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Colorado River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Barrel Springs to New Castle
~ 18.8 Miles

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.

This reach of the river flows from the IH 70 Hanging Lake Exit 125 about 18.8 miles down to Tibbett's Pullout off IH 70 Exit 105 near New Castle, and has three distinct flavors beginning with the 2.2 mile Barrel Springs run on Class IV+ to V+ water with steep drops and large rapids to the Shoshone run of 1.6 miles on Class III to IV water with moderate rapids and holes (including some sticky holes) and finishing with the Grizzly Creek to New Castle run of about 15 miles on Class II+ to III water. The Barrel Springs reach is definitely for kayakers or rafters with strong advanced to expert level whitewater skills ONLY!. The Shoshone run requires at least strong advanced skills for canoeists with flotation bags, kayakers or rafters. The run-out from Grizzly Creek to New Castle requires at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills for canoeists, kayakers and rafters.

This reach is packed with awesome scenery, but you will not have much time to enjoy it on the two upper runs (Barrel Springs and Shoshone) because it begins in Glenwood Canyon just below Hanging Lake Dam with a blind entry into two major rapids known as "Upper Death" and "Life After Death" that should be scouted from the highway above, or from a bike trail at the start of the rapids for the best view. The bike trail may not be available for a scoutng location in high water conditions. Scouting from the river is not possible. The river is rife with pointed rocks and boulders, and most of the rapids are in the Class II to III range, but the big ones are mean and nasty, especially if you do not have the proper skill level or boat. Glenwood Canyon is the largest and deepest canyon of the Colorado River in the State of Colorado with walls towering about 1,300 feet above the river.

There are several access points for beginning and ending runs between Hanging Lake Dam and New Castle depending upon skill level and how far you want to paddle. Be aware that some of the access points are difficult to negotiate, and may require carrying boats and gear up or down steep, rocky embankments. This run is full of excitement, danger and thrills. Even the "easy" parts are interesting and enjoyable for those with the skills and nerve to venture here. This reach would not be advisable for paddlers with a lack of seriosu whitewater skills and nerves to match.

Location

Glenwood Canyon in Garfield County between Gypsum and New Castle. Glenwood Springs is nearby in the middle of the reach where SH 82 intersects IH 70 just east of the Roaring Fork River confluence.

Distance from major cities

Durango 260 miles; Grand Junction 95 miles; Denver 150 miles; Santa Fe 530 miles; Albuquerque 590 miles; Phoenix 660 miles; Oklahoma City 825 miles; Tulsa 930 miles; Dallas 1,035 miles; Austin 1,090 miles; San Antonio 1,180 miles; Houston 1,280 miles; Salt Lake City 380 miles; Kansas City 755 miles; Little Rock 1,105 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

At lower flows the water is generally cool, clean and clear. This river freezes, or partially freezes, in winter. At higher flows it moves a lot of silt that will turn the water brown, though it is generally free of pollution and trash - PLEASE HELP KEEP IT THAT WAY!

Best time to go

From Hanging Lake Dam to Shoshone power plant the river is usually navigable from April through July depending upon winter snowpack and local rainfall. Between Shoshone power plant and Grizzly creek the river is navigable year round because of releases from the power plant. From Grizzly Creek to New Castle the river is usually navigable from March through November depending upon winter snowpack, local rainfall and the absence of ice. The top and bottom sections of this reach are susceptible to freezing between October and April, though the Shoshone section does not freeze due to the flow of water from the power plant.

Hazards to navigation

The first 3.8 miles of this reach are very demanding of solid whitewater skills, and should be avoided by all except those who can safely navigate the large boulders, rapids and holes that await. The final 15 miles is challenging enough to be fun, but not inherently life-threatening for competent whitewater boaters, and people in rafts can have fun with minimal paddling skills.

Between Hanging Lake Dam and Shoshone power palnt the river is rated Class IV+ to V+. It begins with two major rapids following a blind approach, so be sure to scout from the road or bike trail above before beginning the Barrel Springs run. IH 70 cantilevers out over the river, so scouting from the road may be impossible, especially as relates to seeing the line you want to take. In high water the bike trail may be submerged sufficiently to take away good scouting points. If the bike trial is covered, then consider starting downriver below the first two rapids.

The first major rapid is Upper Death, a steep and violent rapid that is only runnable at certain high water levels, but it is dangerous. Many boaters opt to launch in the pool between Upper Death and the second major rapid, Life After Death, which is a run-out to Upper Death. Following Life After Death is a short, steep drop (Class III+ to IV), and then a series of Class II to III rapids for about 1 mile down to Barrel Springs Rapid (Class III+ to IV+) with a big hole that is washed out when flows are about 3,000-6,000 cfs, but there is another hole at low water that can grab a boat and hold or flip it, so choose your lne carefully. Below Barrel Springs Rapid there are several Class III to IV rapids before the river levels a little approaching Shoshone power palnt, but there is another big drop about 2/10th of a mile above the plant that is very challenging on river right, so be careful approaching that point.

Between Shoshone power plant and Grizzly Creek is a run of about 1.6 miles on solid Class III to IV whitewater. The rapids come in quick succession and almost seem like one continuous rapid with lots of holes, but some of them are distinct enough to have names: The Wall (because it is situated beneath a railroad retaining wall) is a moderate S-turn rapid with several holes. Following that is a rapid named Bonehead that offers good surfing and spinning for playboat kayakers. Tombstone follows Bonehead with a triangular, pointed boulder just left of center and a big hole immediately right of this boulder that can become sticky at moderate flow levels. Superstition is the last and largest of the rapids in the Shoshone run and it is characterized by several holes and a bumpy ride that is great fun in canoes with flotation, kayaks or rafts.

