Arkansas River White Water Rafting

The Arkansas River is a popular whitewater rafting location in Colorado. It tends to draw crowds of all different types of rafters, from the very inexperienced to the professionals and everyone in between.

***TRY TRUCKEE RIVER RAFT IN TAHOE: Uncover Truckee River Raft in Tahoe in our rafting review feature. Truckee River Rafting.

There are many reasons why people come back to this river again and again. Here are some important features of the Arkansas River that continue to bring people to its waters and shores every time rafting season rolls around:

  • The scenery is impressive on this river, and it’s never quite the same . The seasons and years make a difference in the way the river presents itself, and so people who visit it every year always have something new and exciting to see, experience, and enjoy.
  • The river offers challenges for people of all skill levels. Anyone can enjoy taking a trip on this river, depending on the part of the river they choose to raft. It’s a great option for families, too, for this very reason.
  • There’s plenty of different ways to enjoy the river, and different companies that offer river rafting tours as well. Because of the popularity of this area, you’ll never be at a loss for booking options when planning your next river rafting vacation.

If you’re thinking about planning a rafting trip on the Arkansas River, we’ve got plenty of information to help you get started. Below, we’ve gathered some of the basics about this popular river so you can decide whether or not it’s the best option for you.

***VISIT ROYAL GORGE WHITE WATER RAFTING: Uncover Royal Gorge whitewater river rafting in our review feature. Royal Gorge Rafting.

Take your time and look through this information. Remember that every river is not the same, and that people who enjoy one river may not enjoy the next. This choice may take a little consideration to find out whether or not this river is right for you, but our information should help you make that decision.

Read on to learn more about Arkansas River rafting in Colorado.


***YOUGH WHITEWATER RAFTING: Experience Ohiopyle whitewater rafting in our Yough River feature. Ohiopyle White Water Rafting.

Arkansas River

Difficulty: Easy to Difficult, depending on trip length and location choices

Location: Granite, Colorado

Notable Locations on the River: Browns Canyon, The Numbers, The Narrows, Pine Creek, Trip Drop Rapids

Duration: Half-Day, ¾-Day, Full-Day, Multi-Day

  • Choose the half-day option if you’re just looking to get out and explore the river a little bit.
  • Go with the ¾-day for a slightly longer experience that will satisfy most moderate rafters and challenge beginners.
  • Full-day trips are ideal for those who want to get a little more on the difficult side of moderate.
  • Multi-day rafting trips can be combined with camping, rappelling, ziplining and other exciting activities in the area. These trips are especially ideal for experienced rafters as well as active people who do a lot of exercise on a regular basis.

Some of the most beloved whitewater is located along the Arkansas River, so if you’re looking for a rite of passage in the rafting world, be sure to plan a trip as soon as possible! There are many skill level options available on this river, some of which may be more challenging than others. Consider which part of the river you want to raft before you book your trip.

When you take your rafting trip on the Arkansas River, you’ll enjoy exquisite scenery and plenty of nature at every turn. You may encounter some local flora and fauna, and you’re sure to see plenty of views and vistas you wouldn’t be able to experience anywhere else.

And if you’re looking for a challenging rafting experience for advanced rafters, there are parts of this river that offer continual rapids without a breather in between any of them. There’s truly something for everyone along the Arkansas River, and it only takes a little bit of planning to figure out the perfect trip itinerary for you and everyone in your group, too.

***GLACIER RAFT CO IN GLACIER NATIONAL PARK: Discover the West Glacier with Glacier Rafting Company in our Glacier National Park raft feature. Glacier Raft Company.

  • Since there are many touring companies operating on this river, there are enough options and customizable packages to help you find the perfect, precise trip for all your needs.
  • This river is excellent at almost any time of the year, with only a few months being less than desirable times to raft on it.
  • Children as young as seven years of age can enjoy rafting on this river with adult accompaniment, as long you choose an excursion that is safe for little ones.
  • There are, as with any rafting experiences, always times of the year when this river may not be functional for whitewater rafting purposes. If this happens to you, then you may need to reschedule or cancel your trip. Your touring company should have policies in place for this potential situation.
  • The river is popular and may be crowded during the busier months, making it difficult to see the scenery or get up close and personal with the wildlife.
  • At times, parts of this river can be dangerous. Those who are not experienced enough should consider staying away from the more difficult parts of the trip, including Pine Creek, which is the most strenuous piece of the journey.


