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.
The Piney River to Barrel Springs run begins at State Bridge where SH 131 intersects the Piney River at its confluence with the Colorado River just east of Bond, and continues to Exit 125 (Hanging Lake) from IH 70 about 17 miles east of Glenwood Springs. Grand Junction is about 115 miles to the east of the take-out on Hanging Lake, which is above Hanging Lake Dam and the starting point for the Barrel Springs to New Castle run. The entire run is in Eagle (Koby Bryant) County, in an area cutting through the White River National Forest, though you will not feel like Robin Hood on this section because the dense forests are not immediately adjacent to the river channel. At places, the foothills of the Gore Range are very near the river's edge, but in many places there is a flatland greenbelt along the river channel, with the foothills starting from a few yards to nearly a quarter mile away. A rail line runs alongside the river, though you will see very little train traffic.
The river is mostly flatwater with some exciting Class II to III rapids punctuating its classic pool and drop nature. This approximately 60 mile run is not a favorite of expert kayakers, but many canoeists, kayakers and rafters will enjoy the solitude, natural beauty and big sky remoteness of this section. Looking at gorgeous, tree-covered mountains along each side of the river valley, it is hard to imagine that SH 6 almost parallels the river not very far away, crossing it in about 5 places. The foothills of the Gore Range are not as majestic as the tall mountains on the upper reaches of the river, yet they tell you that civilization is not around the next bend.
The only places to re-supply along the course of this reach are at Bond, just below the put-in, and at Burns about 20 miles into the run. Take everything you will need for paddling, camping and eating, including plenty of drinking water. You can usually paddle this section of the Colorado River year-round, unless ice in the river prevents it, though most paddling is done between late-May and November or early-December. Take a camera, because there is much to photograph along the way. The run ends on Hanging Lake, and you can take out along SH 6, where you (hopefully) have left cars or arranged a shuttle with somebody. Be certain that you take out before Hanging Lake Dam!
Eagle County, in the foothills of the Gore Range of White River National Forest, about halfway between Denver to the east and Grand Junction to the west. IH 70 is nearby, and SH 6 almost parallels the river.
Durango 320 miles; Grand Junction 150 miles; Denver 130 miles; Salt Lake City 435 miles; Albuquerque 532 miles; Phoenix 774 miles; Oklahoma City 755 miles; Dallas 916 miles; Austin 1,105 miles; San Antonio 1,078 miles; Houston 1,164 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is very good to excellent. This section usually has adequate flow for paddle trips almost year-round, though it may be lower, and possibly frozen, in mid-winter. It usually flows clear, clear and VERY cold from late-spring or early-summer through late-fall.
Just about anytime from late-May through November or December is a good time to paddle from State Bridge to Barrel Springs, especially in years after a dense snowpack in the headwaters section of the Colorado River, an area that generally has reliable snowfall every year. Optimum flows usually occur between June 1-15, in normal snowpack years.
There are no significant hazards for competent boaters on this section of the Colorado River other than its VERY cold water temperature. However, between Burns and Pinball Point there are several Class II to III rapids that can pose serious challenges for less experienced boaters, especially in the very cold waters of the Colorado River. Colorado State Law requires WEARING your PFD (lifejacket) al ALL times when in a boat on the river. Be sure to take along plenty of drinking water. The river channel is wide enough to allow safe passage around many of the rapids for those wanting to stay dry. If you have any doubts about running a section of the river, then PORTAGE! Wearing wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer is a good idea because of the very cold water temperature.
State Bridge (private access - fees required for parking, camping or river access) at the Piney River, at 0.0 miles; SH 6 (alongside the river) at Bond, at about 3.0 miles; Catamount Bridge Public Access at about 14.0 miles; Burns Public Access at about 19.0 miles; Pinball Point Public Access at about 23.0 miles; Cottonwood Public access at about 37.0 miles; Lyons Gulch Public Access at about 39.0 miles; Dotsero Public Access at about 43.0 miles; Burnt Tree Ridge Public Access at about 47.0 miles; Hanging Lake (IH 70 exit 125), above the dam on river right alongside SH 6, at about 60.0 miles. There are no other access points for this section.
There are no campgrounds along this section of the Colorado River. Some riverbank land is BLM-controlled and other areas are privately owned. Always avoid camping or otherwise accessing private property without having first obtained landowner permission. Nearby campgrounds, though not immediately accessible from the river (they could be used for base campsites) are located off SH 134 east of the SH 131 intersection, at the headwaters of the Yampa River west of SH 131 and north of the Colorado River a few miles, at Sweetwater Lake off Sweetwater Lake Creek which meets the Colorado River about 6-7 miles above the take-out on the north side of the river, and at Sylvan Lake State Recreation Area in the White River National Forest just south of Gypsum and IH 70. Natural campsites are abundant along the entire length of this trip.
Numerous commercial outfitters in Colorado and other states are available to provide rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information services for the Colorado River.
I like this section of the Colorado River for its remoteness and scenic beauty. It is an easy paddle for most people, and is well suited for trips in canoes, kayaks and rafts, though kayaks do need adequate stowage capacity for camping gear and food if going on a long trip. River traffic will be light most of the time, and abundant natural campsites are all along the river channel, set against the foothills of the Gore Range of the Rocky Mountains, but avoid camping on private land without permission. Its nearly year-round flow makes this section of the river unique to most Colorado streams, which have a very limited season. This is a 2-3 day trip for marathon paddlers, but can be a 6-7 day trip for laid-back paddlers wanting a more relaxing river experience. The water is always very cold, so dress in water-repelling garments - wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer are strongly advised to prevent hypothermia, especially if you decide to capsize.