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Lower Blue River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Headwaters to Green Mountain Reservoir
~ 30 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Blue River forms in Summit County near the town of Blue River, then flows north through Breckenridge to its confluence with the Colorado River in Grand County. From its headwaters the river flows to Dillon where a dam forms Dillon Reservoir. From the dam it flows under IH 70, through Silverthorne and into Green Mountain Reservoir which is created by a dam at the small community of Green Mountain Camp. Flowing out of Green Mountain Reservoir the Blue River runs parallel to SH 9 all the way to the Colorado River just south of Kremmling.

The section above Green Mountain Reservoir is referred to locally as the Upper Blue River, and below the reservoir it is known as the Lower Blue River. For all practical purposes the entire Upper Blue River is navigable, and access points are numerous - this is a popular fishing stream.

The upper reaches are mostly flatwater to mild Class II whitewater. The river flows over a gravel bottom that likely contributes to its popularity as a fishing stream. Above Quaking Creek Ranch almost anybody can enjoy paddling the river, but shortly after that point it becomes a more serious Class III+ to IV- stream starting just below Blue River Campground. The meat of whitewater runs begins where Boulder Creek flows into the river. The flat upper reaches are near the same level in elevation as SH 9, but as the bigger water approaches the river begins a drop of about 140 feet in elevation over 3 miles, through a gorge with a gradient of around 47 fpm.

The Upper Blue River is dependent upon dam released water from Dillon Reservoir, and its usual season is from April through July, depending upon local winter snowpack and spring rainfall. While runs can be made all the way to Green Mountain Reservoir, where several great campgrounds are located, many paddlers opt to take out at Columbine Landing off FR 2400. Considering the scenic beauty of the Blue River, it might be well worth your time and effort to base camp at one of the sites on Green Mountain Reservoir and paddle about 8 (or more) miles past Columbine Landing. Campsites are available below, along each side and above the reservoir.


Summit and Grand Counties, between Arapahoe Basin Ski Area and Kremmling. Arapaho National Forest is located on the east bank, and White River National Forest is along the west bank. The river flows through the towns of Dillon and Silverthorne to just south of Kremmling.

Distance from major cities

Durango 350 miles; Grand Junction 190 miles; Denver 70 miles; Salt Lake City 475 miles; Albuquerque 562 miles; Phoenix 804 miles; Oklahoma City 695 miles; Tulsa 800 miles; Dallas 854 miles; Austin 1,045 miles; San Antonio 1,018 miles; Houston 1,104 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Upper Blue River flows very clean, very clear and very cold. Water quality is excellent as it flows through a pristine area of national forests.

Best time to go

The prime season on the Upper Blue River is typically April through July, but it may be extended or shortened, depending upon winter snowpack and late spring rainfall. Spring runs depend heavily upon a substantial winter snowpack that fills Dillon Reservoir, prompting dam releases.

Hazards to navigation

Above Blue River Campground the rapids are not substantial hazards to boaters with modest to intermediate level whitewater skills, and parts of it can be run by just about anybody in canoes or kayaks (rafts can make the run if there is sufficient water.) Below Blue River Campground, starting about where Boulder Creek enters the river, rapids will fall into the Class III+ range at flows below 600 cfs, and escalate to Class IV- when flows exceed 600 cfs. The boulder garden rapids are easily runnable, but lack of attention could send a paddler swimming in very cold water. Wear wetsuits or drysuits with a base layer to protect against hypothermia. Remember, this river sits at an elevation above 8,200 feet msl, so the outside air temperature will be cool in summer, and very cool to cold in the spring. Dress according to current weather conditions.

River Access Points

Dillon Dam at 0.0 miles; No Bridge Launch on river left at about 15.3 miles; Quaking Creek Ranch off FR 2400 on river left at about 16.0 miles; Blue River Campground on river right at about 16.2 miles; Columbine Landing Pullout on river right at about 19.0 miles. Customary access points are at Quaking Creek Ranch off FR 2400, and at Blue River Campground about 3 miles below Quaking Creek Ranch. Numerous other access points are available above and below those two points for paddlers wanting a longer trip. Ask locals for advise about good access points.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Blue River Campground is located on river right just north of the Quaking Creek Ranch and Quaking Aspen Creek. At least six other campgrounds are located below, on either side and above Green Mountain Reservoir.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near this section of the Upper Blue River. Area outfitters who may be able to provide rentals, shuttles and/or information. Otherwise, plan on running your own shuttles, or inquire of locals as to their willingness to provide a shuttle for a nominal fee.

Reviewer's comments

The Upper Blue River offers a panoramic view of gorgeous scenery that is befitting a Colorado stream. The river is a great fishing stream, and it is highly likely that you will encounter anglers wetting lines as you journey downriver. The mountains are not as tall as on many other Colorado streams, but they are every bit as beautiful, and let you know that you are not in the middle of civilization, though it is not really all that far away (Silverthorne is known as a mall shopping mecca in these parts.) Except for the section right below Boulder Creek, the Upper Blue River can be enjoyed by almost anybody, but at least intermediate level whitewater skills are necessary for those running between Blue River Campground and Columbine Landing. Take a camera and plenty of film or digital media. I recommend camping at Green Mountain Reservoir, then paddling down to your camp. It makes for a longer trip, but you will probably be glad you made it.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to IV-
Length 30 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 600 - cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Below Dillon Dam
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Columbine Landing Pullout
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 47 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Dillon
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through July (dam release)
Permits No

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