Colorado rivers look a little different every year—even every day. How fast and high rivers run during the Colorado whitewater season all depends on snowpack. And snowpack comes with many of its own variables:
- How much total snow fell throughout the winter?
- How warm was the spring season?
- Was there a concentrated stretch of hot weather that melted lower snowpack prematurely, causing rivers to run earlier than usual?
There are many weather patterns that can shift Colorado whitewater heights, and each spring river rafting guides and kayakers anxiously await the mother lode, as pure mountain water begins to flow off peaks and deep into the valleys and rivers below.
While snowpack conditions continue to shift throughout the spring season and water flow is changing every day, generally the best early-season whitewater can be found in central Colorado and closer to the Front Range.
For private boaters, however, there are some south-facing stretches of the Colorado River and Gunnison Gorge that are runnable as early as March and April.
Alternately, the southern part of the state can harbor late or dam-controlled releases of pent-up whitewater and can serve up surprisingly good late-summer rafting adventures, too.
Peak whitewater seasons by the river
On the state’s super-popular Arkansas River, the highest water flows typically occur between the third week of May through the third week of June, but this is also peak tourist time and therefore the most crowded phase on the river.
Medium Colorado whitewater flows occur between mind-June and mid-August. And low flows happen early in the spring, before full snowmelt, and later in August, when the rivers begin to wane for the season.
Here are the peak seasons on some of the biggest rafting rivers in Colorado:
Arkansas River: May through September
Clear Creek: May through September
Colorado River: May through September
Blue River: June
Dolores River: May through June
While many visitors try to time up a Colorado whitewater rafting trip to hit peak season, if you’re a beginner boater or are bringing a family, you might consider trying your first float trip during low-water, low-crowd season. After all, you can always come back for something more challenging next year.
Your best bet? Call ahead and ask the experts when and where the rivers are running this season.