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The Perfect End to the Summer

Written by Ben Sack, 08.25.2014

Rafting on the Arkansas River definitely changes as we near the slow-down from the busy rafting season. While the whitewater is not as intense, there are many reasons why an Echo Canyon rafting trip is a wonderful way to end your summer, and here are just a few of my favorite reasons…

The River is All Yours

With the Colorado summer tourism season winding down, we don’t see nearly as many rafters on the river which translates to a more pristine trip and a very pleasurable experience overall. There are days when rather than riding a rafting shuttle with 45 of your closest new friends, we ride in van with perhaps another family or two and your guide. While this is not always case, we see a LOT fewer rafts on the river so the pace of the trip feels much more casual and even private. The best places on the river to stop and swim around are open and available, so we get to take swim break at the prime locations and you don’t have to dodge incoming rafts! Also, we run rafts with fewer guests to keep rafts light, so it’s not uncommon to have just your group of four or five people on a Royal Gorge river trip. Yes, a float on a warm late summer afternoon is the ultimate way to relax and unwind, and have the river to yourself. Aside from rafting in the Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak area, you’ll also find a number of other attractions that are beginning to slow down as well. Again, fewer crowds can make for a great time to get out and explore the many activities and attractions available.

Class IV is Still Class IV

A class IV rapid at high water on a Royal Gorge raft trip is still a class IV rapid at low water; the challenges just change. Sure, the waves won’t be as large, but just turn around and check out the concentration on the face of your raft guide as you enter Sunshine Rapid. Rafts accelerate as you enter the tight rapids and crews must work together to negotiate the obstacle course of rocks. Since the gradient of the river doesn’t change, the river becomes much more channelized and drops feel bigger as your raft squeezes between the huge boulders that once formed waves and hydraulics. The rapids are still challenging and difficult, if not more difficult, to paddle through. For this reason Royal Gorge rafting trips still necessitate rafting guests be in good physical condition with swimming ability advised and a minimum age somewhere around 13 to 15 years.

And yes, class III is still class III at these flows. More often referred to as ‘family-class whitewater’, class III rapids are perfect for families with young children or for those guests who simply want a mild trip with just a hint of whitewater. Bighorn Sheep Canyon is our most popular family rafting near Colorado Springs. Low water class III rapids also still have the same gradient or slope as the higher flows, so the challenge still exists as we wind between rocks and seek out the bigger splashes. Don’t plan on getting nearly as wet as you would at big water flows. But that’s kind of nice as you probably won’t need to wear bulky wetsuit gear. Typically all you need is a pair of quick drying shorts and t-shirt, some sports sandals and a layer of sunscreen. Oh, go ahead and bring that sense of adventure, too! With river temperatures warming into the mid 60’s, kids can still go for a quick dip in the deeper pools between rapids and not get quite as chilled as they might at spring or early summer flows.

Slower Water Flows Mean More Time to Enjoy

Most people don’t go rafting at lower water flows to see huge thrilling whitewater. It’s all about slowing down having time to take it all in.

Side note: If you want big water flows with adrenaline-charged rapids then join us in June or early July!

What you can expect to see in late August or September is more technical rapids with fewer big splashes and more time to work as a paddle crew through the rapids. What you’ll also see is scenery, side canyons, awesome geologic features, Bighorn Sheep and lots of other sights that were still there at higher water flows, but at the time you were a little more focused on staying in the raft as the next wave crashed over the bow and knocked you out of your seat! To give you an idea of how slower paced a late season trip can be, I recall late September trips on the float out of the Royal Gorge when my raft crew and I pulled up alongside the riverbank to pick wild grapes before continuing on downstream; try doing that when the river is racing along at 10 miles per hour at spring run-off!

So there are a number of reasons to get out there for one last river trip with Echo Canyon before calling it a wrap for the summer. I hope to see you out there. Just save some of those wild grapes for me, okay?

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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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