Search “rafting near me” anywhere in the state, and you’re likely to come up with a long list of results. But to truly find the best Colorado river rafting, you need to be mindful of the season.
River Runners has been taking folks out for the rafting time of their lives for almost 50 years. You might even say they’re experts when it comes to knowing when and where to plan your whitewater adventure.
And all River Runners rafting trips take place on the Arkansas River, with put-in locations in Buena Vista and Cañon City. These areas are home to not only the most highly sought-after whitewater in Colorado, but also some of the best rapids in the country.
Helmet up and paddle along with us to learn more, so you can make sure your on-river experience is a blast.
When is the Best Time for Whitewater Rafting?
It can be tricky to nail down the perfect time for whitewater rafting in Colorado. Many factors come into play, including snowmelt and the type of ride you’re after. But rafting season on Colorado’s Arkansas River typically runs from April through September.
The flow brought on by melting snowpack in our mountains is what leads to the world-class whitewater rafting you’ll find here. And River Runners can help fine tune your Colorado river-rafting trip based on the type of experience you’re looking for — regardless of whether you’re a beginner or seeking wild thrills.
Learn how water flow on the Arkansas drives the rafting season to help you get an idea of when you should plan your trip:
Late May to late June is the most exciting time of year in this part of the state, as the waters are high and racing, making it ideal for adventure lovers looking for an adrenaline rush. Expect big waves, large hydraulics and swift currents. You should also prepare for age restrictions on certain trips, but the guides at River Runners can help point you toward a family-friendly excursion any time of year.
Late June to mid-August is the sweet spot for families looking to plan a Colorado river-rafting trip. Likewise, it’s also a great time for thrill seekers, as you’ll have access to advanced sections of the Arkansas River — like the Royal Gorge, the Numbers and Pine Creek — which are closed when waters are at their highest. Do keep in mind that this is also peak tourist season, so it’s a good idea to book your rafting trip in advance and, if possible, on a weekday.
From early April to mid-May and in late August, you can expect a lower water level on the river. But that doesn’t mean you’ll find less fun. In fact, you’re in for plenty of challenging rapids during early spring and late summer. As an added bonus, these are some of the very best times to spot wildlife and you’ll find less crowded rivers.
Choose Your Whitewater Rating Experience
That excitement mixed with River Runners’ skilled guides, spectacular scenery and fascinating wildlife provides the recipe for an adventure you won’t find anywhere else in the world. In addition, all River Runners trips include gear and experienced guides who teach you about local history and geology as you paddle.
Rafting Browns Canyon
(2. 5 hours from Denver in Buena Vista)
Flanked by the snow-dusted Collegiate Peaks and set in Browns Canyon National Monument, you’ll find a world of swirling eddies and rushing currents. Take a look at some of the rafting trips you’ll have to choose from.
• Family Float: This trip is a great option for beginners, families and people with disabilities. Everyone in your posse will enjoy these 4 miles of small rapids that offer opportunities to see wildlife along the way. You can even choose to have your guide do the paddlin’ while you chill and enjoy the ride
• Browns Canyon: This experience is slightly more adventurous but still beginner friendly, with legendary rapids that will make you squeal with delight.
• Numbers: If you’re looking for advanced-level excitement where you work hard for big rewards, this is the outing for you. You’ll follow your guide’s instructions as you paddle through steep chutes, big waves and long rapids — so long, in fact, that the rapids were numbered instead of named.
Or book an overnight rafting trip with all your on-river meals included. After a day of shooting rapids, you’ll camp on the banks of the Arkansas where the sound of the water will lull you to sleep under an inky, star-smattered sky.
Rafting the Royal Gorge Region
(1 hour from Colorado Springs in Cañon City)
Here the Arkansas River tumbles through the narrow granite walls of the Royal Gorge, creating a beautiful playground for whitewater rafters.
• Bighorn Sheep Canyon: Find the perfect blend of exciting, splash-inducing rapids and leisurely sections that let you soak up the sights. This trip is just right for beginners.
• Royal Gorge: Calling all advanced paddlers in search of a ride where you’ll take on rapids of epic proportions. Holler with joy as you tackle technical challenges and whoosh under the famous Royal Gorge Bridge. If you don’t want the fun to stop, opt for the full-day trip, which starts in Bighorn Sheep Canyon before hitting the Royal Gorge — after a break for lunch on the river, of course.