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Colorado River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Blue River to Piney River
~ 24.8 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Colorado River is a major water source for the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, draining a significant amount of snowmelt water all along the western half of Colorado. The river begins at an elevation of about 10,000 feet MSL in the Rocky Mountains of Grand County, Colorado near Silver Creek on the western edge of Arapaho National Recreation Area northwest of Denver. From its headwaters the Colorado River flows west through Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, into Utah then down to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border, where it begins to cut the Grand Canyon. The river then flows through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border before heading south along the Arizona-California border to its mouth at the Sea of Cortez. Along the way, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles, mostly through three deserts.

Between its confluences with the Blue and Piney Rivers the Colorado River flows about 24.8 miles in a westerly direction with both flatwater and whitewater along the way. It begins with a Gore Canyon run that is 3.9 miles of flatwater and 5.3 miles of class V- to V+ whitewater - talk about a schizophrenic river - then ends with 15.6 miles of Class III whitewater. The run starts high in the Rocky Mountains, at an elevation of 7,318 feet MSL and descends to 6,800 feet MSL with gradient changes that take it through 50 FPM, increasing to 93 FPM, then 117 FPM before starting a decline to 67 FPM, then 31 FPM and finally ending at 14 FPM. With an 8-month season, this section of the Colorado River flows long after most other rivers in the state have either run dry or frozen.

Typical of Colorado streams, this one is quite scenic. With multiple access points this section can be run by advanced to expert paddlers in rafts and kayaks, or as a great intermediate run on the lower 2/3 of its nearly 25 miles in canoes, kayaks and rafts. It also offer strategically placed campgrounds that are convenient for overnight trips. While the Gore Canyon segment (top 9.2 miles) is remote and isolated, the Pumphouse run (bottom 11.6 miles) is almost paralleled by roads in close proximity to the river. The top of this section is marked by the SH 9 crossing near Kremmling, running down to SH 131 on the northwestern edge of White River National Forest just above Bond.


The Rocky Mountains of Grand and Eagle Counties on the northwestern edge of White River National Forest between Silver Creek and Granby to the east and Glenwood Springs to the west.

Distance from major cities

Durango 345 miles; Grand Junction 175 miles; Denver 105 miles; Santa Fe 491 miles; Albuquerque 552 miles; Phoenix 758 miles; Oklahoma City 730 miles; Tulsa 835 miles; Dallas 889 miles; Austin 1,070 miles; San Antonio 1,150 miles; Houston 1,139 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Colorado River water quality on this section is usually very good to excellent, flowing cold, clear and clean, but not drinkable without purification. The upper 9.2 miles includes 3.9 miles of flatwater and 5.3 miles of Class V- to V whitewater at flows of 800-1,300 CFS, increasing in difficulty to solid Class V at flows of 1,300-2,200 CFS and Class V+ when flows exceed 2,200 CFS. The Pumphouse run (lower 15 miles) is a Class II to III run at flows above 900 CFS. Dress for cold water conditions.

Best time to go

This section of the Colorado River has a season of about 8 months from April through November on the Gore Canyon segment (upper 9.2 miles), and runs year-round on the Pumphouse section (lower 15.6 miles). It source is mainly snowmelt runoff and local rainfall augmented by dam releases on the Blue River.

Hazards to navigation

Starting with Gore Canyon, the most significant hazards are: Applesauce Rapid, with a right side line that avoids most of the Class V big water; Gore Rapid, a very rocky ride starting about 1 mile into Gore Canyon, with a huge boulder on river right and a very technical run throughout; Pyrite Rapid, dropping onto a big rock on the far left and with a corkscrew hole on the far right; Tunnel Falls, running right through the meat of a big Class V to V+ drop; Toilet Bowl, a mean, tough drop that flushes you over a ledge that can beat you like a redheaded stepchild, or which can be sneaked on the left; Kirschbaum's Rapid near the exit to Gore Canyon, a long and very bumpy rapid full of large boulders. Most Gore Canyon rapids can be easily scouted and portaged, if necessary, Kirchbaum's Rapid being the exception. Gore canyon is best left to kayaks and rafts paddled by advance to expert level whitewater boaters.

The 15 miles below Gore Canyon is mostly insignificant Class II to III rapids. Eye of the Needle, a Class III rapid just inside the upper gorge has a huge boulder in midstream that forces a move to the left or right. Red Gorge, below the Radium Recreation Site, is mostly solid Class III rapids. An early one pushes hard to the left canyon wall, and must be avoided. Yarmony Rapid features a hole created by a large standing wave on river right, where rafts can be flipped in high water conditions. A warning sign alerts paddlers to Yarmony, after which are several rapids that are either created or enhanced by a long boulder garden running through the exit to Red Canyon.

River Access Points

BLM launch site south of Kremmling, off SH 9 and Trough Road (also called 1 Road) at the confluence of the Blue and Colorado Rivers at 0.0 miles; Pumphouse Campground on river left at 9.2 miles; Rancho del Rio (fee required) on river left at about 20.8 miles; Yarmony Bridge on river right at about 21.0 miles; State Bridge on river left below the confluence of the Colorado and Piney Rivers at 24.2 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Pumphouse Recreation Site Campground off Trough Road (1 Road) at 9.2 miles; Radium Recreation Site on river left at about 14.5 miles; Rancho del Rio (private campground - fee required) on river right at about 20.8 miles. Other natural or developed campgrounds may be found along the Colorado River.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

Numerous commercial outfitters in Colorado and other states are available to provide rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information services for the Colorado River.

Reviewer's comments

This trip offers multiple access points allowing paddlers to choose a run of 9.2 miles beginning with 3.9 miles of flatwater, then Class V- to V+ whitewater, a run of 15.6 miles in Class II to III whitewater, or a run of about 24.8 miles with all of the above. It is scenic, and a great place to have a camera, but the water is cold, so dress appropriately to avoid hypothermia. The upper section, through Gore Canyon, runs from April through November, while the lower section is usually a year-round river. Good campgrounds allow for great overnight trips. The Gore Canyon run is best suited for advanced to expert paddlers in kayaks and rafts while the Pumphouse section can be run by intermediate or higher level whitewater paddlers in canoes, kayaks and rafts. This is an excellent section of the Colorado for paddling, camping, hiking, photography or just about anything else that people like to do in close proximity to a river. It is close to Denver and Fort Collins, and relatively close to Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction. With side trips possible on the Blue and Piney Rivers, this is an excellent paddling getaway for a few days of exciting whitewater.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to V+
Length 24.8 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in BLM Launch Site off 1 (Trough) Road
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out State Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 7,318-6,800 feet msl
Gradient 14-177 fpm (5 changes)
USGS Gauge Web: 09058000 (Kremmling)
Boats Canoes w/ flotation (exc. Class V's),
Kayaks, Rafts (expert paddlers)
Season April through November
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River
[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Piney River to Barrel Springs ] [ Barrel Springs to New Castle ]
[ New Castle to Plateau Creek ] [ Plateau Creek to Loma ] [ Loma to Westwater ]

[ Upper Blue River ] [ Lower Blue River ] [ Buzzard Creek ] [ Fraser River ]
[ Piney River] [ Plateau Creek ] [ Rock Creek ]

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Last updated September 12, 2014

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