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Arkansas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Rincon to Pinnacle Rock
~ 27.9 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 Arkansas River, from Rincon to Pinnacle Rock, is just under 28 miles of exciting Class III to IV whitewater and a gentle gradient of 23 to 28 FPM, making the run run fast, but not wild. Six significant creeks feed the river and keep it flowing from late sspring through the summer. Nestled amid spectacular scenery, tis section is closely paralleled by SH 50, with 7 good public access points at convenient intervals along the way. The upper part, some 14 miles or so, is the lower section of the annual FibARK boat race held here in mid-June.

Campgrounds at Rincon and Five Points, about 2 miles below Pinnacle Rock, provide good sites for base camps or overnight stopovers. Multiple access points allow for trips of 8.3, 13.3, 16.6, 22.5, 24.7, 27.9 miles, or various combinations based on selected segments.


Freemont County, 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 250 miles; Grand Junction 205 miles; Denver 190 miles; Pueblo 80 miles; Salt Lake City 490 miles; Albuquerque 418 miles; Phoenix 534 miles; Oklahoma City 815 miles; Dallas 755 miles; Austin 936 miles; San Antonio 1,016 miles; Houston 1,122 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

All 11 rapids in the section are potential hazards for boaters without sufficient whitewater paddling skills, preparation and execution, but nothing is particularly difficult because of technical complexity. The Class II rapids mandate attention to details when running them. It is best to have boaters with the best swiftwater rescue skills make the runs first so that they can set up safety teams downriver before lesser experienced boaters attempt them. Cottonwood Rapid, at about 11.5 miles, is the exception because of its Class IV rating, and special care should be taken to avoid hishaps or swimming here. Open canoes should have flotation installed, and paddlers should be aware that self-rescue may be difficult. Scout all rapids if you are unfamiliar with this section.

River Access Points

Rincon access at 0.0 miles; Vallie (CR 45) Bridge on river left at about 8.3 miles; Trading Post access on river right at 13.3 miles; Lone Pine access on river right at 16.6 miles; Highway 69 access near Texas Creek on river left at 22.5 miles; Maytag access on river right at 24.7 miles; Pinnacle Rock access on river right at 27.9 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 sections above and below the Rincon-to-Pinnacle Rock 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

Just as the section above make a good beginner and learning training ground, this section of the Arkansas River is ideal for intermediate level whitewater boaters developing or tightening their chops before advancing to bigger water. Excellent access makes this a great place for trips of many lengths depending upon skill level, time available and energy. Depending upon the stamina of paddlers in a group, or their desire to paddle fast or leisurely, this can be a one to three day run. Most will probably make this section a 2-day event, taking time to enjoy the rapids and the river (playboat kayakers may make a season of this "long" section.)

The awesome scenery begs to be photographed, and the section offers excellent photographic opportunities for capturing images of paddlers showing their stuff, but make sure you have a waterproof camera, or one carried in a water-tight case that is strapped to the boat. The nearby highway, when no traffic is coming, provides an excellent elevated vantage point for shooting runs through the rapids. This section can be run by canoeists, kayakers and rafters who are properly equipped and outfitted for moderately strong whitewater, or novice paddlers in guided rafts. There are some big boulders in the channel, so be on your game when approaching them - don't wrap, and don't go swimming!

Technical Data
Class Rating II to IV
Length 27.9 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Rincon Access
Last Take-out Pinnacle Rock Access
Elevation msl
Gradient 23 fpm av / 28 fpm 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 ] [ Stone Bridge to Rincon ]
[ Pinnacle Rock to Canon City ] [ Grape Creek ] [ Lake Creek ]

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Last updated September 10, 2014

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