Top 5 Must-See Sights Along the Arkansas River with Echo Canyon River Expeditions

Written by Ben Sack, 03.23.2024

Explore the 2023 Colorado Whitewater Rafting Season in Review from white water rafting experts!The Arkansas is a river of superlatives. Second-longest tributary to the great Mississippi, it flows close to 1,500 miles from its source up in the snowy cirques of the Southern Rocky Mountains to its mouth in Arkansas, crossing the full breadth of the Great Plains in the process and knitting together an awful lot of different ecological geographies. This is also among the most legendary whitewater streams in the country, and at Echo Canyon, we’re lucky to lead Arkansas River rafting amid truly glorious scenery.

With premier whitewater, stunning views, grand geology, rich regional history, and easy access—the majority of Coloradans live within two hours or so of the Arkansas, mind you, and it’s a stone’s throw from the major metropolitan area of Colorado Springs—it’s no surprise this river has such a devoted fan club.

In this article, we’ll detail some of the must-see sights along and near the river corridor where we’ve been serving up some of the best whitewater rafting in Colorado since 1978!

Top 5 Must-See Sights Along the Arkansas River

Below, learn about some of the defining sights and experiences that await you along the Arkansas River rafting routes we run here at Echo Canyon River Expeditions.

The Royal Gorge

This breathtaking chasm comes by its illustrious name honestly: It’s one of the scenic and geologic highlights of the American West if you ask us—and that’s saying something!

Marking the portal through which the Arkansas flows out of the Southern Rockies and onto the Plains, the Royal Gorge is a roughly 10-mile-long chasm near Cañon City, Colorado that reaches more than 1,200 feet deep, with walls only about 40 to 50 feet across. The striking combination of depth and narrowness is a reflection of the Royal Gorge’s unique geologic origin story, centered on the Arkansas River’s cutting through a buried dome of tough granite and gneiss in the context of regional uplift.

There are many ways to see this almost otherworldly “Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River”—including on the unique Royal Gorge Route train ride—but none quite so immersive or exhilarating as a rafting trip down its world-class whitewater.

Arkansas River Rapids

And speaking of whitewater…

The Royal Gorge indeed enfolds some of the signature rapids of the Arkansas River, including such Class IV stunners as The Narrows, Sunshine Falls, and Boat Eater. These can crank into Class V territory during peak early-summer runoff.

But there are other marvelous stretches of the Ark we take our guests to, including the Bighorn Sheep Canyon above the Royal Gorge: probably the most popular route we run, an ideal middle-ground introduction to whitewater rafting in Colorado, with Class I-III rapids that top out with such beauties as Sharks Tooth and Five Points.

And farther upstream yet, set in the glorious Sawatch Range, Browns Canyon is another great choice when it comes to Arkansas River whitewater rafting for beginners, with Class III rapids such as Zoom Flume and Staircase.

Nature & Wildlife

Detailed view of Bighorn Sheep RamNo matter which of the Arkansas River rafting trips you choose with Echo Canyon, you’ve got decent odds of seeing some Rocky Mountain wildlife—and guaranteed touring of some beautiful natural ecosystems.

Depending on the route you choose, you’ll get to gaze upon everything from ponderosa and piñon pines to junipers, cottonwoods, and cacti, framed by soaring cliffs, rimrocks, and sky high peaks.

Among the native wildlife you might spot, bighorn sheep certainly rank high in the awe-inspiring category and can be seen in any of the sections we run (especially the Bighorn Sheep Canyon!). Mule deer, black bears, birds of prey, waterfowl, and rainbow trout are other commonly viewed critters that hugely enhance the Arkansas River whitewater rafting experience.

Arkansas River Bridges

Bridges? Among the highlights of Arkansas River rafting? Well, yes, actually! Among the Arkansas River bridges is one of the grandest anywhere in the world, no question: the Royal Gorge Bridge, standing some 1,000 feet above river level over that staggering cut.

The tallest suspension bridge in the United States and among the tallest in the world, the Royal Gorge Bridge is as must-see as you can get—and our Arkansas River rafting trips through the chasm give you an unforgettable bottom-up view!

Nearby Attractions

Winery at the Holy Cross AbbeyAs much as the surging wildwater of the Ark (and the incredible topographic arenas through which it surges) is the leading act, there’s much else to see and do away from those spectacular Arkansas River rapids.

From the historic main drag of Cañon City and the Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center to the Florence Antique District and the wine tastings on offer at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, there’s an awful lot of cultural appeal to this region besides its immeasurable natural beauty and outdoor-recreation opportunities.

Ready to See for Yourself?

Staffed with the best-trained river guides in the business and drawing upon more than three decades of experience on the Arkansas River, choose Echo Canyon River Expeditions as your gateway to the finest in whitewater rafting in Colorado: from whitewater rafting for beginners and a scenic rafting float trip to heart-pounding rapids-riding adventures suited to the most hardcore river-runners.

Experience the full allure of the Arkansas River! Reserve an exhilarating whitewater rafting adventure with Echo Canyon for an unforgettable journey.

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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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