Experience Arkansas River Whitewater Rafting in Salida & Buena Vista

With thrilling rapids, amazing scenery and plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities, Arkansas River whitewater rafting is known as some of the best in the country. 

Family Rafting Trips on the Arkansas River

Family rafting trips on the Arkansas River

Ready for Rafting on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista

Ready for rafting on the Arkansas River near Buena Vista

Arkansas River Rafting in Browns Canyon

Arkansas River rafting in Browns Canyon

Rafting the Arkansas River in Browns Canyon National Monument

Hitting the whitewater in Browns Canyon National Monument

Kayaking on the Arkansas River

Kayaking on the Arkansas with the Collegiate Peaks in the background

Rafters on the Arkansas River

Rafting the Arkansas on a gorgeous Colorado day

Prepared to paddle on an Arkansas River rafting trip

Ready for some fun on the water

Whitewater Rafting the Top of Zoom Flume Browns Canyon

Taking on the Zoom Flume in Browns Canyon National Monument

Hooligan Race at FIBArk Festival in Salida

The zany Hooligan Race at FIBArk Festival in Salida

Professional Kayaker at Buena Vista CKS Paddlefest

Professional kayaker at Buena Vista's CKS Paddlefest


Check out our insider tips for planning whitewater-rafting adventures in Salida and Buena Vista, whether you’re looking for a family-friendly experience or a ride that’ll get your blood rushing.

Rafting Hot Spots in Salida & Buena Vista

Salida and Buena Vista sit in the heart of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area — known for being home to some of the best whitewater rafting in the country. This stretch of river offers a mix of rapids making it perfect for all ages and skill levels. Here are some locally loved sections. 

Milk Run Perfect for: Families & Beginner Rafters
This section of the Arkansas is ideal for little ones and those just getting their feet wet in the world of whitewater rafting. The waters here are so calm that kids as young as 2 can come along on a family float trip. The short trip usually runs about an hour, and you’ll be treated to exciting (yet gentle) splashes and a wealth of stunning mountain views.

Browns Canyon National Monument Perfect for: Families, Beginner–Advanced Rafters, Overnight Trips
Craggy granite cliffs, home to animals like bighorn sheep, rise on either side of the river, offering a magical solitude you just don’t get with other whitewater experiences. With plentiful sweet features (think staircases, falls and eddies) this section of the Arkansas offers something for absolutely every skill level. Tours range in length from a few hours to multiday camping trips — just imagine falling asleep to the sound of that river running — so you can stretch out the fun as long as you’d like.

Pine Creek Perfect for: Expert-Level Thrill-Seekers
Touted as one of the most challenging sections of the Arkansas, Pine Creek is the place to go get your heart pounding. The river narrows significantly here, creating the Class V Pine Creek Rapid. This natural amusement-park ride spans more than a mile of distance and is loaded with big drops as it plummets more than 200 feet in that space. Immediately after clearing Pine Creek, you’ll dip into another complex Class V section called the Triple Drop, giving you even more whitewater action.

The Numbers Perfect for: Advanced Adrenaline Fanatics
This hardcore section of the Arkansas has so many rapids that people gave up on naming them and just numbered them instead. There are seven or eight total major rapids (depending on who you ask), making for 7 miles of fast-moving, nonstop-paddling good times. As with Pine Creek, this is one of the most advanced portions of the river, with big waves, drops and wild currents.

Want to try out the whitewater in a different way? Take some kayaking lessons or an inflatable kayak tour. Find kayaking outfitters in Salida & Buena Vista >>

When to Go Arkansas River Rafting

Timing is key when booking a rafting trip, as snowmelt dictates the flow of the Arkansas. Water levels are important because they impact the type of rafting experience you’ll have. 

Late May–Late June
Waters are typically at their highest this time of year, which means thrill-seekers will be treated to plenty of wild rides. Think big waves, fast currents and lots of that churning whitewater magic.

Late June–Mid-August
This is the sweet spot for beginner or family rafting trips on the Arkansas, as water levels are low enough to provide milder paddles, but still high enough to prevent encounters with technical obstacles. The exception to this is more challenging sections, like Pine Creek and The Numbers, which are ripping and ready to provide plenty of action to expert rafters during these times.

Guided Trips Are the Way to Go

Unless you’re a pro, you should definitely take on the rapids of the Arkansas River with an experienced local outfitter. Aside from the fact that it’s just safer to hit the water with someone who knows how to navigate currents or where tricky wave pockets might be hidden, guides can really enhance your time on the river. Here’s how:

  • They can help you plan your ideal outing. Maybe you’re looking for a chill family float trip with riverside camping. Or perhaps a ride that balances challenging paddle sessions and serene drifting is more your style. Outfitters can craft a whitewater-rafting vacay that ticks all the boxes on your wish list. 
  • Most provide the gear you need and — depending on the length of your trip — will hook you up with meals, campsites and more. 
  • Best of all, guides really amplify the enjoyment factor by pointing out wildlife and teaching you about the area’s geology and history — including cool local lore — as you paddle along.

Find whitewater rafting outfitters and guides in Salida and Buena Vista >>

Whitewater Festivals

The Arkansas River’s whitewater is such an integral part of the culture and history of Salida and Buena Vista that residents celebrate it annually with two local festivals. 

Memorial Day weekend is synonymous with whitewater at Buena Vista’s CKS Paddlefest. Get ready to whoop it up on the water with kayaking, river surfing and SUP competitions. Dry off with live music, trail-running races and a disc-golf tourney. 

Each June in Salida, FIBArk takes over the Arkansas for three days of expert-level whitewater competitions and wild races like rafting rodeos with paddlers decked out in costumes. Known for being American’s oldest whitewater festival, FIBArk ups the fun ante with bike and foot races, live music, craft brews and a parade.

Check out whitewater parks in Salida and Buena Vista >>

Explore trout fishing on the area’s Gold Medal waters >>

Learn more about Salida & Buena Vista >>