Colorado Routes Near Denver or Keystone

Are you aware (or know anyone that is) of any good routes in Colorado within a couple of hours of either Denver or Keystone? My wife and I are going up to visit her cousin this June and I definitely don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to do some packrafting while are are there. Ideally, an overnight hike in and paddle out wit some class II-III trip would be the best.


Just relocated from AK to CO, and found very few people here are aware of or interested in Packrafting. I think from what I have found 11 mile Canyon on the South Platte River would be a decent run after May. The snowpack is very poor so one shouldn’t encounter much class 4-5. I looks like the trip could be extended down toward Cheesman Resivoir. Always best to scout the route 1st for any sweeper/strainers.

I also wouldn’t mind traveling up toward the Colorado River out west, Rio Grande in NM, or just a quick shot down to the Arkansas from Buena Vista…not sure if I would want to shoot Royal Gorge in an Alpacka yet? Anyone with Alpacka experience between Buena Vista and Cañon City?

I’ve run Brown’s Canyon in my Alpaca. No problems. If you guys are looking for a hike in and then float in Colorado try the Gunnison Gorge, or for more mellow options hike down Dominguez Canyon and then float the Gunnison down to the Whitewater takeout (I think it is WhiteWwater) . Or hike down Mee or Knowles Canyon down to the Colorado and do the Ruby/Horsthief float.

Thanks for the suggestions. I think Browns Canyon would be a good run, relatively nearby the Front Range. It is probably a couple hours drive at most from Col. Springs. If you would like to plan a day trip in April, I would show-up. I have a drysuit, and spraydeck so April shouldn’t be too cold?

I took the vertical train to the bottom of Royal Gorge and drove through Big Horn Canyon. I looked at the NOAA gauge webpage and the Arkansas was running at 2.21ft. Not sure the cfs, but from the viewing deck at the bottom of the gorge it really does look runnable in a PR.

I would like to plan a run from Salida to Canon city sometime in May before the river starts rising. If either of you are interested I am game.

OK, we are booked to be in Denver and Keystone June 8,9 & 10. Has anyone tried any of the suggestions from above or anything new? Last time I looked I was thinking about Little Gore Canyon which is supposed to be a good moderate trip not as steep walled. I was thinking we would park near State Bridge Landing adn then hike up along the train tracks to Rancho Del Rio, Radium or Pumphouse Recreation Site Access. Any better ideas?

Yesterday I ran Bighorn Sheep Canyon from Coaldale to Pinnacle Rock. It was 3 hour float.

It was running about 1300cfs, and there was plenty of class 3. Most of the class 3 is avoidable except Texas Creek Rapids. I never removed my spray-skirt, and always used a dry-suit in Alaska. However yesterday I decided I to leave both at home. It was apparently a mistake, as I had to dump about ever 8-10 minutes. I took a swim a few times but there was plenty of calm length between rapids to recover. The water wasn’t nearly as cold as AK streams, so leaving the dry-suit was not a bad idea.

If anyone is interested in doing this float, hit me up. I went alone, and parked my bike at the takeout. It was a long bike ride 16 miles back to the put-in to retrieve my car. It wasn’t so bad of a ride, but in a PFD, and a backpack with my raft and oars, the ride took about 90 minutes.

After seeing the potential of Bighorn sheep canyon to swamp an alpaca raft, I decided to stop considering a run down the narrow Royal Gorge. However, if anyone would be interested in running Bighorn down from Pinnacle Rock to Parkdale I would be interested with some portaging in between, and scouting. There is some areas that are rated to class 4 in this section, and alone it might make for a dangerous swim in some boney areas. I didn’t feel like losing any gear this early in the season.

I saw 2 bighorn sheep along the way. Apparently they were tagged with numbers and collars??? I suspect the BLM is keeping an good inventory of these specimens to monitor the health of the environment.

I am a few hours North of the WY border but would happily make the trip down if you ever had a few rivers you wanted to run on a weekend. Recently moved and trying to find replacement boating partners!


I moved from AK this past winter. I have been looking for a fellow paddling partner also. I’m not sure how far you are from I-25, but most of the streams of the front range aren’t far off so a shoot South for you, or North vice versa is definately on option. A few come to mind that would be about 1/2 way for us both: Poudre River, Clear Creek, S. Platte…maybe N. Platte?

