features Class IV and V rapids.
    • Stunning desert scenery complements the technical challenges.
  • Skill Range: Geared towards advanced rafters, with Class IV to V rapids.

a tree with a mountain in the background

8. Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande offers a uniquerafting experience as it forms part of the border between the United States and Mexico. Rafters can navigate the Taos Box, a challenging stretch with Class IV and V rapids, while enjoying the beauty of the high desert landscape.

  • Location: Southern Colorado and flows towards Monte Vista and Alamosa
  • Highlights:
    • Taos Box features Class IV and V rapids.
    • Rafters enjoy the beauty of the high desert environment.
  • Skill Range: Suited for experienced rafters, with Class IV to V rapids.

a view of a canyon

9. San Juan River

Flowing through the Four Corners region, the San Juan River offers a more relaxed yet visually stunning rafting experience. Although much of this section of the river runs through New Mexico and Utah, with its origin in Southern Colorado, we’ll include it on our list of top rivers for whitewater rafting in Colorado. Rafters can enjoy the serenity of the Goosenecks and experience occasional Class III rapids, making it suitable for families and those seeking a more laid-back adventure.

  • Location: From its origin near Pagosa Springs to the Four Corners region of Southwest Colorado
  • Highlights:
    • Suitable for families and beginners with Class II to III rapids.
    • Scenic beauty of the Goosenecks adds to the experience.
  • Skill Range: Ideal for families and beginners (Class II to III).

a canyon with Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in the background

10. Gunnison River

The Gunnison River provides a unique rafting experience as it carves its way through the steep Black Canyon. Rafters can tackle the challenging Class IV rapids while marveling at the towering canyon walls. This section offers a thrilling blend of technical skill and breathtaking scenery.

  • Location: Central Colorado near the town of Gunnison and Black Canyon National Park.
  • Highlights:
    • Black Canyon section features technical Class IV rapids.
    • Stunning scenery with rugged canyon landscapes.
  • Skill Range: Geared towards advanced rafters, with Class IV rapids providing a thrilling blend of technical skill and natural beauty.

The state’s numerous rivers and variety of landscapes make whitewater rafting in Colorado some of the best in the country. Whether you’re seeking heart-pounding rapids, serene landscapes, or a combination of both, the state’s diverse rivers offer an unforgettable Colorado whitewater rafting experience. So, gear up and get ready to navigate the thrilling rapids of our top 10 rivers for whitewater rafting in Colorado!

Have questions or want to join us on a Durango white water rafting adventure on the lower Animas River? Give us a call and a member of our team will be happy to help.

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