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Buzzard Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Vega Reservoir to Colorado River
~ 7 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Buzzard Creek forms in the Grand Mesa National Forest of northeastern Delta County, then flows southwest from its headwaters at Vega Reservoir to Plateau Creek at the Town of Collbran. This 7 mile long creek is rated a solid Class IV stream due to its steepness and technical difficulty, with some Class III rapids very near Plateau Creek. It begins at an elevation of 6,955 feet msl, and drops about 1,000 feet over its course. The gradient starts at 190 fpm, then changes a half dozen times before finally leveling out at "just" 100 fpm near its confluence with Plateau Creek. Unfortunately, Buzzard Creek seldom has adequate water for paddling.

Buzzard Creek offers a beautiful, scenic whitewater paddling opportunity, usually in May, if it has enough water. Adequate flows normally occur only in years when there is a dense snowpack in the Grand Mesa area. Like its sister Plateau Creek, Buzzard is very near many other excellent Colorado and Utah paddling destinations. Access is great, and there are plenty of nearby campgrounds to call "home" while you spend a few days getting acquainted with streams around Grand Junction.

Many paddlers consider Buzzard Creek to be an ideal place for learning about steep creek boating in kayaks and short whitewater canoes with flotation. It offers plenty of hazards, both natural and man-made, to keep you on the edge. These include boulder gardens, brush, downed trees, seasonal ranch fences (which may or may not be present) and a nasty piece of large cable strung across the creek that touches the water in the middle, and which has caused numerous injuries as well as damages to boats. Once a run begins there is very little time for sightseeing. The rapids come in quick succession, nearly non-stop. This is a run for boaters with at least strong intermediate to advanced whitewater paddling skills. Rafters need not apply!


Delta County, near Grand Junction, starting in the Grand Mesa National Forest at Vega Reservoir. SH 330 runs alongside Plateau Creek, and very close to Buzzard Creek, up to the lake. Grand Junction is only about an hour's drive from the put-in.

Distance from major cities

Durango 315 miles; Grand Junction 45 miles; Denver 255 miles; Salt Lake City 330 miles; Albuquerque 430 miles; Phoenix 770 miles; Oklahoma City 880 miles; Dallas 1,040 miles; Austin 1,230 miles; San Antonio 1,205 miles; Houston 1,290 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Buzzard Creek flows clean, clear and cold. Water quality is excellent, sourcing from snowmelt, though the season is short. Buzzard Creek is rated Class IV with some Class III near its confluence with Plateau Creek.

Best time to go

Typically, Buzzard Creek flows in May, if it flows at a navigable level. The creek is dependent upon a heavy winter snowpack around Grand Mesa. Always check the gauge before going.

Hazards to navigation

Buzzard Creek is full of hazards for most of its run. Rapids come one right after the other, and most are rated Class IV, not necessarily because of big drops, but more for their technical difficulty. Amid the boulder garden drops are brush along the banks, downed trees and occasionally log jams and man-made hazards to avoid while moving rather swiftly downstream. About 3 miles into the run you will find a large cable strung across the creek and hanging into the water in midstream. Avoid the cable by paddling along either bank, or portaging around it. Do NOT allow the cable to clothes line you! About five miles into the run is a wooden bridge crossing the creek where a strong hydraulic current develops at high flows. Ranchers sometimes erect temporary fences across the creek during periods of low water, and those may or may not be present at any time. The fences are legal, so do not cut or remove them. If necessary, portage around them. The final few miles are primarily Class III rapids without major consequence for competent boaters.

River Access Points

64.30, off SH SH 330E from IH 70 near Vega Reservoir, at 0.0 miles; Vega State Recreation Area at Collbran, off SH 330 at about 7.0 miles. There are no other access points for runs on Buzzard Creek.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Vega State Recreation Area offers a campground and river access; Cottonwood Lake, to the south of Plateau Creek on a county road between Collbran and Grand Mesa, offers a campground; Island Acres State Recreation Area, east of Grand Junction along the Colorado River between SH 65 and Palisade, offers a campground; Island Lake State Recreation Area, off SH 65 between Mesa and Grand Mesa, offers a campground; Eggston Lake, Carp Lake, Twin Lake and Ward Lake, all in the immediate area of Grand Mesa off SH 65, offer campgrounds. There are no other known campgrounds in the immediate vicinity of Plateau Creek.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near Buzzard Creek. There are outfitters operating in Grand Junction that offer rentals, shuttles and/or river information. Plan on taking with you everything you need for boating and/or camping if not renting from a local paddle shop.

Reviewer's comments

Buzzard Creek offers an excellent opportunity to experience creek boating on a steep creek near Grand Junction, but there is only one problem - having adequate water to float your boat. This very seasonal stream is a sister creek flowing into Plateau Creek at Collbran that usually only has navigable waters in May, if then. Unless the Grand Mesa area gets a heavy winter snowpack do not count on paddling Buzzard Creek. But, if there is enough water for a trip, then be ready for excitement that is almost non-stop for 7 miles of Class IV water, devolving into easier Class III right before it meets Plateau Creek. The Vega Reservoir area and Grand Mesa offer many excellent campsites, and paddlers can choose between a number of great runs on nearby rivers and creeks in addition to Buzzard. It may be just a short distance from Plateau Creek, but it is a world apart in terms of technical difficulty. Rafts cannot negotiate the creek channel, and paddlers should have strong intermediate or higher level whitewater skills in creek boat canoes or kayaks to make this run.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV
Length 7 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in 64.30 Road off SH 330E
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Vega State Rec. Area at Collbran
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,955-5,960 feet msl
Gradient 100-190 fpm (6 changes)
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks
Season May
Permits No

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