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Rock Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Shoe & Stocking Creek to SH 131
~ 12 Miles


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General Description

Let's just set the tenor for Rock Creek right up front - unless you are a hairboat kayaker do not even consider running this one. Rock Creek is rated Class V+ at flows over 150 cfs, and that might be conservative. It is strongly recommended that you not attempt Rock Creek at flows above 400 cfs. The creek has a reach of more than 20 miles, but the runnable part is only about 12-13 miles, though the real hairboaters limit their runs to the middle 7 miles, where treachery of almost every imaginable kind exists. This includes high elevation (it starts at nearly 8,600 feet msl), cold air, cold water, huge boulders, log jams, willow strainers, constricted channels, little room to catch eddies, and that's just the good stuff. Several man-made hazards are thrown in for good measure.

Rock Creek is located in Routt County near the Grand County line. It is a Rocky Mountain stream forming in the Routt National Forest and flowing to its confluence with the Colorado River between Kremmling and Bond in northcentral Colorado. Nearby streams include the Fraser, Williams Fork and Blue Rivers to the southeast, White River to the west and Yampa River to the northwest.

Rock Creek is for diehard kayakers who may have already killed off a substantial number of brain cells. Its gradient changes at least 7 times in the popular section, with its shallowest part dropping at 40 fpm and its steepest at 300 fpm. It falls some 1,400 feet in just 7 miles, averaging about 200 fpm. It is fast, furious, very technical and more than most paddlers could ever handle. If you are serious about paddling Rock Creek, then go in April and May right after the snow melts. Be sure to leave your Last Will and Testament where family members can find it!


Routt County, near the Grand County Line, starting above SH 134 and flowing to the Colorado River between Kremmling to the northeast and Bond to the southwest. It flows through Routt National Forest in the Rocky Mountains of northcentral Colorado.

Distance from major cities

Durango 345 miles; Grand Junction 175 miles; Denver 165 miles; Salt Lake City 492 miles; Albuquerque 557 miles; Phoenix 800 miles; Oklahoma City 790 miles; Dallas 950 miles; Austin 1,140 miles; San Antonio 1,113 miles; Houston 1,200 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Rock Creek flows wild, white and very cold. Water quality is excellent, sourcing from snowmelt, though the season is short. Rock Creek is rated Class V+ at flows over 150 cfs, and rated "DON'T GO!" at flows over 400 cfs.

Best time to go

The prime season on Rock Creek is typically April and May, when the snow melts and you can actually see water in the creek, but it may be extended or shortened, depending upon winter snowpack and late spring rainfall.

Hazards to navigation

Rock Creek IS a hazard! However, there are several specific hazards, both natural and man-made, that require special attention. Some of those include log jams and downed trees lying in the creek at various spots. From Shoe & Stocking Creek the stream flows slow and very tame for about a mile before the fun starts. Willow trees line the banks. As the canyon walls start to edge closer together you are about to start the run that brought you to Rock Creek in the first place. An irrigation pipe extending into the river signals the first major drop called, appropriately, Pipe Drop, where log jams sometimes clog the landing zone. It is about 3 miles below the Shoe & Stocking put-in. About a mile below Pipe Crop is a broken-down bridge that let's you know that you are about to enter "The Tunnel", a really hairy place even for expert boaters (and if you are not one of those, then you should not be there in the first place!) The Tunnel is a blind hazard that curves so that you cannot see the exit until just before you get there. The end of this drop has a ski ramp-type exit requiring a tight, diagonal turn over a pile of rocks. You might be able to scout The Tunnel exit from atop the railroad bridge. Many boaters choose to portage this hazard, and with good reason.

Shortly after portaging or surviving a run through The Tunnel is an S-turn boulder garden rapid that requires quick reflexes and decisive paddle strokes to run it safely. It is fast, and gives little time for second thoughts. Have a plan before you enter this rapid. Right after S-turn Rapid is Blue Barrel Rapid, a mile-long E-Ticket rollercoaster ride that gets the blood boiling, as if it were not already. This rapid is bony, and can destroy boats, as well as injuring or killing boaters. At high flows it is especially dangerous. Its length just adds to the peril normally present. The rest of Rock Creek is rather mundane compared to what was above.

River Access Points

FR 225 off FR 206/16 Road from SH 134 (Gore Pass), on river left just above Shoe & Stocking Creek (on river right) at 0.0 miles; 4A Road off 4 Road/29 Road, on river left at about 7.0 miles; SH 131 at McCoy, just above the confluence with the Colorado River at about 12.0 miles. There are no other access points for Rock Creek.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds located on Rock Creek. However, there are three in very close proximity and several others not too far away. Those closest to the stream are Lynx Pass Campground, located on the north side of SH 134, Toponas Creek Campground, located almost adjacent to Lynx Pass, on the south side of SH 134, and Blacktail Creek Campground, located on the south side of SH 134. All three are between Toponas to the west and US Highway 40 to the east. Kremmling is just a few miles down US 40 from SH 134.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near Rock Creek. Nearby outfitters who may be able to provide rentals, shuttles and/or information. Plan on taking with you everything you need for boating and/or camping if not contracting with an area outfitter.

Reviewer's comments

Personally, I would not run Rock Creek. My Information comes from a lot of research and conversations with reliable sources whom I personally know to have been there. This place just scares me reading about it. Rock Creek is not for whitewater canoeists, of which I am one. It is for the truly talented expert kayakers with a death wish. One really great attribute is that it will not be like a day at Daytona International Raceway, though the speed at which you boat might resemble one of those stock cars in full race mode. Rock Creek is gorgeous, but hard to find and harder to paddle. There is an option for paddling past the usual takeout at 4A Road, and going all the way to where 2 Road meets SH 131, but most people don't run down there because their adrenaline is too high from running the hazards above, and the flatter water would be anti-climatic.

Technical Data
Class Rating V+
Length 12 miles
Minimum Flow 150 cfs
Optimum Flow 200-350 cfs
Maximum Flow < 400 cfs
First Put-in Shoe & Stocking Creek
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 131
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 8,580- 5,700 feet msl
Gradient 40-300 fpm (6 changes)
USGS Gauge Web: 09060550
Season April through May
Permits No

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