There’s a lot to keep in mind when planning your trip to the Arkansas River! Although this river might not be for everyone, it’s a great place to get started if you’re looking for a beginner river with some challenges for more experienced members of your group, too.

Of course, there may be some other tips you need to keep in mind before making your trip into a reality, too. Rafting, whether you’ve done it one time or a hundred times, always involves some considering in order to make the most of your experience.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to planning your rafting trip on the Arkansas River:

  • If you want to visit during the busiest and best rafting season, plan your trip from May to September. June to August is an even better time frame, but a little earlier or later can work well if you’re looking for the best time of year for rafting in Colorado.
  • Make sure everyone in your group understands river safety. Although the guides on your rafting tour will explain some of this, it’s important to go over as much as you can with everyone before you arrive. Safety first!
  • Check to see if swimming ability is required for the river trip you’ll be taking . On some easier and more mild trips, it’s okay if not everyone in your group can swim well. However, on moderate or more advanced trips, everyone will likely need to know how to swim.
  • Decide whether or not you want to do a half-day, a full-day, or some other trip length. Choose the length of time you want to be on the water and narrow down your options from there.
  • Consider whether or not you’ll be camping during your trip. Camping can be fun, but can limit the choices you have when booking your tour.

There may be other things you need to keep in mind before your trip as well. However, if you start with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a great vacation in no time!

We routinely make an effort to implement our editorial practices and policies throughout our web site. This includes investigating every one of our posts thoroughly and always doing our utmost best to showcase the most reliable details possible for our readership. Feel free to browse our About Us Page for more information. is devoted to providing you all the best inflatable rafting posts from around the internet!

We’ve done all the searching, studying and curating just for YOU : the curious, soon-to-be rafting addict who needs a fantastic website to help launch their very own rafting adventure obsession!

Get awesome inflatable raft content and articles, rafting resource guides, some of the finest inflatable raft and paddleboard product reviews, rafting resource guides and so much more.

See the very best inflatable raft content articles on the net today on, and don’t forget to share us with your family and friends! Thanks for exploring our website and we sincerely hope we’re able to help you feed your rafting addiction today!


Thank you for checking out RaftingAddict! When you purchase through site links on our website, we might earn an affiliate commission, at no extra expense to you. Please be sure to enjoy our website!

Copyright © 2022 by is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Additionally, participates in various other affiliate programs, and we sometimes get a commission through purchases made through our links.

PLEASE REMEMBER: Without the proper training and preparation, rafting, like various other action sports, can quite possibly become a dangerous activity which can cause injury and/or loss of life. shall not be held liable for any accidental injury or damage to property that results from the use of the information and facts on this web site or the products featured. Please be aware of your own capabilities and limitations with regards to the activities and the gear presented within our site. Always be conscious of the potential risks involved and make sure that you consult with an experienced raft operator before undertaking any activity that may beyond your own limitations.

Read Post  How Long Does White Water Rafting Take?

Arkansas River: Colorado’s Most Popular Whitewater Destination

The Arkansas River is well-known throughout Colorado for providing some of the best whitewater to be had. Boasting over 20 named rapids in a 9-mile section, the Royal Gorge section is an adrenaline-packed trip. There is a train that runs parallel to a good portion of this stretch, which offers a unique experience as you are descending into some of the more chaotic rapids (make sure your paddle commands are loud…). Upstream, the Lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon section offers some mellower, yet still fun whitewater, while still having a Class V rapid for the more experienced boaters. These two sections can be combined to offer a fantastic, long single day trip.

