Differences Between Rafting Browns Canyon and Bighorn Sheep Canyon

Written by Ben Sack, 02.03.2024

The world-famous Royal Gorge isn’t the only spectacular Arkansas River chasm we guide rafters through here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions. Upstream of that 10-mile-long, 1,250-foot-deep gorge, you can enjoy some other incredible routes through monumental (and marvelously varied) terrain rich with wildlife.

In today’s blog post, we’ll introduce you to two of the other canyons of the Ark where rafters can enjoy both half-day and full-day river rafting trips: Browns Canyon and Bighorn Sheep Canyon.

Whitewater Rafting Browns Canyon & Bighorn Sheep Canyon

We’ll cut to the chase right off the bat: You can’t go wrong with either Bighorn Sheep Canyon or Browns Canyon when it comes to unforgettable rafting! Bighorn Sheep Canyon is probably the single most popular trip we offer here at Echo Canyon, while Browns Canyon may be the most celebrated rafting stretch on the entire Arkansas River.

Arkansas River rafting in Bighorn Sheep Canyon
Bighorn Sheep Canyon


Bighorn Sheep Canyon lies just a little above the Royal Gorge (indeed, we lead trips that combine both canyons), while Browns Canyon is situated on the upper Arkansas near Buena Vista, Colorado.

Bighorn Sheep Canyon is typically easier to reach, being just an hour from Colorado Springs, while Browns Canyon, around two hours from both Colorado Springs and Denver, and is more remote with limited access points. Highway 50 also runs alongside Bighorn Sheep Canyon, providing convenient accessibility.

Browns Canyon anchors the Browns Canyon National Monument, jointly managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management; rafting is the premier way to see this rugged country.

We’ve listed the differences between rafting Browns Canyon and Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
Floating Bighorn Sheep Canyon


The two canyons also present different vibes, though both are dazzlingly scenic. Bighorn Sheep Canyon is a younger chasm with more numerous and more jagged rocks compared to the fewer and more wave-smoothed boulders and outcrops of Browns Canyon. Pine-studded Bighorn Sheep Canyon lies in a semi-arid setting, almost high desert in ambiance, while Browns Canyon—which skirts the soaring Collegiate Peaks of the Sawatch Range—presents more of a mountain-gorge environment, with granite promontories rising to timbered slopes and looming summits.

Both of these Arkansas River corridors offer ample opportunity to spot wildlife. Mule deer (which, along with elk, find an important winter range in Browns Canyon) and birds of prey are common sights in both canyons, while lucky river runners might glimpse that brown-phased form of the American black bear known as the “cinnamon bear.” Bighorn sheep can be found in both Browns Canyon and Bighorn Sheep Canyon, but, as the name suggests, they’re more prevalent in the latter, which supports one of the largest herds of these noble mountain sheep in the country.

white water rafting in buena vista
Browns Canyon


What class of rapids are on Browns Canyon and Bighorn Sheep Canyon? Both of these routes are very beginner-friendly, really ideal for family rafting trips—and, indeed, for anybody looking to sample the joys of running whitewater.

Both sections see predominantly Class I-III rapids, very much appropriate for newbies and younger rafters, Higher-than-normal flows occasionally produce bigger water, but that’s pretty uncommon. Both reaches of the river drop roughly 30 feet per mile, presenting a comparable level of technicality, though Bighorn Sheep Canyon is marginally more “adventurous.”

Browns Canyon rafting near Buena Vista
Browns Canyon


Among the more significant rapids in Browns Canyon are Zoom Flume, Seidel’s Suckhole, and the Seven Stairs (or Staircase). Bighorn Sheep Canyon, meanwhile, offers the thrills of Sharks Tooth, Spikebuck, and Five Points. All of these rapids are generally Class III.

Bighorn Sheep Canyon vs. Browns Canyon: Experience the Thrills & Majesty of Arkansas River Whitewater With Echo Canyon Outfitters

As we noted earlier, you can rest assured you’ll have a marvelous time rafting on either Browns or Bighorn Sheep Canyon: Both are spectacular and ideal for beginners, offering some of the best whitewater rafting in Colorado—no question.

Come find out why we’re the premier destination for white water rafting in Colorado! We make it easy to book your trip online and curate an excursion you’ll never forget with guided whitewater rafting and much more. 

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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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