4 Must-Try Rafting Routes in Colorado for Thrill-Seekers

Written by Ben Sack, 10.18.2023

Some of the best Colorado river rafting trips also happen to be some of the most extreme in the United States. The sheer vertical drop of the Rocky Mountains combined with the summer runoff of deep snowpack creates the perfect mix for challenging Class IV-V rapids. 

While Echo Canyon is always thrilled to get families out on the river, we also cater to those thrill seekers who want the biggest white water that Colorado has to offer. Moreover, we have the professional guides and top-of-the-line gear needed to safely run such challenging stretches of white water. 

If you are interested in an adventure rafting vacation, Echo Canyon River Expeditions offers plenty of advanced white water rafting in Colorado.

paddlers get a face full of white water in Maytag Rapid on the Arkansas River

Are There Class V Rapids in Colorado?

Many Colorado rivers offer Class V rapids. Since water levels in rivers are mostly dictated by melting snowpack, you can generally find the largest white water in the early summer months of May and June. With turbulent waters and technical obstacles, Colorado’s Class V rapids are a huge draw for experienced kayakers and rafters seeking the ultimate thrill.

The White Water Classification System Explained

The white water classification system categorizes rapids on a scale from Class I to Class V. Class I rapids involve minimal risk and are ideal for beginners. As the class number increases, so does the difficulty and danger. Class II and III rapids offer moderate challenges, while Class IV presents advanced obstacles. Class V rapids are for experts only, featuring intense whitewater and significant risk. If you’re looking for Class 5 white water rafting in Colorado, look no further than the Arkansas River and the Colorado River.

1. Royal Gorge - Arkansas River

The Arkansas River in the Royal Gorge is home to some of the most challenging white water rafting in  Colorado. When fueled by early summer snowmelt, the Arkansas River swells beneath the steep walls of the gorge and creates extreme Class V white water. Combined, these elements create one of the best Colorado river rafting trips out there. 

Since Cañon City is our home, our team at Echo Canyon River Expeditions are experts in running the Royal Gorge. We offer Royal Gorge trips in half-day or full-day packages. Its combination of steep drops, powerful rapids, and narrow canyon walls creates an adrenaline-pumping adventure. Our well-trained have the knowledge to show you a fun and safe time rafting the Royal Gorge.

2. Gore Canyon - Colorado River

Gore Canyon is a challenging section of the Colorado River located in the northern portion of the state near the town of Kremmling. As the Grand County website explains, “The canyon was created by the Colorado River after many years of passing the northern end of the Gore Mountain Range.” The canyon’s high walls and steep drops create the perfect conditions for extreme white water rafting in Colorado.

While many parts of the Colorado River are known for mellow, family-friendly rafting, Gore Canyon is only reserved for experts. Due to the challenging nature of the route, most outfitters require a skills assessment before taking guests through Gore Canyon. Moreover, you should only attempt such technical adventure river rafting if you are in excellent physical shape and if you’re capable to swimming in big water.

3. Pine Creek Section - Arkansas River

The Pine Creek section of the Arkansas River boasts the steepest vertical drop anywhere on this famous waterway. Dropping quickly from its headwaters in Leadville, this part of the Arkansas River runs south from Granite and through The Numbers section just outside of Buena Vista. Some even consider the Pine Creek Rapid the most complex rapid found anywhere on the Arkansas River.

4. Upper Animas River

The Animas Rivers cuts a dramatic downhill path from the historic mining town of Silverton down to Durango. On its way, it passes through some of the most remote and majestic landscapes in the San Juan mountains and southwestern Colorado. While the lower Animas offers super-relaxed family rafting through downtown Durango, the upper Animas is another story altogether. 

Dropping dramatically out of Silverton adjacent to the rugged Needle Mountain Range, the upper Animas runs through over 20 miles of Class IV-V rapids in box canyons and over waterfalls. On high water years, most commercial outfitters will only run the upper Animas accompanied by safety teams. Since there is no road access along almost the entire upper Animas, many people take shuttles on the iconic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Experience the Best Colorado River Rafting Trips with Echo Canyon

Ready to embark on a unique and exhilarating journey? Book a rafting trip today and experience the thrill of white water rafting firsthand!

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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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