Colorado rivers get a little over a half million visitors every year, and there’s a good reason rafting is so popular in this scenic state. Here are 10 of the state’s top white water draws.
There’s something for everyone.
Colorado rafting has no prerequisites, and no graduation point—whether you’re a first-timer or an expert, there’s something for you. Calmer floats on the Colorado River offer a gentle intro while class IV-V rapids in places like Gore Canyon and on sections of the Arkansas River cater to the experts.
Colorado’s rafting towns are like none other.
Towns like Salida, Buena Vista, Crested Butte and Kremmling grew up around rafting. The local economies depend on river sports, and each town has its own ragamuffin character that turns the entire visit—not just the time spent on the river—into a rafting trip.
It’s a craft beer capitol.
Avery, New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Odell and Left Hand all call Colorado home, and there’s nothing better after a summer rafting trip than a can of local brew.
It’s always sunny.
Colorado has traditionally adopted “300 Days of Sunshine” as its unofficial slogan, and while the actual count varies from place to place within the state, it’s hard to argue—the weather’s pretty darn good here. Mid-summer highs hover around 85 on the western slope, and temps cool down in the evening so you can hit the town without breaking a sweat. Another bonus: unlike the east coast, humidity in Colorado is practically nil, meaning wet towels and clothes hung on a line will dry before nightfall.
The rafting industry is well-established.
Colorado’s 200+ river outfitters operate under a river outfitter licensing act, a collectively built set of rules and regulations, and the industry gathers to update them every few years.
“There’s a lot of communication and sharing of information—everything from best safety practices to properly serving clients with disabilities,” said David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association, who’s been in the Colorado rafting business for more than 30 years.
Headwaters call Colorado home.
As the birthplace of the most culturally significant rivers in the United States, including the Colorado River, the Arkansas River and the Rio Grande, Colorado is a pilgrimage destination for paddlers and river runners all over the country.
Access is easy.
Denver International Airport drops you right at the edge of rafting country, making access to the mountains easy.
It’s a wildlife hotspot.
If you’re into seeing the aquatic life up close and still getting some boating time in, float fishing is a great alternative to wild rapids for a calmer day on the river. Fly fisherman will find cutththroats, rainbows, brownsm and brooks in Colorado’s streams. From the water, you’ll be able to spot elk and deer coming to the river to drink.
The scenery can’t be beat.
Want your vacation photos to look good? Take them in Colorado. From the rugged, untamed San Juans to the red-striped Maroon Bells and the white-capped Collegiate Peaks, Colorado boasts vertical scenery almost everywhere you look.
There’s plenty else to do.
Go hiking, zip lining or sightseeing. The nearly 500-mile Colorado trail crosses the state, and the famed Colorado 14ers—53 peaks that tower over 14,000 feet in elevation and rise at least 300 feet above surrounding high points—throw the gauntlet down to the fittest visitors. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and Mesa Verde National Park all present world-class hiking and sight-seeing to do on your off days.