From Grizzly Creek down to No Name Public Access this very short distance has three Class III rapids that are not extremely challenging for compentent boaters, but they are a lot of fun. Between Two Rivers Park Access and South Canyon Access there are a lot of Class II to II+ rapids that provide excitement and a chance to develop whitewater boat control skills, but they are not a major challenge to competent whitewater boaters. The wave train in this section is fun. Be aware of being drawn toward bridge pilings on river right as flow rates increase.

From South Canyon Access down to New Castle the river is mostly mild whitewater, but about two thirds of the way between these points the railroad crosses the river from left to right, and caution should be exercised to avoid being pinned and wrapped on the bridge support columns. Just before the take-out at Tibbett's Pullout is a hole called Dinosaur Hole with a big wave that can easily flip a raft, canoe or kayak. This hole is probably more intense in the moderate flow ranges, tending to flatten at low or high flows. The final take-out for this reach is on river right at Exit 105 (Tibbett's Pullout.)

River Access Points

IH 70 Exit 125 at 0.0 miles; IH 70 Exit 123 at about2.2 miles; IH 70 Exit 121 at about 3.8 miles; IH 70 Exit 119 (No Name Access) at about 6.8 miles; IH 70 Exit 116 near the Roaring Fork River confluence at about 9.3 miles; Two Rivers Park in West Glenwood Springs at about 9.8 miles; IH 70 Exit 114 in West Glenwood Springs at about 11.4 miles; IH 70 Exit 111 (South canyon Access) at about 14.8 miles; H 70 Exit 109 (Chacra Access at canyon Creek) at about 16.0 miles; IH 70 Exit 105 (Tibbett's Pullout) near New Castle at about 18.8 miles. (NOTE: These distances are estimates ONLY!)

Campgrounds and accommodations

There is only one known commercial campground located along this reach of the Colorado River, and there is nowhere to camp along the river. The commercial campground is located on river right between Exit 121 and Exit 119 off IH 70. Plan to stay in Glenwood Springs or New Castle if you are going for a multi-day trip unless you want to camp in the commercial campground. There are numerous hotels and motels, including all the major chains, in Glenwood Springs with room rates ranging from about $63 to $150 per night. There are at least four major motels in Newcastle with room rates raning from $90 to over $300 per night.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are no known outfitters or shuttle services operating on this reach of the Colorado River. Plan on bring your own boats and gear, and arranging your own shuttles. It may be possible to find a local who will run a shuttle for you.

Reviewer's comments

This reach of the Colorado is a mixed bag with something for just about everybody except those who do not have at least intermediate level whitewater skills. The top run, known as the Barrel Springs run, is a Class IV+ to V+ hairboat ride for strong advanced to expert level paddlers ONLY. It begins with two bone jarring Class IV+ to V+ (depending upon water level) rapids named "Upper Death" and "Life After Death" which cannot be boat scouted and are blind until you enter them. The middle section of this reach, from Shoshone Power Plant to Grizzly Creek is a super whitewater ride in Class III to IV water with several rapids that will definitely challenge your whitewater skills. Most of the run is in the lower section from Grizzly Creek (Class IV+ to V-) down to New Castle on Class II+ to III water that can be a lot of fun for just about any competent boater with moderate whitewater skills.

The scenery on this river is awesome starting in Glenwood Canyon with its 1,300 foot high walls towering over the river before dropping down into the flatter lowlands below Glenwood Springs, but you will not have a lot of time for taking photographs from your boat. The Town of Glenwood Springs is situated in the middle of this run, and the Town of New Castle sits at the end of it. Both offer accommodations, restaurants, service stations and other amenities that you will need. The reach is NOT suitable for camping along the river and no known campgrounds or outfitters are available to provide services you may need for multi-day trips.

At lower water levels the flow will generally be clean and mostly clear, but the water will turn brown at higher flows due to the amount to silt being moved downriver. This reach is very conveniently located to three other great (mostly) whitewater runs and some great fishing - the Fryingpan River, Crystal River and Roaring Fork River, the first two of which are tributaries of the Roaring Fork that is, itself, a tributary of the Colorado River, in addition to the very short run of 1 mile on Grizzly Creek IF you are up for a wild ride on big water. The Roaring Fork River intersects the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs. Unless you are quite accustomed to paddling in cold water protective clothing is recommended. Helmets and a good PFD would always be rcommended as a minimum. Wetsuits or drysuits with one or more base layers would be recommended in all but the hottest summer seasons.

Technical Data
Class Rating IV+ to V+ (Barrel Springs to Shoshone)
III to IV (Shoshone to Grizzly Creek)
II+ to III (Grizzly Creek to Newcastle)
Length 18.8 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs Exit 125 to Exit 123
500 cfs Exit 123 to Exit 121
300 cfs Exit 121 to Exit 105
Optimum Flow 3,000-6,000 cfs Exit 125 to Exit 123
cfs Exit 123 to Exit 121
cfs Exit 121 to Exit 105
Maximum Flow 10,000 cfs Exit 125 to Exit 123
8,000 cfs Exit 123 to Exit 121
cfs Exit 121 to Exit 105
First Put-in Hanging Lake Dam (IH 70, Exit 125)
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out New Castle (IH 70, Exit 105)
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,090 - 5,580
Gradient 83 fpm (Exit 125 to Exit 123>
39 fpm (Exit 123 to Exit 121>
19 fpm (Exit 121 to Newcastle)
USGS Gauge Web: Dotsero
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Barrel Springs - April - July
Shoshone - Year round
Grizzly to Newcastle - Mar - Nov
Permits No


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[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Blue River to Piney River ] [ Piney River to Barrel Springs ]
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Last updated October 31, 2009

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