Colorado Whitewater Rafting

Colorado is a white water rafters dream! Each year, gravity and the sunshine draw the winter snow down from the high country into rivers and streams that then become havens for wild and wet adventures. With so many whitewater rafting rivers in Colorado, almost anyone can find a safe and fun place to get their adrenaline fix while enjoying incredible alpine scenery. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced white water rafting junkie, read on to find out more about white water rafting Colorado.


Why is it called White Water Rafting?

White Water Rafting Colorado River

White water is a term that accurately describes river or creek water that looks ‘white’ because of the bubbles that are created as turbulent water moves. It’s caused by at least one of four factors; the natural slope of the river, a narrowing of the river, obstructions such as rocks and logs in the water or a quickly increasing flow rate. White water rafting, therefore, involves floating down any white water river in a canoe, kayak or other type of boat. It can be fun, challenging and even dangerous depending on the surroundings and cause of the white water.

White Water Rafting River Ratings

The most commonly used system for rating white water rafting rivers is the International Grading System. It’s commonly used in Colorado rafting to reflect the difficulty and danger associated with any particular rapid or larger section of a river. Because most rivers tend to contain multiple grades of white water, you might see Colorado white water rafting trips that contain a range of gradings to reflect what you’ll experience throughout the whole journey.

White Water Rafting in Colorado

White water rafting rivers are classified as such:

  • Class 1 – These rivers contain small and reasonably regular waves on an easy to navigate river that’s generally clear from obstacles and doesn’t require specific maneuvering.
  • Class 2 – Contain some rough water with medium sized waves that are most likely caused by rocks and a rough river bed. The river should be fairly unobstructed by there might be slight drops and gradual bends that require basic paddling skills to navigate.
  • Class 3 – These white water rapids generally contain larger waves, broken water, stronger currents, exposed obstacles and small drops. You’ll need paddling skills and experience to help you to navigate a safe route.
  • Class 4 – Contain more difficult rapids with large, powerful and possibly irregular waves, dangerous rocks and sharper drop-offs. More advanced maneuvers will usually be necessary and as such, previous white water experience is recommended.
  • Class 5 – Here you’ll find very powerful rapids with very turbulent water, larger waves, large rocks, significant drops and other hazards that require advanced white water experience to safely navigate.
  • Class 6 – These rivers contain very large, strong waves in violent waters that make it very difficult, if not impossible, to control a raft. Large rocks, hidden obstacles and very sharp drops make them very dangerous. They should only be attempted by experts. 

When white water rafting Colorado, it’s important to remember that this international river rating system is only to be used as a guide. It’s not a definitive measure as things such as recent rainfall, changes to the river bed and new obstacles can all impact on any rivers overall difficulty and danger. Regardless of how the white water river you’re rafting is graded, it’s always necessary to keep an eye out for unforeseen obstacles such as fallen trees and overhanging branches.


Rivers with White Water Rafting in Colorado

Colorado whitewater rafting is some of the best in the world! With so many rivers with different ratings to choose from, there’s something to suit all ages and experience levels. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular rivers for white water rafting Colorado:

Whitewater Rafting Colorado

Arkansas River

The Arkansas River is easily one of the best and most popular white water rafting rivers in the United States. Here you’ll find Colorado white water rafting rivers rating from the scenic, family-friendly class 2 section of the Browns Canyon National Monument to class 4 and 5 rapids in the Bighorn Sheep and Royal Gorge stretches.

The Colorado River

This mighty river runs through the incredible Rocky Mountain wilderness to provide almost endless opportunities for white water rafting fun. From impressive canyons to raging rapids, it’s one of the most diverse rivers for white water rafting Colorado. There’s all sorts of river trips you can take here including sections that are suitable for beginners and families, right up to daring rapids for the adventurous.

Clear Creek

Located just off of the I-70, 30 minutes from Denver, Clear Creek is the perfect Colorado white water rafting river for a convenient and fun day out. Sections of this river range from class 2 up to class 5 to suit beginners, intermediates and the more experienced.

Animas River

In terms of Colorado white water rafting, the upper Animas river contains some of the most difficult commercially rafted white waters in the United States. Here you can enjoy multi-day white water rafting trips down class 4 and 5 sections of this scenic and thrilling river. But, while it’s a must-do for adventure seekers, the lower Animas River has plenty of beginner and family-friendly trip options that include class 1, 2 and some grade 2 rapids.

Colorado White Water Rafting Safety

White Water Rafting Colorado Safety

While it’s lots of fun, white water rafting does expose you to a certain level of danger, regardless of its grading. As such, it’s important to be aware of what you can do to stay safe and keep your journey exciting.

On every white water rafting Colorado trip, you must wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Your PFD must be the right size and should be done up securely so that it can’t slip off you if you do fall in. A good way to check this is by asking a friend to check that your vest can’t be pulled over your head.

