Colorado River: What to Expect
Colorado River: What to Expect
If you live in or have traveled to the Western part of the US, you have most likely been impacted in one way or another by the Colorado River. It was originally called “the Grand” due to its path through deep desert canyons and broad valleys; however, its headwaters begin high in the Rocky Mountains as a trickle. From its humble beginnings near Rocky Mountain National Park to its terminus near the Gulf of California, the Colorado River provides water, power, and recreation to over 40 million people in 7 US states.
While the River has been a source of life for people for over 8,000 years, it has also become a way of life for those who are drawn to its waters and to the natural beauty that surrounds it. The steep gradients and strong flows that are the hallmark of the Colorado River generate enough power to provide millions with electricity. These strong currents and unique topography also create big rapids in deep canyons. One particular section with some of the best whitewater in the West can be found in the Glenwood Canyon, located just a few minutes from historic Glenwood Springs.
The Shoshone Rapids found in Glenwood Canyon are class III and IV and are a popular section for anyone seeking whitewater adventure. While generally considered an accessible stretch of rapids for families and the uninitiated, the Shoshone section is not recommended for beginner paddlers without a guide or for those who are inexperienced on faster water. The best and safest way to experience this section is to go with a trained and licensed commercial rafting company. Defiance Rafting Company is located less than 10 minutes from the Shoshone boat launch. It is the only operator located directly in Glenwood Canyon, making it the most ideal and convenient Glenwood Springs rafting company to choose from. The top priority at Defiance Rafting is safety, but a close second is providing an adventure that guests will remember for the rest of their lives. Defiance River Pros (aka Guides) have the knowledge, familiarity, and skillsets to provide the ultimate safe and thrilling experience!
Ways to Recreate on the Colorado River
The Colorado River runs right through Glenwood Springs and creates the perfect setting and conditions for those who love to be outside and especially for those who love the water. The biggest issue for those wanting to be on or near the water is what to do first…
Boating on the Colorado River
Glenwood Springs is a rafting town with fishing, kayaking, boogie boarding, surfing, swimming, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), and tubing problems. For those hot summer days, one of the most enjoyable ways to cool down is to be on or in the water. For big splashes and an immediate relief from boredom and/or heat, go down the 1.5+ mile Shoshone rapid stretch with one of Defiance’s commercial trips.
For those not feeling as adventurous or desiring a more relaxing float, you can put in below the rapids at Grizzly Creek on a raft, tube, kayak, or SUP, and spend a few hours taking in the views of Glenwood Canyon. Go with a guide, or rent a raft, tube, SUP, or inflatable kayak through Defiance River Outfitters and get in the water right in Glenwood Canyon or at other boat ramps in the Glenwood Springs area.
For those from the coast who are missing out on surf or boogie board sessions or anyone who wants to hone their kayak skills, you’ll find an artificial (man-made) wave at the Glenwood Whitewater Park in West Glenwood Springs. The wave has hosted river surfing and kayak competitions and provides an awesome venue for competitors and a great time for those who want to watch. At lower water levels (1200-2500 CFS), it provides a good wave on the far right and a good hole on the left side of the river for kayakers, surfers, boogie boarders, or people wanting to swim through it. At higher water levels, the entire river is spanned by this wave and creates one of the best river surfing waves in the country! At any level, if you are planning on swimming in the Colorado River, swing by Defiance Rafting to get hooked up with a complimentary life jacket!
Fishing on the Colorado River
The Colorado River also provides some of the most exciting fishing action around! There are a lot of species that can be caught, including, but not limited to, several species of trout, mountain whitefish, small and largemouth bass, sunfish, and catfish. There are also several species of native fish, including the prehistoric-looking Bonytail Chub, Colorado Pikeminnow, Humpback Chub, and Razorback Sucker. These native fish are all endangered, so please handle them minimally if you catch one and return it to the river as soon as possible.
The boating/fishing community is the best! There are so many great people and great fly shops in the area who are always more than willing to help you find the best fishing spot or the best patterns to use. One of the unique, friendliest, and all-around coolest fly shops in the area is Colorado Drifters. Please do yourself a HUGE favor and check them out in New Castle. They provide delicious coffee because what goes better than fishing and coffee… AND they will get you geared up so that you can get to the water with exactly what you need! You can also take guided trips and learn which riffle or rock those colorful Colorado trout are hiding under. The only thing they won’t do is catch the fish for you… but honestly, they might even do that.
Colorado River Features
To raft Glenwood Canyon is to experience a range of emotions, from profound exhilaration to pure bliss. For the adventurous, the trip begins with the Shoshone Rapids, and the action starts immediately with a rapid called Entrance Exam. This is an exciting rapid where you won’t have to wonder for long whether or not you’re going to get wet on the trip. From there, you will drop through a rapid called Tuttle’s Tumble and continue around or through 2 large rocks called Marty’s Diner, where you guessed it, they only serve water. After several hairpin turns through a section called Pinball, you will enter The Wall. This is not the Pink Floyd album, although you will be mesmerized by the size of the waves coming right at you. After that, you can try to stop grinning and take a breath for about 10 seconds because you’re headed right into a rapid called All Day Wave, causing a nice splash and all-day smiles.
Following this, you will be going through a technical rapid ominously named Tombstone. From there, you will have a chance to take a quick swim if you choose in a large eddy before the last big rapid in this section. After a refreshing dip, you will enter Maneater (Disclaimer: this is just the name of the rapid. Said rapid does not exhibit gender bias regarding who gets splashed the most, nor does it eat men). From there, you’re just a short distance away from Grizzly Creek, where you can either load up and do it again or continue downriver.
For the downriver experience, there are still some fun class II rapids, but true serenity is found while winding your way through the heart of Glenwood Canyon 1500’ below the tops of the cliffs. In this section, you will encounter natural formations such as an arch at the top of a mountain or a giant eroded portion of the cliff that resembles the Liberty Bell. Or you may be lucky enough to encounter wildlife like Black Bears, Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, and many species of birds that make their homes near the water, such as Bald Eagles, Blue Herons, Kingfishers, American Dippers, and more. There are deep pools where you can get into the water and go for a refreshing swim. You will float by natural hot springs that flow into the river and pools where, when the water is at lower levels, you can sit and enjoy the tranquility of the canyon. At the end of the trip, you’ll go through that artificial (man-made) wave at the Glenwood Whitewater Park for one final splash!
Colorado River Fun Facts
At 1,450 miles long, The Colorado River is the 5th longest river in the US and the 46th longest in the world. The headwaters of this mighty river start near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado at 10,134’ above sea level. After traveling through 5 states, including 11 national parks and monuments, it ends ~100 miles before reaching the Gulf of California. Throughout this long journey, it provides vital water and power to seven states and two countries. The Colorado River Basin is the 7th largest in the US.
The River flows through the Grand Canyon, one of the Eight Natural Wonders of the World and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Grand Canyon is about 277 river miles long but requires about 650 miles to walk. Every year over 22k visitors trace John Wesley Powell’s journey through the Grand Canyon, braving some of the biggest rapids in the world.
The Colorado River provides the perfect destination for all levels of thrill-seekers, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Whether you’re in Colorado floating through the rugged and majestic Glenwood Canyon, battling against the wits of cautious trout near New Castle, or testing your skills in one of the many other canyons and states the river flows through, there is an activity and a place on the Colorado River for everyone. We’d love to share one of our favorite places with YOU!
Book your next Colorado River rafting trip today!