Winter Snow and Rafting

Written by Ben Sack, 02.11.2014

When we hear about snowfall in the high country of Colorado measured in feet rather than inches you’ll find a lot of happy skiers. You’ll also find a lot of rafters whose ears will perk up, too. Currently the majority of river basins originating in Colorado are reporting higher than average levels, including the Arkansas River basin currently around 115% of average overall, with the upper basins reporting over 140% of average.

What does this mean for rafting this summer on the Arkansas River?

In short, the news is very encouraging, but it’s still a bit early to proclaim record high water predictions for 2014. However, March is typically the month when we can see the most winter moisture hit the mountains, so an adventure-filled high water year is certainly possible. Looking at the three month climate prediction by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the central mountains of Colorado have an equal chance of seeing either above or below average moisture. We’ll just have to wait until around April 1stwhen most of the snow that’s going to fall has fallen and we can better assess the spring run-off.

What if it keeps snowing? Can the river get too high to raft?

While high snowpack reports are exciting to all of us who have rafting experience, it can sometimes frighten new would-be rafters into thinking the rivers will be too high to make it a safe experience. The fact is that rivers always swell with spring run-off so we should all expect some degree of higher water flows when the melt-down reaches its peak. What makes the Arkansas River so special is that we have so many options for different rafting sections. So it never does get too high for a variety of whitewater trips for all abilities. When one section gets too big there’s always another whitewater run just upstream or downstream that is perfect.

It’s true that in a normal summer season rafting in the Royal Gorge is temporarily suspended at certain water flows for safety reasons. This shouldn’t worry you if you are reserving a Royal Gorge raft trip because you know it has some of the best whitewater around. In that case we will raft a portion of Bighorn Sheep Canyon that truly does offer whitewater of a caliber that is bigger and more exciting than the Royal Gorge at non-closure levels. As a guide with 20 years of experience I can assure you that some of the waves we hit on this alternate Royal Gorge run have waves that are absolute monsters!

Wait, I thought Bighorn Sheep Canyon was the family friendly section of whitewater?

During normal river flows it certainly is. However, when the river gets to higher levels we have the ability to shift the family-friendly rafting trip a little further upstream where we see the level of whitewater you would normally expect. It’s a fantastic family whitewater run perfect for beginners and young children, but still offers great splashes and gorgeous scenery.

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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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