Raft smashing through a wave on the Royal Gorge

Scenic downstream view on the Arkansas River

Class III rapids on the Arkansas River

Looking upstream in the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas river.

Arkansas River Information

About this guide

This guide outlines The Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River. Put-ins and take-outs include links to their Google Map locations. Use these to accurately build shuttle directions.

River Info

The Arkansas River is most famous for the Royal Gorge – a 9 mile stretch of river with over 20 named Class III, IV, and V rapids. The shuttle is easy, the rapids are large, and the scenery is incredible. This river is one of the most commercially rafted rivers in the United States, so there can be points of congestion.


As water flows increase, rapids also get harder and some Class IV sections will bump into Class V. If the water gets high enough, a High Water Advisory is put into place. At these flows, commercial trips won’t operate but private boaters can still go out. In an interview, Rob White, manager of the AHRA, is quoted best: “For private boaters still planning on floating the Arkansas, White recommended never boating alone. He said boaters should be experienced, have run the river before and run it at these levels and have the right gear with them, noting that the water is colder and faster now with the increased runoff.”

In addition to high flows, it’s important to know that there is rebar on river left at several rapids. You will want to avoid this at all costs. This is especially true on Narrows Rapid. Commercial outfitters will advise non-experienced boaters to remain in the center of current if they have swimmers in this rapid.

There is also a train that follows this section of the river on river left. The train company does not want you to pull over on river left, so most scouting will be done on river right.

Finally, in the event of an emergency, there are AEDs and backboards throughout this section. Here are the GPS waypoints for these:


Permits are not required to run the Arkansas River. However, many access points require a parking pass, which can be bought for the year or per day.

Shuttle Info

The Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River has one put-in and take-out. The shuttle is about 20 minutes in each direction. The put in for the Royal Gorge is located at the AHRA Parkdale Recreation Site and the take-out is at River Station River Access in Cañon City. There is a $9 fee to park a car at Parkdale, but parking a car at take-out is free. The put-in is heavily used by commercial rafting companies and private boaters, so be patient and courteous with one another.

Arkansas River Flow

The Arkansas River typically peaks in mid-June as the snowpack of the Rockies begins to melt. These are rough guidelines for low, medium, and high water levels for the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River.

Low Flow: >700 CFS
Medium Flow: 700 – 2,500 CFS
High Flow: >2,500 CFS (above 3,200 is considered very high water, and will trigger a High Water Advisory)

Preferred Partner

Celebrating 50 years of guided rafting trips, Arkansas River Tours is the premier rafting company in Colorado. With trips ranging from just a few hours to three days, and from mild family float trips to heart-pounding Class V, ART has an adventure for everyone. With world class guides backdropped against stunning scenery and whitewater, the experiences are incredible – but don’t take our word for it, their 500+ reviews speak for themselves: This is the best rafting company on the Arkansas River.

Arkansas River Map & Guide

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment. Go with someone with recent Arkansas experience.

Class II Rapid

Class II rapid or river feature.

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Class IV Rapid

Class IV rapid or river feature.

Class V Rapid

Class V rapid or river feature.

Put-In / Take-Out

The most commonly used access points.

Point of Interest

These include creeks, and old cabins.

Fun Zone

Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas

Lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon – Class II, III, IV & V

The Lower Bighorn Sheep Canyon offers excellent Class III whitewater, with one Class V rapid. There are multiple access points for this section, so you can pick your difficulty.


Pinnacle Rock River Access to Parkdale Recreation Site is 8.63 miles.


Intermediate to Expert

Feet per Mile

The average drop of the Arkansas River from Pinnacle Rock River Access to Parkdale Recreation Site is ~34 FPM

Shuttle Time

Pinnacle Rock River Access to Parkdale Recreation Site is 20 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 0 – Pinnacle Rock River Access: River Right. $9 per vehicle fee ($4 without a vehicle).

Mile 0.74 – Wake-up/Prelude: Class III. This is a fun first rapid of this section. Start center right and ride the wave train following the main current from right to river left. After the slight turn continue on the wave train and avoid the pourover at the end of the wave train.