If you were wanting to get down for a little further drive, the Arkansas has several good sections class 3 or less. I also heard from locals the best place the Gunnison(3 hrs for me), and Pumphouse float on the Colorado(again about 3 hrs from me). Just hit me up with a plan a week ahead of time and we can check the gauges and plan a float.

If you were wanting something soon, later this month I will do pumphouse, and I might even decide to check it out this weekend.

Dan, Casper, or anyone else on this thread:

I moved from AK to Denver ~4 years ago and have been looking for suitable packraft adventures, and willing/able partners, since. Definitely feel free to be in touch as I continue to look for roadless, and ideally, pack-in or pack-through packraft trips in the area. I was definitely spoiled, or at least strongly influenced, by the abundance of potential adventures in interior AK. I have some ideas for local trips that I have not attempted yet, though. Hope you’ve had some good trips since posting last…-MK

This thread is old but deserves an answer anyway. Lots more people buttboating in CO these days with the same question.

Best thing you can do is to get Stafford and McCutcheon’s ‘Whitewater of the Southern Rockies’. Great beta, stunning pics, hundreds of runs in NM, AZ, CO, UT, and WY. Not packrafting-centric but we’re adults–we can extrapolate.

IME thus far:

Northgate Canyon on the North Platte is a fun run. Did it as an overnighter with fishing gear and that was about right. Class III at almost any level. More about the scenery than the whitewater.

Many sections of the Poudre above Fort Collins are suitable–see above text.

Clear Creek into Golden has everything from II+ to V. The after-work run for most Front Range peeps. Almost entirely roadside means it’s easy to lap and learn and meet fellow paddlers on.

Arkansas from south of Leadville to Canon City has hundreds of rapids of every flavor and lots of road access points to allow you to bite off as little or as much as suits you. BV and Salida have play parks that are great, friendly places to learn in a ~controlled setting. Sections like Fractions and Browns are great for fast learners to dive right into, or timid second-season boaters to start to spread their wings on.

Waterton Canyon on the South Platte is an excellent spot to learn by sessioning III and III+ rapids. The run is only one mile long but has a wide, flat streamside trail that you hike back up when you’re done. Suitable flows can be found 9-10 months of the year. Nearby Deckers section caters to true beginners.

Gunnison has a whitewater park and a town run that are both great places to learn and progress. Taylor Canyon NE of Gunnison is, IMO, one of the most fun III+ runs in the state. All roadside so you can bail if needed, but interesting/continuous enough and in such a pretty canyon that you don’t often notice the road is there. Probably past the limit of what anyone from ~Denver would want to drive to for a day run.

Haven’t yet run the Blue River out of Summit but I’m told it’s mostly mellow class II–better as a fishing float than for any sort of whitewater thrills.

This doesn’t scratch the surface of what CO has to offer. Get the book and start there, cross reference the beta within with the flows found here:

And you’re well on your way.


such a nice topic i feel sorry i come too late


Don’t feel like you’ve come to late at all! I think packrafting is a growing activity and information like Mike shared is extremely valuable in helping newbies like myself get started.

I began packrafting at the beginning of May this year (6 weeks ago) and I’ve been using the post by MikeC as a great starting point for my own adventures and exploration as I learn to packraft. This is from the perspective of someone living near Denver.

Some of the highlights I’ve found so far:

I started cutting my teeth at the Clear Creek Whitewater park in Golden. It was a great way to get out there and start getting comfortable with how the raft handles with small drops, waves, and dealing with small obstacles. From there I progressed further upstream towards the first tunnel where you can get a nice run down to the park with a couple of fun sections.

I have run Brown’s canyon @ ~850 CFS. I followed some beta I found on this site I believe to follow the old train tracks up the canyon and from there, I could scout all the rapids I was eventually going to run. This was very beneficial as the Arkansas was the biggest thing I’ve still run to date.

Lately I’ve been working on my technique a bit on the Foxton run of the North Fork of the South Platte in a section called the Boulder Garden. It is considered class III at the flows I’ve been running of ~250-350 on the Bailey gauge. The road that runs along side makes it very easy to scout out the rapids and try thing in pieces to get comfortable with how to run certain lines. This has been really helpful in building my comfort level.

Anyway, I just wanted to post something to say thank you to those whom have come before and shared their experience and to let those who come after know that this information is very beneficial and people are out there packrafting!

  • Chris