Popular Beginner River Rafting Routes in Colorado

Written by Ben Sack, 02.03.2024

ladies raft trip - bachelorette partyColorado is one of the best states in the country—and one of the best places in the world, really—to go whitewater rafting. Here, where the Rocky Mountains reach their elevational apex, and where their foothills descend to the shortgrass vastness of the Great Plains on one side and the Colorado Plateau’s dazzling canyon and mesa country on the other, there’s an abundance of swift, tumbling rivers—and a superabundance of jaw-dropping scenery. What’s more, there’s something for everybody: elite-level wild water adventures to no-sweat beginner river rafting.

And it’s that easy river rafting we’ll be focusing on in this blog post: an overview of some of the primo beginner-friendly whitewater in Colorado, which happens to include a number of the great river rafting trips among our packages here at Echo Canyon!

White Water Rafting as a Beginner

Beginner rafters are folks with limited to no experience rafting or river-running, and sometimes with little experience of the great outdoors in general. Many of our guests here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions are first-time rafters, so if this describes you, you’re not at all alone! After all, you have to start somewhere, right?

With Echo Canyon, we equip you with all necessary safety gear (including wetsuits if necessary) and assign an experienced guide to every raft. You receive a thorough safety presentation before each trip, which means first-timers go into things feeling well-informed and confident.

On our Echo Canyon trips, new rafters can expect an adrenaline-fueled trip on which they’ll be an active, constant participant. Wherever you’re trying out whitewater rafting, it’s important to initially stick to routes that match your ability level and comfort level. A few easy river rafting odysseys will majorly boost your confidence and skills—working as a team, listening to your guide’s instructions, and executing commands—allowing you, if so inclined, to graduate to more challenging stretches of whitewater.

Can non-swimmers go whitewater rafting? Yes, up to a certain point. We certainly encourage guests on any river trip to have at least some swimming ability, but knowing how to swim isn’t actually a requirement for beginner river rafting. You’ll be suited up in a Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD), of course.

Beginner-Friendly White Water River Rafting Routes

Here’s a look at a few of the very best beginner whitewater runs available in Colorado:

Upper Colorado River

Born amid the snowfields of the Never Summer Mountains in Colorado’s Southern Rockies, the Colorado River makes an epic 1,450-mile-long journey across the American Southwest and into northwestern Mexico to reach saltwater in the Gulf of California. Some of the world’s best whitewater awaits on this mighty river: most famously in the Grand Canyon, but also incredible routes appealing to all skill levels along the Upper Colorado’s Rocky Mountain course.

There are numerous beginner-friendly reaches, for example, in and around the Upper Colorado River Special Recreation Management Area between (roughly) Kremmling and Glenwood Springs, including Little Gore Canyon and the Pumphouse-Radium stretch. Upper Colorado rafters enjoy soaring scenery courtesy of the Front Range, Tenmile Range, Gore Range, and other Southern Rocky Mountain ramparts, and excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Upper Colorado rafting is probably best suited for people staying in Summit County, with about an hour’s drive required. (It’s closer to two hours if you’re coming from Denver.)

Arkansas River—Bighorn Sheep Canyon

A paddle crew takes on Spikebuck Rapid in Bighorn Sheep CanyonThe Arkansas River is another of the most fabled whitewater streams not only in Colorado, but the entire western U.S. The primary rafting section lies between Buena Vista and Cañon City, including Bighorn Sheep Canyon, among the state’s best easy river rafting trips.

In Bighorn Sheep Canyon, there’s a nice mix of rapids for learning the whitewater ropes, the river’s very easily accessible given its flanking highway, and it’s all within easy reach of Colorado Springs. As the canyon’s name suggests, regular sightings of bighorns only add to the appeal.

We offer a couple of different routes on Bighorn Sheep Canyon, the all-out easiest and most relaxing being the upper canyon: ideal for laidback floats and fishing trips, and doable for more pintsized rafters as young as 4.

Clear Creek

Clear Creek rafting for beginners and advanced paddlersA mere 45 or so minutes from Denver, Clear Creek—an important tributary of the South Platte—is another first-rate choice for beginner rafters, certainly those staying in or around Colorado’s biggest city. With its narrow run and multiple Class III rapids, this highly accessible stream offers novice rafters an instructive taste in river navigation and obstacles.

Here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions, we’re primarily focused on rafting trips on the Arkansas, but we do reserve a couple of trip options on Clear Creek. Those include the beginner-level “Gold Rush Tour” on Lower Clear Creek, with opportunities to spot mule deer and bighorn sheep while having a blast traversing Class II and III rapids.

Beginner & Family Water Rafting Trips in Colorado With Echo Canyon

Get a taste of the fabulousness of whitewater rafting with Echo Canyon River Expeditions: Book your family rafting trips on the Arkansas or another top-grade Colorado river today! Our goal is to create unforgettable trips that inspire guests to return for more adventurous rafting experiences in the future.

Begin your rafting adventure with Echo Canyon! Book with us for a seamless and exciting whitewater rafting trip from start to finish.

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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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