Mile 1.22 – Three Rocks Rapid: Class III-V. This should be scouted from the highway. At high water this is one of the most challenging rapids on the river and sees the most carnage. You will start to enter this rapid at the first right hand turn after Prelude. There are 3 lines at highwater and only run if you are a confident boater and all passengers are ok swimming. Learn more about Three Rocks Rapid.

Mile 1.57 – Salt Lick River Access: River right. Salt Lick River Access has a AED and backboard in case of emergency. There is a $9 fee to use this river access.

Mile 1.87 – Five Points Rapid: Class III. Enter in the left channel for this long, splashy rapid. As the river bends right, watch out for a rock on river left, there is a good amount of current pushing into it. As you exit the rapid, there is a deck where curious folk staying at Five Points Campsite can watch your line.

Mile 2.0 – Five Points Camp: River right. Across the highway is a good camping option at Five Points Camp. There is no access to the river here, but it is a good place to set up a home base.

Mile 2.1 – Onlookers Point: River Right. Small deck offering great view at the end of the rapid.

Mile 3.79 – Spike Buck River Access: River Right. There is a $9 fee to use this river access.

Mile 4.05 – Spike Buck Rapid: Class III. Enter center. Look out for Decision Rock in the middle of the river at low-medium flows which can be passed on right or left – be sure to make your decision early. As the river bends left, work left to avoid a rockpile on the right-side. Don’t go too far left, as there are rocks on the left side to get stuck on. At high-water, you can stay right to enjoy some big hits.

Mile 5.20 – Shark’s Mouth Rapid: Class III. Wave to watch out in the center. Be sure to T this up.

Mile 5.35 – Shark’s Tooth Rapid: Class III. Enter center and work left to avoid boulders on the right-side. During high water, stay right, but avoid the right shore.

Mile 5.91 – Single Dip: Class II. Hit this small drop center-right.

Mile 5.95 – Double Dip Rapid: Class III. Hit the second drop right-of-center. There is a pourover to watch out for.

Mile 6.38 – Satan’s Suckhole: Fun surf wave in the center of the river. Washes out at high water and really low water.

Mile 6.51 – Puppy Rapid: Class II. Read-and-run. There is fun, runnable wave at most levels. There can be some rocks on the left side depending on flows. At high water, be sure to T up all the waves.

Mile 7.2 – Last Chance Rapid: Class II. Read-and-run rapid. This is the last rapid before the Parkdale take-out.

Mile 8.1 – Parkdale Bridge: A bridge passes overhead. Parkdale take-out is downstream in about a half mile.

Mile 8.63 – Parkdale River Access: River Right. There is a $9 fee to use this river access. Below this point begins the infamous Royal Gorge section, with some burly Class IV-V rapids to contend with.

Royal Gorge – Class II, III, IV & V

The Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River offers some of the best whitewater and scenery in Colorado. There are over 20 named rapids in this stretch, be ready for consistent, big whitewater.


Parkdale Recreation Site to River Station River Access is 10.54 miles.


Intermediate to Advanced

Feet per Mile

Parkdale Recreation Site to River Station River Access is ~40 FPM

Read Post  Colorado River Rafting

Shuttle Time

Parkdale Recreation Site to River Station River Access is 30 minutes round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 0 – AHRA Parkdale Put-In: River Right. The Put-in for the Royal Gorge is at the AHRA-owned Parkdale Recreation Site. This is a very busy put-in during the spring and summer months. There is a $9 fee per vehicle to be paid at the self-pay kiosk. Learn more about Parkdale.

Mile 0.58 – Tallahassee Creek Confluence: River Left. Tallahassee Creek joins the Arkansas River on river left.

Mile 1.02 – Highway 50 Bridge: A mile below Parkdale, you’ll pass under the Highway 50 bridge. Your first rapids are just under a mile away.

Mile 1.87 – Primero Rapid: Class III. Appropriately named, El Primero is the first rapid of the Royal Gorge. You’ll start this rapid by entering left, moving right, and then finally – and this should be apparent – moving left away from the bottom right wall. At lower water, this rapid gets shallow with lots of rocks to avoid.