When you’re paddling down the river, your legs should remain inside of the raft at all times. Use any foot straps to help to steady yourself or simply slip them under the seat in front of you. It’s important that you always keep one hand on the end of the paddle (t-grip) so that it doesn’t hit you or another passenger if rough water causes you to jolt suddenly. During your white water rafting trip, listen out for instructions. You might be told to hold on or move to the center or one side of the boat at short notice.

If someone in your boat falls overboard, immediately put your paddle down safely inside of the raft. If you’re with an instructor, they may ask you to help to pull the person back into the boat. If so, carefully reach over to grab them by their PFD and pull them back into the raft. If they’re too far from the boat, you might be able to use your paddle to reach out to them and pull them in closer.

If you do fall into the water, stay calm and clearly yell so that the other passengers know what’s happened. If you can, grab onto the raft and pull yourself back in. However, if you’re too far from the boat, start swimming towards the boat or to the shore, whichever is closer. Keep your feet off the bottom of the water and, if you can, point your legs downstream to protect your body from obstacles while swimming diagonally to lessen the strength of the current. If someone throws you a rope, grab onto it (not the bag on the end) and hold it over your shoulder. Never wrap the rope around your hand, neck or any other body part. It’s important that you can always let go of the rope at any time in case it gets stuck on an obstacle. Try to avoid hitting anything in the water but if it is inevitable, try to grab on and pull yourself on top of it. Going underneath obstacles is dangerous.

White Water Rafting Colorado

Book your customized Colorado white water rafting experience with Next Adventure Company for a hassle free vacation in Colorado.


General White Water Rafting Colorado Tips

As well as following the basic safety advice above, these tips will help to keep you safe on a Colorado rafting trip:

  • Choose a licensed and experienced Colorado white water rafting guide
  • Find a trip that suits your ability level as you will be required to help to keep yourself and the other passengers safe
  • Wear clothes that are appropriately warm for the season as Colorado rivers can be cold
  • Bring waterproof sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses that secure with a strap to protect you from the harsh Colorado sun
  • Take a waterproof camera to document your adventure

Tips for White Water Rafting Beginners

Prepare for your first white water rafting Colorado adventure by following these beginner tips:

  • Be prepared to go swimming as you may end up in the water even on lower graded whitewater rafting trips
  • Avoid wearing cotton clothes as these will stay wet and quickly make you very cold
  • Focus on paddling together, not harder as this is more effective
  • Always listen for instructions from the group leader
  • Avoid taking anything with you on the raft that will get damaged if it gets wet!
White Water Colorado Rafting

Planning Your Colorado White Water Rafting Trip

With so many locations for white water rafting Colorado, it can be hard to know where to start planning your trip! To find somewhere great, look for a location that’s on your route or close to where you’re staying. Some rivers aren’t suitable for white water rafting all year round so be sure to check that it’s currently open. It’s also important to make sure that the difficulty rating matches the experience and age of everyone in your group. Once you’ve found a suitably graded river, decide how long you’d like to white water raft for. Colorado rafting trips can be as short as 1-hour or as long as 10 days. You might also like to consider the scenery that the river route will take you on as your eyes probably won’t be on the white water the whole time.

Once you’ve found a river that’s perfect for your Colorado white water rafting trip, find an experienced outfitter who will help to make sure your trip is safe and fun. To do this, it’s useful to look at how long they’ve been in business, their safety record and what their equipment is like. As well as looking at the cost of the Colorado rafting trip, be sure to note what that includes. Do they provide transportation to the launching point? What equipment is supplied? And, are there any extras like meals provided as well? If you’re traveling with a larger group, make sure that they can accommodate you all on the one trip, even if it’s over multiple boats, so that you won’t have to spend hours waiting for the rest of your group to return.

Planning Colorado White Water Rafting Trip

What to Bring on a Colorado White Water Rafting Adventure

The often harsh, alpine environment of Colorado means that even if you have rafted before, you might need to bring different gear with you on a Colorado white water rafting trip. If you’re travelling with a commercial guide, you won’t need to take as much as they should provide safety equipment and the basics. However, you will still need:

  • Fast-drying clothes that will keep you warm if you get cold Colorado river water on you
  • Strong sun protection
  • Sturdy footwear that won’t fall off, even if they’re wet
  • A set of dry clothes to wear after your trip
  • Plenty of water and some snacks if they’re not provided by your guide

For longer white water rafting trips in Colorado, be sure to take plenty of changes of clothes and layers that allow you to dress up and down as the weather changes. We’d also recommend taking a dry sac that can protect your clothes and other gear from getting wet if it gets submerged.

But finally, don’t forget your sense of adventure! White water rafting Colorado is an iconic activity to do in this outdoor state. Stay safe and have fun creating memories that will last you a lifetime.

Colorado White Water Rafting Adventures

Book your customized Colorado white water rafting experience with Next Adventure Company for a hassle free vacation in Colorado.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *