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Arkansas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Diversion Tunnel to Willis Gulch Picnic Area
~ 9.0 Miles


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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Lake Creek, a feeder stream to the Arkansas River, is a hairboater's wet dream. The "easy" part of the run is rated Class V+, and then it really gets wild. Lake Creek is definitely not a place for canoes and rafts, or for kayakers with less than expert whitewater skills. This is no classroom - this is the professional grade extreme creek run! As gorgeous as it is, and it is one very beautiful place, there will be very little time to "smell the roses" unless you want to smell them from a prone position inside a pine box. The run starts at an elevation of 10,470 feet msl, then plunges 1,230 feet to a final elevation of 9,240 feet msl along the way. The air is thin and cold. Few Colorado streams flow at this elevation.

Running about 9 miles, Lake Creek flows through the mountains above Twin Lakes with a constantly changing gradient that varies from a low of 60 fpm to a high of 215 fpm. The water is cold, turbulent and strewn with huge boulders, log jams, undercut rock ledges, big holes, strong cross currents, blind drops and turns, and plenty of other things that can prove disasterous for a paddler who has not done his or her homework, or who takes this run for granted. It also has some spots of tame water that can lull a paddler into complacency just before delivering a serious wake-up call. Lake Creek almost makes Grape Creek look like a playful run by comparison. Remember the Boy Scout motto - BE PREPARED!


Chaffee 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, to the northeast, and Pueblo, to the southeast, are just about equidistant from the river.

Distance from major cities

Durango miles; Grand Junction miles; Denver miles; Pueblo miles; Santa Fe miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Oklahoma City miles; Tulsa miles; Dallas miles; Austin miles; San Antonio miles; Houston miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point and destination point on the river.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent and clear, though snowmelt cold. This section is rated Class V+ and higher when it flows at or above 400 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

This section is heavily, dependent upon uncommon weather conditions, but when it flows its season is a few weeks in June and/or July. This is one you just have to monitor, and be there when conditions are right. The window is very short!

Hazards to navigation

Are you kidding me? This entire run is a serious hazard, even for extreme whitewater hairboaters. Treat Lake Creek as seriously as you would bubonic plague, because it can be just as deadly!

River Access Points

Put in on the dirt road off SH 82 (mm 69) near Graham Gulch at 0.0 miles; pulloff on SH 82 at Mt. Elbert Lodge on river left at 5.5 miles; Willis Gulch Picnic Area on river right at 9.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are two public campgrounds located on Lake Creek. Snyder Falls Campground, near Toaster Rapid, is located on river right above Mt. Elbert Lodge at about 5.0 miles. Parry Peak Campground is located just below The rain Rapid and Paralyzer rapid on river right at about 8.5 miles. Other campgrounds are available in each of the sections above this one on the Arkansas River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services Located on Lake Creek. However, such services may be available from outfitters in other areas. Ask local paddlers for details.

Reviewer's comments

Lake Creek is a very pretty and very treacherous place to play, even for expert whitewater kayakers. Anybody else should go somewhere else to play. It has nine different gradients in just 9 miles of creek, rolling like a roller coaster from its start at 110 fpm, peaking near the end at 215 FPM and finally ending at 205 fpm. Its "flattest" segment is 60 fpm, and comes immediately before its steepest segment. The short season features fast moving water, big drops, big rocks, big standing waves, and big opportunities to damage or destroy boats and injure or kill paddlers. Its setting is rugged wilderness, with moderately high canyon walls, mountains and green trees everywhere except the channel, and sometimes parts of those things are there, too! Lake Creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River, ending on that stream at above Granite and below Leadville near the US Highway 24/SH 82 intersection, so if you are up to snuff and wants a great ride while in the area running the Arkansas, then Lake Creek is a run you will long remember. Canoes and rafts should not even think about running the creek because it is just too steep and too narrow with too many opportunities for disaster. This is truly a hairboater's playground.

Technical Data
Class Rating V+ to VI
Length 9 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 82 near Graham Gulch
Last Take-out Willis Gulch Picnic Area
Elevation msl
Gradient 64 to 215 fpm (8 changes)
USGS Gauge
Season June through July
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 ]
[ Rincon to Pinnacle Rock ] [ Pinnacle Rock to Canon City ] [ Grape Creek ]

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