Best Colorado Rivers for Whitewater Rafting

Wet times on the Shoshone section of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.
Wet times on the Shoshone section of the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon.

BEST COLORADO RIVERS FOR WHITEWATER RAFTING

Colorado whitewater rafting pairs the exciting thrill of navigating major rapids with the tranquility of experiencing the state’s dynamic environment from a unique vantage point. The Colorado whitewater rafting season starts when warm weather creates snowmelt high on its towering mountaintops that drains into nearby creeks, streams, and, eventually, rivers. All of this Rocky Mountain runoff drastically increases the water levels and current speeds of the rivers below, creating the perfect setting to enjoy the rousing fun of whitewater.

For most, rafting is a warm-weather sport. Rafting season on our Colorado rivers begins with winter breakup, which usually starts in April and extends through summer into October. Exact river conditions and seasons vary yearly and from river to river. Still, the fastest, most thrilling rapids are usually found in May and June, when water levels are typically at their highest.

Don’t Miss These Colorado Rivers When Planning Your Next Rafting Adventure

When it comes to whitewater rafting, Colorado offers some of the best river experiences and scenic views. Whether you set out on the famous Colorado River, a lesser-known tributary like the Crystal River, splash your way through canyons, or peacefully float through wide-open terrain at the feet of a towering mountain range, you’re sure to enjoy a unique rafting adventure in Colorado. Next time you go on a rafting trip, consider one of these can’t-miss Colorado rivers for water recreation and whitewater rafting.

Arkansas River

The State of Colorado is home to the headwaters of the Arkansas River, one of the Mississippi River’s main tributaries. This river begins high in the mountains near Canyon City and rushes through Royal Gorge Canyon, where solid, vertical granite walls tower over 1000 feet above the river bank. The raging waters of Arkansas descend a thrilling 5,000 feet in a brief 125-mile stretch, making it one of the most popular rivers for rafting and kayaking — not only in Colorado but all of the United States. With rapids ranging from mild Class I and II to intense Class V rapids, the Arkansas River can provide the perfect Colorado whitewater rafting trip for anyone, depending on where your rafting party puts in. There are many outfitters to choose from on the Arkansas River, but two that are worth a look are Wilderness Aware Rafting and their accessible Browns Canyon Half-Day Raft Trip and Timberline Tours with their Numbers trip for those looking to whiten those knuckles. We recommend checking out Arkansas River Tours for your Colorado Springs whitewater rafting needs. We can’t get enough of the Bighorn Sheep Canyon trip for an intermediate/introductory section of the Arkansas River and the Royal Gorge rafting trip for a more advanced section of the Arkansas River.

Colorado River

Often called the most famous river in the West, the Colorado River snakes 1,450 miles through seven states and eleven national parks into Mexico. Although the most recognizable stretch of the river flows through Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, Colorado lays claim to being the headwater state for the entire Colorado River Basin. One of the most popular rafting destinations in the country, Colorado’s section of the Colorado River is a must-do.

The upper basin of the Colorado River offers outdoor recreation enthusiasts a myriad of river experiences, from stunning valley views, winding canyons, and deep ravines to intense rapids and calm stretches perfect for relaxing and enjoying nature’s tranquility. This variety of river terrain makes the Colorado River perfect for any level of rafting, with trips specially designed for adrenaline junkies and scenery lovers alike.

From Glenwood Springs, thrill-seekers can experience the intense Class III and Class IV Shoshone Rapids as they navigate scenic Glenwood Canyon. In addition to Glenwood Springs, other popular put-in locations for Colorado River rafting include Grand Junction, Kremmling, State Bridge, and Breckenridge. For a great all-around, half-day raft trip, check out Defiance Rafting Company’s Glenwood Canyon Half Day rafting trip.

Crystal River

Not to be confused with Florida’s Crystal River, home to the southern state’s gentle manatees, Colorado’s Crystal River flows about 40 miles from the Elk Mountains to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale. This remote, seasonally flowing, freestone river offers Class III-V rapids, beautiful views of nature, and local marble slabs, in addition to stretches that boaters can navigate in rafts, kayaks, and canoes.

Roaring Fork River

The Roaring Fork River rises in Colorado’s Sawatch Mountain Range at 12,000 feet. Along its route, the Roaring Fork River flows mostly through canyons. Swift, powerful, and deep, it provides major adventure with extreme rapids near its headwaters referred to as “Slaughterhouse.”  And a rare, commercially rafted waterfall (one of the few available in Colorado). As the river descends, it becomes milder, opening up to jaw-dropping views.

Seventy miles away and 6,200 feet below its headwaters, the Roaring Fork River joins the Colorado River at its confluence near Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs, where those just finishing up a day of Colorado whitewater rafting can enjoy the best of nature and civilization with nearby hiking trails, camping sites, and shopping and restaurants in downtown Glenwood Springs. After a day of rafting through the Roaring Fork Valley, adventurers can also unwind with a soak in one of the town’s nearby natural hot spring pools. For Upper Roaring Fork and Slaughterhouse trips, look at Blazing Adventures. For a mellower experience with many views, Defiance Rafting Company offers trips on the Lower Roaring Fork River as it winds from the Town of Carbondale to its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs.

Book Your Next Glenwood Springs River Adventure with Defiance Rafting Company

Gather your family and friends and book your next whitewater rafting adventure in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Defiance Rafting Company’s highly skilled and experienced river pros ensure your river adventures are fun and safe. We organize a variety of rafting trips suited to all skill and comfort levels, so you can choose to kick back and relax on a scenic half-day float, relish the release of adrenaline on a trip with a double dose of rapids, or enjoy the best of both worlds on a  Glenwood Springs half day whitewater rafting or full day rafting trip. For more information about preparing for your river adventure or to find the trip that’s perfect for your group, contact Defiance Rafting Company today. Happy Paddling!

A family going on a Colorado River Rafting Adventure
Family time on the Lower Roaring Fork River with Defiance Rafting Company.

Glenwood Canyon Half-Day

Difficulty
Class I–III
Duration
Half-Day
Price
$67
$57 for Happy Paddlers* 12 & under
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Scenic Canyon Float

Difficulty
Class I–II
Duration
Half-Day
Price
$57
$47 for Happy Paddlers* 12 & under
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Shoshone Rapids Short Trip

Difficulty
Class I–III
Duration
1 Hour
Price
$57
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