Mile 1.97 – Segundo Rapid: Class II. Read-and-run rapid.

Mile 2.08 – Tercero Rapid: Class II. Tercero is a read-and-run rapid.

Mile 2.6 – Pumphouse Rapid: Class III. Just before this rapid starts you will notice a concrete structure on river right, which is an old water pumping station. The river bends to the right, the main line is to start river left and work around the bend and avoid the major rocks or holes depending on the water flow.

Mile 2.81 – Caretaker Rapid: Class III. At high flows, there is a hole that forms on center-right. At most flows, stay center to avoid this feature. At medium to low flows, you can go through this feature for a big hit. Just below this rapid is an abandoned home on river right.

Mile 2.99 – Sunshine Falls: Class IV-V. We suggest you scout this rapid. The line at Sunshine Falls changes quite a bit depending on the flows. At high flows, enter right and stay right – be sure to T up to the lateral waves at the bottom. At medium flows, enter left, hit the main drop, and then work to the right before the second drop. At low flows, this rapid becomes very technical, enter right, and be ready for some quick moves. At all flows, stay right of the rocks on the bottom left. Learn more about Sunshine Falls.

Mile 3.09 – Grateful Dead Rapid: Class III-IV. Enter left-of-center to avoid a few large boulders on the right. Stay left of these, but avoid more boulders on the left. At higher water, be sure to T up to the bigger waves.

Mile 3.4 – Sledgehammer Rapid: Class IV-V. Sledgehammer is a 3 part rapid. High Water: Enter left, then after the first wave, work center. Hit big drop, which is large at higher water. Avoid the Envelope Wave in the center of the river (on the right or left). Hit second and third drop on river left. Low/Medium Water: Enter right to avoid a large boulder. Move back to river left. T up to the first wave and then start working back to river right. Hit the final two drops on river left.

Mile 3.61 – Hey Diddle Diddle Stay Out of the Middle Rapid: Class III-IV. Enter left at most flows and move right to avoid the main boulder in the center of the river. There is a rock dead center at medium and low flows, which becomes a boat-flipping hole at high flows. At higher water, the easiest line is to enter left and stay left.

Mile 4.1 – Spillway (Ski Jump): River Left. There is a spillway to keep runoff off of the train tracks. Around this bend lies Narrows Rapid.

Mile 4.23 – Narrows Rapid: Class IV. Pay attention here as there is rebar on river left and undercut rocks on river right. There are three drops in this continuous rapid. As water flows come down, these drops get smaller with more time between drops. If the water is high, clip the right side of the big hole of the first drop. At the second drop, you’ll come to a wave / hole that is center-left. T up to this with decent momentum. Below the second drop on river right is Lisa’s Lateral, which is a right lateral, which becomes large at higher flows. Finally, at the third drop, enter left, avoid the hole on the right, and T up to the wave on center-left. Again, keep your eyes out for the rebar on the left-hand side.

Mile 4.49 – Squeezebox Rapid: Class III/IV. At high water, this rapid washes out a bit and becomes read-and-run. At medium and low water there are a few entrances to this rapid. Be ready to pass over rocks if the water is lower. One option is to start in the center and work right towards the wall, then back away from the wall on the right. Another option is to enter center and work hard left just before the main boulders, but be mindful of the rebar.

Mile 4.58 – Royal Gorge Incline: River Left. There used to be rail cars that would come to river level from the rim to this building. Unfortunately, in 2013, this railway was burned during the Gorge Fire and is no longer functional.

Mile 4.61 – Wall Slammer Rapid: Class IV. During medium and low water flows, enter center, then work right. There is a large wave coming off the right side of the river known as the Typewriter Wave. Clip this wave on the right side. Below the Typewriter Wave is a boulder on river left which you pass by on the right. Work away from the wall after missing this boulder. Unfortunately, there is a lot of current pushing towards the wall on river right, which can cause flips if hit sideways. At high water, enter center and stay center.

Mile 4.73 – Royal Gorge Bridge: The Royal Gorge Bridge passes over the Arkansas River at this point. It was built in 1929 and up until 2003, was the highest suspension bridge in the world.

Mile 5.14 – Boat Eater Rapid: Class IV. The main feature to watch out for in this rapid is the Boat Eater Hole at the bottom of this rapid. Enter on the right side and keep right to skirt this big feature. At high water, run right to avoid this hole. At medium and low flows, there are three large boulders in the center of the river (one after another). From right-to-left pass between the second and third boulders. Below here, pick a channel on right or left around Boat Eater Rock (the left channel can close out at lower flows).

Mile 5.59 – Corner Pocket Rapid: Class III. There is a large house rock (Soda Fountain Rock) in the center of the rapid. Stay right of this rock, then work hard left to avoid getting pushed into the wall on river right. At higher water, you can go left of Soda Fountain Rock.

Mile 5.63 – Below Corner Pocket Swimming Hole: River Right. Below Corner Pocket, there are some jump rocks and a good swimming hole on the right-hand side.

Mile 5.76 – Lion’s Head Rapid: Class III. At some flows a wave train forms in the bottom half of this rapid. As the water gets higher, these waves get bigger and bigger. During medium flows, go center-right to follow the wave train and be sure to T up to the bigger waves. At higher flows, this rapid washes out.

Mile 5.91 – Exit/Tombstone Rapid: Class III. The river bends to the right. In the center of the river, there is a large concrete pylon. Stay right to avoid getting pushed into this feature. At lower flows, this rapid becomes a bit more technical – be ready for a many moves to avoid rocks.

Mile 6 – Exit Waves: Class III. At higher water, hit these waves down the middle and T up to them. These are awesome waves that get smaller as the water goes down.

Mile 6.54 – Pipeline Rapid: Class II / III. This boulder-ridden rapid passes underneath a pipeline. Enter on the left at most flows to avoid the rocks in the middle, then T up to the main wave. Watch for hidden rocks at low water.

Mile 8.66 – Rockdam Rapid: Class II. Be mindful here as the channel will change from time to time. There is usually a sign here indicating where to avoid the obstruction.

Mile 8.89 – Grape Creek Confluence: River Right. As you enter Cañon City, Grape Creek enters from the right-hand side. In high water, some kayakers run this creek.

Mile 9.546 – Rockdam Rapid 2: Class II. The boat chute is on the left side.

Mile 9.67 – Arkansas Riverwalk Trail Bridge #1: The first of 2 pedestrian bridges passes over the Arkansas River. Just downstream lies a fun little riffle.

Mile 9.75 – Cañon City Riffle: Class II. Enter right for this read-and-run riffle.

Mile 10.22 – First Street Bridge: First Street Bridge passes overhead. This is the second of four bridges you will encounter in Cañon City.

Mile 10.36 – Centennial Park River Access: River Right. Centennial Park River Access is on the right-side, just downstream of First Street Bridge. Most people choose to use the River Station River Access just downstream on the left.

Mile 10.46 – Arkansas Riverwalk Trail Bridge #2: The second Arkansas Riverwalk Trail Bridge passes overhead, just upstream of the 4th Street Bridge. Your takeout is just below this next bridge on the left-hand side, so it might be a good time to start moving left at this point.

Mile 10.51 – 4th Street Bridge: The 4th Street Bridge passes overhead. Take-out is immediately downstream of this feature on the left.

Mile 10.52 – River Station River Access: River Left. This is the most used take-out for the Royal Gorge Section of the Arkansas River. The river continues flowing east from this point before converging with the Mississippi River, but you will probably want to take out before that.

Read Post  Maryland Fishing License: The Complete Guide

It’s a Great Summer for Arkansas River Rafting

From Granite to Cañon City, outfitters are guiding trips down the Arkansas River with COVID-19 precautions in place. Here’s what it looks like and why it’s a great year to go whitewater rafting.

