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Fraser River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Winter Park to Granby
~ 24 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Fraser River forms near Winter Park in the Roosevelt National Forest of Grand County, then flows northwest running generally parallel to US Highway 40 to its confluence with the Colorado River near Grandy and Silver Creek. It is a sister tributary to the Williams Fork and Blue Rivers to the west, sharing much of their classic scenic beauty. Its entire length is only about 24-25 miles, of which about 9 miles flows through the gorgeous Fraser Canyon. The stream is rated Class III+ to IV, and is not recommended for paddlers having less than intermediate level whitewater skills. Less experienced paddlers in rafts (especially guided rafts) can make this run IF there is adequate water to float a barge full of people and gear.

Upstream diversions syphon most of the water from the Fraser River leaving boaters with a very short season that may only be about three weeks (or less) in late May and early June. Rafts require high water to navigate the river, so check the gauge before going. Very heavy winter snowpack years are the best times to run this river.

The river is situated at a starting elevation above 8,300 feet msl, where the air and water are very cold. Paddlers should wear wetsuits or drysuits with a base layer, Neoprene gloves and Neoprene river boots with wool or synthetic fabic socks to protect against hypothermia. Added caution should be exercised to avoid unplanned swims. The surrounding area is remote, though a few small towns dot the landscape in this Winter Park Ski Area about an hour's drive west of Denver.

With adequate water runs can be made from Winter Park to Granby, Silver Creek or the confluence with the Colorado River, though many boaters opt to put in at Tabernash and take out about 9.4 miles later just west of Granby, that section being the bulk of the whitewater run. There are no local outfitters or liveries, so paddlers should take boats and gear, and arrange to do their own shuttles.


Grand County, between Arapaho National Forest on the west bank and Roosevelt National Forest along the east bank. Nearby towns through which the Fraser River flows include Winter Park, Fraser, Tabernash, Granby and Silver Creek. Denver is about an hour to the east.

Distance from major cities

Durango 365 miles; Grand Junction 205 miles; Denver 55 miles; Salt Lake City 490 miles; Albuquerque 577 miles; Phoenix 819 miles; Oklahoma City 680 miles; Tulsa 785 miles; Dallas 839 miles; Austin 1,030 miles; San Antonio 1,000 miles; Houston 1,090 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Fraser River flows very clean, very clear and very cold. Water quality is excellent as it flows through a pristine area of national forests and small ski resort towns.

Best time to go

The season on the Fraser River is typically late May through early June, but it may be extended or shortened, depending upon winter snowpack and late spring rainfall. Upstream diversions are more likely to shorten the season than it is to be extended by winter precipitation.

Hazards to navigation

The first major rapid is located in Fraser Canyon between the Towns of Tabernash and Granby. Thumper (Class III) will be recognized by a set of power poles and the railroad tracks on river left. Pick your line, then hit it running! You will likely get very wet, so it is best to be dressed for cold water conditions. Just past the mid-point for the Fraser Canyon run is White Mile Rapid (Class III+ to IV), a long rapid with a great surfing hole (for you kayakers) at the end. From Tabernash, White Mile Rapid will be just past the fourth bridge under which you paddle. Numerous other fun rapids in the Class III category will thrill you, but most will not present significant challenges to paddlers having at least solid intermediate level whitewater skills.

River Access Points

Off US Highway 40 at Winter Park at 0.0 miles; Off US Highway 40 at Fraser at about 6.0 miles; Off Grand County Road 823 at the railyard in Tabernash at about 10.0 miles; Grand County Road 894 in Granby at about 19.5 miles; Off US Highway 40 at the confluence with the Colorado River at about 24.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Nearby campsites are available at Mizpah, located off US Highway 40 about 7 miles from IH 70; Robbers Roost off US Highway 40 near Berthoud Pass (elevation 11,315 feet) about 12 miles from IH 70; Idlewild, on river right near Winter Park off US Highway 40. There are no other known campgrounds located along the Fraser River. Accommodations may be available at a local motel or ski resort, but be sure to bring your credit card and/or a lot of cash!

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near the Fraser River. Outfitters in the Denver-Boulder-Fort Collins area can provide rentals, and some may offer shuttles, as well. Plan on running your own shuttles, or inquire of locals as to their willingness to provide a shuttle for a nominal fee if not contracting with an area outfitter.

Reviewer's comments

The Fraser River, and especially Fraser Canyon, is an excellent place to run some moderate whitewater if you are lucky enough to be there when it is flowing. Ski resort towns in the vicinity of the river divert most of its water for such mundane pursuits as human consumption, hygiene and business purposes (those silly Colorado people!) The area is drop dead gorgeous, and demands that you photograph it. Paddling the Fraser is fun and exciting if you are prepared for its frigid water and air temperatures - otherwise, it might be a long, miserable day! To avoid hypothermia, do NOT wear cotton clothing on this river. Wetsuits or drysuits with a base layer of water repelling undergarments are recommended, along with Neoprene river boots and gloves. If you get there and find the water level is too low to paddle, then don't panic. Just move a few miles to the southwest and run the Blue River, which is very similar in its characteristics.

Technical Data
Class Rating III+ to IV
Length 24 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in US Highway 40 at Winter Park
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out US Highway 40 at Colorado River
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 8,310-7,495 msl
Gradient 34 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Winter Park
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season snowmelt/rainfall dependent
Permits No

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