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Plateau Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Vega Reservoir to Colorado River
~ 25 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Plateau Creek forms in the Grand Mesa National Forest of northeastern Delta County, then flows northwest to Vega Reservoir, turns west and flows to its confluence with the Colorado River just a few miles northeast of Grand Junction. Along the way it passes through the Vega State Recreation Area and the towns of Collbran, Plateau City, Molina and Mesa, near the Powderhorn Ski Area in Mesa County. The total length of Plateau Creek is roughly 40 miles (excluding the distance across the very small Vega Reservoir), but this description covers the lower 25 miles from Vega Reservoir to the Colorado River. Many boaters limit runs to the 8+ miles between Mesa and IH 70, just before the confluence with the Colorado River.

Plateau Creek features a lot of flatwater with Class III to IV rapids at flows exceeding about 300 cfs interspersed along its run. The rapids are generally located below Mesa, though smaller drops can be experienced higher up. The creek drops at a fairly consistent rate of about 33 fpm from a starting elevation above 5,500 feet msl at Vega Reservoir to about 4,800 feet msl at the Colorado River. It is one of the most significant streams draining the Grand Mesa area, but only offers navigable flows in April and May, depending upon warm temperature days in early to mid spring.

Hazards are very few, and most competent boaters can canoe, kayak and raft Plateau Creek, avoiding the rapids altogether if they so choose. The real rapids are located below Mesa. A gravel island below the bridge on the lower 8 miles acts as a magnet for downed trees and tree debris that washes out of the Grand Mesa National Forest. The lower section of the creek flows through a beautiful sandstone canyon that opens into a larger canyon near the end of the run. Bring your camera because Plateau Creek is a gorgeous place to camp and boat when it is flowing.


Delta and Mesa Counties, near Grand Junction, starting in the Grand Mesa National Forest above Vega Reservoir. SH 65 runs alongside the creek from IH 70 to Mesa, then the creek is closely paralleled by SH 330 up to the lake.

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

Plateau Creek flows clean, clear and cold. Water quality is excellent, sourcing from snowmelt, though the season is short. Plateau Creek is rated Class III (with one Class IV at high flows) whenever flows exceed 300 cfs.

Best time to go

Typically, Plateau Creek flows in April and May, though April flows depend upon sustained warm days in late March and early April. Always check the gauge before going.

Hazards to navigation

Plateau Creek has very few hazards, and most of them are avoidable. The upper reaches offer little more than flatwater with occasional small rapids. Below Mesa, in the canyons area, there are some Class III rapids, with one escalating to Class IV when flows are high (over 300 CFS). Standing waves may be encountered at high flows in this section. The single biggest hazard may be the gravel island that acts as a collection center for trees washing down from the Grand Mesa National Forest. Avoid the entrapment by paddling left of the island. The last half mile down to the Colorado River is where most of the tree debris collects, and extreme caution should be taken due to the increased steepness of that section.

River Access Points

SH 330, off SH 65 from IH 70 near Vega Reservoir, at 0.0 miles; Vega State Recreation Area at Collbran, off SH 330 at about 7.0 miles; Plateau City, off SH 330 at about 8.5 miles; Molina, off SH 330, at about 13.0 miles; Mesa, off SH 56, at about 16.0 miles; IH-70 western ramp at about 24.0 miles. There may be other access points between Mesa and IH 70 - ask locals for advise if wanting to do a really short run.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Vega State Recreation Area offers a campground and river access; Cottonwood Lake and Bonham Lake, to the south of Plateau Creek on a county road between Collbran and Grand Mesa, offer campgrounds; 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 Plateau Creek. Nearby outfitters who may be able to provide rentals, shuttles and/or information.

Reviewer's comments

Padding Plateau Creek can be a wonderful experience if you happen to be fortunate enough to catch it when the flow is adequate. Its very short season, dependent upon sustained warm spring days, makes finding good flow more challenging than any rapids, debris clogs or other features to be encountered on the water. The area is beautiful, and the creek flows through a marvelously gorgeous red/brown sandstone canyon that opens into a much larger canyon near the confluence with the Colorado River. There will usually be few other paddlers on the creek, and it offers excellent camping areas, one of which is located very near the creek at Vega State Recreation Area. Several others just a few miles away. Buzzard Creek, a Class IV sister creek to Plateau Creek on its north, flowing from Vega Reservoir, is an excellent run with big elevation drops and long, exciting whitewater rapids. The area is only a few miles from Westwater and the great runs on Yampa and Lodore Canyons on the Yampa and Green Rivers, respectively. The Gunnison River is also very near, flowing through Delta to Grand Junction and its confluence with the Colorado River. There are plenty of places to paddle in the Grand Junction area, and Plateau Creek is one of the best when it has flow.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to IV
Length 25 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 330
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out IH-70 western ramp
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 5,070-4,800 feet msl
Gradient 33fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Cameo
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through May
Permits No

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