2024 Colorado Rafting Season Forecast

Written by Ben Sack, 03.19.2024

Winter’s still gripping the country, but a whole lot of folks—not least the team here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions—are beginning to dream about the coming summer’s river-running opportunities. We’re certainly envisioning a spectacular Colorado rafting season, and hoping you’ll be a part of it!

If you’ve never experienced what the legendary Arkansas River has to offer in terms of whitewater rafting trips (short answer: a lot!), you may be curious when the sweet spot is in terms of on-the-flow recreation here. Let’s take a look at what this year’s Colorado white water rafting season is looking like at this point, and when you might think about timing your Echo Canyon trip.

When is the Colorado Rafting Season?

Colorado is a big state, and it stretches from the heights of the Southern Rocky Mountains and the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau to the Great Plains. That’s a lot of acreage, a lot of varied terrain, and a lot of climatic regions, which means that the rafting season here in the Centennial State does vary from drainage to drainage.

When it comes to the main whitewater runs, though, you’re typically looking at a prime-time Colorado whitewater rafting season of about Memorial Day (May 27th) to Labor Day (September 2nd). Granted, some rivers begin reaching optimal flow earlier in the spring, and others don’t really get pumping until mid-June, but these are the rough, big-picture bookends you’re usually dealing with.

Here on the Arkansas River—one of the most fabled wild water rivers in the American West—our rafting season officially starts in May with some lower-flow runs. Peak volume and discharge, though, usually hit around mid-June as the mountain snowpack melts off.

When Will the Rafting Season Start in Colorado in 2024?

If you’re wondering exactly when the rafting season will start in Colorado this year, that’s going to depend on the final magnitude of that aforementioned high-country snowpack as well as the weather patterns of late winter, spring, and early summer.

The biggest factor at play is the scale of the winter snowpack—more snow equals more runoff—but spring temperatures have a dramatic impact as well. An early warmup in springtime can mean the snowpack burns through a lot faster. And if spring’s on the cool side, runoff may be delayed or tempered such that we enjoy prime rafting water levels in Colorado later into the summer, given the extended period of snowmelt.

This is an El Niño winter, the effects of which, snowfall-wise, aren’t always cut-and-dried in our part of the Centennial State—though generally the southwestern U.S., including our swath of the Southern Rockies, often sees a bigger snow buildup under this pattern. As of early February, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was some 87 percent of normal. On February 10th, the Arkansas River Basin was looking at a snow water equivalent (that is, the amount of water that would be produced if the present snowpack melted off) about 98 percent of the average—not bad.

Most likely, per usual, we’ll be looking to kick off the rafting season toward the end of spring. At Echo Canyon River Expeditions, we begin our rafting trips early in May. That is, however, too early for most of our guests: a little on the cold side, and also not necessarily the most conducive to school and maybe work schedules. Our early spring runoff rafting will continue into mid-June when the big peak flows of the season start hitting.

(Learn more about how last year played out on Colorado whitewater via our 2023 rafting season in review .)

Colorado Rafting Season: How to Decide When to Plan Your River Trip

The vagaries of peak summer flow on Colorado’s lauded whitewater rivers are one thing, but there are other considerations, of course, at play.

If you’re really keen on rafting big water, June usually ought to be your target month. That’s when the burliest flows typically occur on the Arkansas River, which means this is when our most all-out adventurous trips here at Echo Canyon tend to go down.

But there are other awesome times to get on the water. August, for example, offers a great cool-off experience on the Arkansas amid the heat of high summer, but—without the larger crowds of peak-flow time—you get to experience the river on a quieter, and arguably more personal, level.

Now’s the Time to Start Planning Your 2024 Whitewater Rafting Adventures in Colorado

Looking forward to the 2024 Colorado rafting season? Prepare for an unforgettable adventure and book your trip today!

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About the Author

Ben Sack is the General Manager of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado's largest white water rafting outfitter. He's also a raft guide, a photographer, and he loves exploring Colorado and beyond with his wife and two boys.
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