Whitewater rafting Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River

Browns Canyon whitewater. Photo courtesy of AROA.

By the time we reach Zoom Flume rapid about halfway through Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River, I’d swear our guide is dousing me on purpose. As our raft plunges through the Class III chute, a wave of water splashes over the front of the raft and delivers a brisk slap of Rocky Mountain snowmelt right in my face. I keep paddling through the swirling foam as the guide, Wes Harper, calls, “Forward two!” We bounce through the watery maelstrom and leave the roar of that rapid behind. Sure enough, my suspicions are confirmed downstream when Harper deftly spins the boat to run a rapid backward and makes sure my wife in the back row can share in the soaking (though I’m sure he takes it easier on her).

Don’t get me wrong—this is what we’ve come for: The thrill of outdoor adventure. The chance to laugh together and make family memories. An escape from the pandemic that has overrun our previous sense of normalcy. And, yes, an opportunity to get wet in one of Colorado’s greatest rivers and take in the scenic beauty of Browns Canyon National Monument.

Out there, the river knows no coronavirus. It just keeps rolling and flowing—as all the great songs and literature remind us—undisturbed by the ups and downs, the sickness or health of human history. And Colorado’s Arkansas River outfitters are paddling along with it, giving cooped-up locals and visitors the socially-distanced adventure of whitewater rafting. With social distancing and health precautions in place, this is a great summer to go whitewater rafting.

“As people are getting more comfortable practicing social distancing and best practices, I think people are looking for experiences like rafting,” says Chuck Cichowitz, owner of Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting and Adventure Company in Buena Vista. “It’s actually been profound. You can see it on families and households and friend groups, the joy and exhilaration they’re having being able to be out and do something for two to six hours on a boat or river trip. To be able to have that more normalized life experience and have the joy and laughter and the interaction and fun has really been quite extraordinary.”

Safety prep for whitewater rafting at Noah

Health and safety precautions at Noah’s Ark Whitewater Rafting. Photo courtesy of Noah’s Ark.

SINCE OPENING IN LATE MAY as part of Colorado’s Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors phase, Noah’s Ark and other members of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association (AROA) are following strict health guidelines as directed by the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those include daily symptom screenings of all employees, wearing face coverings, no-contact check-in whenever possible and increased sanitization of all equipment, from life jackets and helmets to paddles and boats. Shuttle vehicles are operating at 50% capacity to allow more distancing within. Cichowitz tells me that Noah’s is rotating all of its gear after each use and on a three-day cycle to allow extra time to disinfect.

Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment have emphasized the importance of outdoor recreation throughout the pandemic. AROA agrees that the fresh air and sunshine are benefits in diminishing the risk of coronavirus. “We have the uniqueness of being outdoors and having ultraviolet light, which has come to be one of the best allies we have in sanitizing,” says Bob Hamel, executive director of AROA. “Covid doesn’t last in ultraviolet, bright sunshine. [Outfitters] are using different solutions. We’ve always had to sanitize wetsuits, life jackets, helmets, rafting equipment … you just have to go another step with the types of cleaning solutions to mitigate COVID.”

Raging rapid on the Arkansas River

Whitewater rages on the Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Noah’s Ark.

The river has cooperated this year with good flow levels for rafting. Despite some early melt-off of the snowpack due to a warm and windy May, water flows rebounded and stabilized by early June, Hamel says.

“As we come into July, I’d call it a typical flow profile through probably the third week of August,” Cichowitz says. “So it’s going to be great boating.”

The day we are there, the Arkansas is flowing at about 1,400 cubic feet per second (cfs)—imagine 1,400 basketballs flowing by each second. It’s an overall moderate flow for the Arkansas, strong enough for a fun, rollicking ride. No one falls out of the boat, but we all get wet.

Arkansas River rafting scenery

Rafts launch from Noah’s Ark basecamp. Photo courtesy of Noah’s Ark.

