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Arkansas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Stone Bridge to Rincon
~ 18.7 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Arkansas River forms in the Pike National Forest of Chaffee County in central Colorado, then flows south through Buena Vista and Salida before turning east by southeast at Coaldale. From there, it flows through Canon City and Pueblo to John Martin Reservoir, then into and across Kansas through Wichita, down into Oklahoma through Tulsa and Muskogee, where it again turns eartward into Arkansas at Fort Smith, flowing through Russelville, Little Rock and Pine Bluff before reaching its confluence with the Mighty Mississippi River on the Arkansas-Mississippi border. The Ark is a VERY long river with a large number of dams creating reservoirs in each state through which it passes. This description covers the section from Buena Vista to Stone Bridge.

The 18.7 mile section of the Arkansas River from Stone Bridge down to Rincon offers boaters a mild Class II to III ride with 6 rapids and great access with five points along the river plus Rincon Campground at the bottom. This popular run is well suited for canoes, kayaks and rafts. A lowhead dam sits at 6.3 miles, with a chute neat the left bank. This run is usually navigable May through August, with a moderate gradient of 23 FPM, not quite as steep as sections above.

Salida, in the middle of this section, is the starting point for the annual FibARK boat race and the pre-race party the night before. The mid-June race began in 1948, and is billed as "the grandaddy of downriver races". This is not a mecca for hairboaters, but it is great place for leaarning or developing whitewater boating and swiftwater resccue skills.


Chaffee and Freemont Counties, Colorado, bordered on the west by the San Isabel National Forest and on the east by the Pike National Forest in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Denver and Colorado Springs are to the north, Pueblo is to the east and Grand Junction is almost due west.

Distance from major cities

Durango 246 miles; Grand Junction 206 miles; Denver 216 miles; Pueblo 107 miles; Salt Lake City 491 miles; Albuquerque 445 miles; Phoenix 833 miles; Oklahoma City 841 miles; Dallas 1,000 miles; Austin 963 miles; San Antonio 1,043 miles; Houston 1,149 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent and clear, though snow-melt cold.This section is rated Class II to III at flows below about 2,500 cfs. Because of the cold water temperature, and the often cool to cold air temperature, wetsuits or drysuits are highly recommended to prevent hypothermia.

Best time to go

By Colorado standards, this secton has a very long season ranging from May through August or September, though the actual season may be longer or shorter, depending upon winter snowpack and summer rainfall amounts.

Hazards to navigation

Compared to rapids on other Colorado rivers, and even on other sections of the Arkansas River, the rapids between Stone Bridge and Rincon are more gentle, ranging from Class II to III. The first rapid comes near Squaw Creek at about 2.9 miles below the Stone Bridge access. At about 6.3 miles a lowhead dam with a left side chute spans the river. Bear Creek Rapid, at 12.3 miles, is the first significant hazard. Spanning the width of the river, Bear Creek Rapid features a great surfing hole on river right. Spider Rapid is at 15.4 miles. Badger Creek Rapid is at about 18.2 miles. The last significant rapid is The Flume, at 18.4 miles.

River Access Points

Stone Bridge (SH 291) access, near US Highway 285 / SH 291 split, at 0.0 miles; Big Bend access at 3.1 miles; Salida access at 9.3 miles; Salida East access at 11.8 miles; and Rincon access at 18.7 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Rincon Campground, off SH 291, is located near Badger Creek Rapid and The Flume at 18.3 miles. Other campgrounds are available in each of the two sections above and below the Stone Bridge to Rincon section.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Rentals, shuttles and/or other river related services are available from any of several outfitters located on or serving the Arkansas River.

Reviewer's comments

This section of the Arkansas River is a great run for intermediate level whitewater paddlers and an excellent training run for beginner to novice whitewater paddlers wanting to learn or develop good skills. It offers plenty of good rapids, but none too demanding or dangerous. Great access, a great campground at Rincon and close proximity to major roads make this section ideal. The scenery is awesome, but the nature of this run makes it very popular, so crowding can sometimes be a problem, especially during the peak summer months. The long season, lasting from May into September, gives paddlers a good window for catching the Arkansas River between Stone Bridge and Rincon at optimum levels. Unless you are prepard and have the skills for Class III to IV whitewater, this section is best avoided when the flow exceeds about 2,500 cfs.

Because the water is cold, wearing wetsuits or drysuits is advisable for most paddlers. The Arkansas River would not be a good place to become hypothermic. Ear plugs would be advisable to keep the cold water out of your ear canals, a situation that can lead to serious aural complications from repeated and prolonged exposure. Swiftwater rescue skills would be advisable for all paddlers running the Arkansas River.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III
Length 18.7 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Stone Bridge (SH 291)
Last Take-out Rincon access
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 07091200 (Nathrop)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season May through August
Permits No

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click HERE to visit the web site of Pikes Peak Whitewater Club

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Arkansas River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Arkansas River Homepage ] [ Granite to Buena Vista ] [ Buena Vista to Stone Bridge ] [ Rincon to Pinnacle Rock ]
[ Pinnacle Rock to Canon City ] [ Grape Creek ] [ Lake Creek ]

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