Get Outside: Ten Colorado Whitewater Rafting Tours for All Skill Levels

Raft Masters’ guided tour through the Royal Gorge in Cañon City.
Raft Masters’ guided tour through the Royal Gorge in Cañon City. Unsplash/Jackalope West
Whitewater rafting in Colorado’s early season often calls for wetsuits, helmets, and at least a bit of know-how. While snowmelt is lighter in July and the rapids aren’t as intense, there’s still plenty of fun to be had, especially if you are new to the sport. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced river rat, here are ten of the best whitewater rafting tours in Colorado:

Arkansas River, The Royal Gorge
Cañon City
Named Best Whitewater Rafting for the Fearless in Westword's 2018 Best of Denver edition, the Royal Gorge is a must for thrill-seekers. On this section of the Arkansas River in Cañon City, intermediate and advanced rafters will experience massive plunges and waves on rapids that reach Class V difficulty. Book a half-day tour through Raft Masters, or if you’d prefer a bit of a warm-up, consider a full-day tour that starts in the more mellow Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

Clear Creek, Gold Rush Section
Idaho Springs
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s Clear Creek, the best whitewater rafting for the fearful — families with young children, in particular; beginners as young as six can experience Idaho Springs’ historic mining valley. Although the trip is just seven miles in length, eleven Class II-III rapids keep things exciting and provide Front Range visitors a great introduction to rafting. Learn more on AVA’s website or browse similar tours from other local outfitters.

Upper Animas River, Silverton & Needleton Stretches
Advanced skills, physical fitness and some serious bravery are required to raft the entire 24-mile section of the Upper Animas River. Two- and three-day excursions are available through Mountain Waters Rafting, and bookings include tickets for the iconic Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The train transports rafters to the put-in, where Class III-V rapids, campfire meals and incredible views await.

San Miguel River
Interested in an overnight tour but don’t yet have the skills for the Upper Animas? Look to the San Miguel River near Telluride, where Mild to Wild Rafting offers a two-day excursion along Class II-III rapids. Alpine scenery in the upper section turns to a high desert landscape where paddlers will float along a twisting red sandstone canyon. Children ten and older are welcome to join, allowing for a memorable family experience.

Colorado River, Glenwood Canyon
Glenwood Springs
There are many, many whitewater rafting tours in Glenwood Springs, but the half-day trip from Whitewater Rafting LLC is celebrated as locals’ top choice. The three-hour excursion hits the Shoshone Rapids in Glenwood Canyon, and while the rapids are rated as Class III-IV, children as young as five can participate. Where the lower river calms, rafters are invited to soak in the natural hot springs found on the banks of the Colorado River.
“Jump Rock,” an exciting detour when rafting the Upper Colorado River.
Unsplash/Courtney Kenady
Upper Colorado River
The easiest rafting tour on this list, the Upper Colorado River is also known as one of the country’s best Class II river runs. With AVA, even two-year-olds can join the splashy five-mile float through the Gore Range and Mountain Ranchland. By booking with Downstream Adventures, you’ll also get the opportunity to jump off a 25-foot cliff and soak in the all-natural Radium Hot Springs, ranked as some of the best hot springs in Colorado.

Arkansas River, Browns Canyon
If you're looking for another less challenging trek, check out Browns Canyon. Found between Salida and Buena Vista, this national monument is famed as America’s most popular whitewater rafting destination. A half- or full-day trip with Browns Canyon Rafting is family-friendly, but even if you’re looking for romantic, outdoorsy weekend getaways, this is a great spot, with nearby hot springs, scenic drives and more.

Roaring Fork River, Slaughterhouse
Located just five minutes from downtown Aspen, Slaughterhouse is known as the Roaring Fork River’s signature whitewater section. Adrenaline junkies will love the six-foot Slaughterhouse Falls plunge, along with other Class IV rapids on the six-mile route. Half-day tours are available through Aspen Whitewater Rafting and Elk Mountain Expeditions.

Cache La Poudre, Mishawaka
Fort Collins
The only national Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, the Cache La Poudre is known for fishing and kayaking, and is one of the best tubing spots near Denver. Despite its proximity to Fort Collins, special-use permits limit tour companies, which allows for a less crowded experience. Book a full-day tour with Mountain Whitewater to splash down these exciting Class II-IV rapids.

Blue River
The Blue River in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area provides the closest whitewater rafting from Summit County. The three-mile route is action-packed with Class III rapids, which is perfect for those with no experience but ready to take on a challenge. Because of water flows controlled by Dillon Reservoir, the float season is generally shorter than at other areas. Contact AVA to inquire about its express tour availability.
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