MY FAMILY HAS COME TO RAFT at Noah’s Ark on a late June weekend. It’s a sunny Sunday morning, and while there is plenty of activity at Noah’s headquarters, it’s far from overflowing. As requested, nearly everyone is wearing masks—mostly buffs—from the outdoor check-in and health screening, through the normal rafting safety briefing, until we load onto the rafts where we’re allowed to take them off.

We’ve chosen a half-day trip through Browns Canyon National Monument. It’s a popular run, full of boisterous Class III rapids, and our pod of six rafts is filled mostly with families from Colorado. With approximately 28 guests, each family or friend group has its own boat.

The farther we float downstream, the more normal this adventure feels. Harper, 23, laughs with our kids, asking about their interests, telling jokes and animated stories. He points out interesting rock formations and describes the approaching rapids, directing us through various paddle strokes as we bounce and splash through them. Having worked at Noah’s Ark seasonally for seven years, he knows this river well.

According to Cichowitz, Harper and this summer’s crew are among his finest staff. Like most of the AROA outfitters, Noah’s Ark is operating on a smaller scale, with about 50 seasonal staff instead of a usual 175. “We took the most experienced—kids that understood if you come this summer, you’ve got to be willing to work in the campground or help in the kitchen or help in another program as needed,” Cichowitz says. “It’s very similar to what it was like when we started the company. These men and women have all come in with such great attitudes: How can I help? What can I do to make it work this summer?”

After navigating the likes of Pinball, Zoom Flume, the Seven Stairs, Widowmaker, Raft Ripper and more, we’ve traveled about 10 miles through Browns Canyon. At the takeout, the kids and I submerge in the river for a final baptism. It’s a cold 50-some degrees, but it’s a refreshing jolt—a souvenir to carry in our memories as we don our masks again for the bus ride back to basecamp.

A quiet section of Browns Canyon

In between the rapids of Browns Canyon. Photo courtesy of Noah’s Ark.

Before heading home, we stop for lunch in Buena Vista. Tip: Don’t miss the elevated burgers of the Buena Viking. The food truck shares a courtyard with Deerhammer Distillery, which has its own walk-up window. There’s open air space for social distancing, but both spots are buzzing during weekend lunch. So we take our burgers to go and opt for picnic style in the Buena Vista River Park.

Driving home, the familiar wide-open spaces of South Park are another scenic reminder that it has been months since I’ve been this far from home. I’ve missed the satisfying emotional uplift that always comes from Colorado roaming, even a couple hours from home. Cichowitz’s words echo in my mind:

“I think people are incredibly appreciative for the opportunity to be outside and to be able to connect in that kind of environment. To go out and engage with the river and the experience has been like a rebirth for people, and their expression of joy and freedom to be able to go do that has just been heightened.”

I know just what he’s talking about.

Fast Facts About the Arkansas River

Kids rafting on the Arkansas River

Family rafting fun on the Arkansas River with American Adventure Expeditions. Photo courtesy of AROA.

“The good thing about the Arkansas River is there’s something for everybody,” says Bob Hamel, executive director of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association. “If you’re a family with little kids, Bighorn Sheep Canyon or Browns Canyon, if the kids are over 8 years old, are great stretches. If you’re looking for more adventurous trips, we suggest the Royal Gorge or the Numbers stretch. So there’s something for everybody, and it’s all within easy driving from Colorado Springs, whether you come through Canon City or Buena Vista.”

100 miles

More than 100 miles of Colorado’s best whitewater can be found from Granite to Cañon City, Colo., all within the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management.

4,650 feet

With an elevation drop of 4,650 feet along its 152 miles, the AHRA is located within Lake, Chaffee, Fremont and Pueblo counties, and runs through some of the state’s most stunning natural features, including Browns Canyon National Monument, Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and The Royal Gorge, aka the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas.

The Numbers

Located between Leadville and Buena Vista, this steep, technical 13-mile stretch of whitewater is widely considered the best Class IV run in the state. It’s a favorite among experienced paddlers and adrenaline seekers, with commercial trips usually open to the public mid to late summer.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *