The San Miguel River forms in San Miguel County near the San Juan County Line in southwestern Colorado. Its headwaters are in the San Juan National Forest, though it also sits very near the Uncompahgre National Forest, which grows along the east side of the river. The San Miguel flows northwest to its confluence with the Dolores River in Montrose County, just above the Town of Uravan.
Leaving the Norwood Bridge the real transition from the alpine setting of Telluride to the high desert setting of Naturita comes to full fruition on a beautiful 16 mile paddle through a remote area that includes Norwood Canyon and "The Ledges", a more prominent Class III whitewater section of the San Miguel River. In this section the boulders are generally smaller and less frequent providing a less intense run, but one still offering some whitewater thrills. Gently sloping, tree-lined banks will be found below Norwood Canyon. The Ledges offers great surfing waves for playboaters.
Runs begin at an elevation of 6,560 feet msl and drop to 5,825 feet msl at an average gradient of about 46 fpm. However, the lower 5+ miles of the run (The Ledges section) has a slightly steeper gradient of about 60 fpm. Like sections above, this run is usually only boatable in June, and perhaps part of July. Horsefly Creek, about midway through this run, is a beautiful side canyon entering on river right. About 2 - 2.5 miles below Horsefly Creek is a small low-head dam with a somewhat strong, but runnable, hydraulic current. Adjoining land is privately owned, so scout quickly, then run on the far left and continue downstream (see the "Hazards" section below for detailed information.) Though some monor rapids will be found below Green Truss Bridge, this section is technically the end of whitewater runs on the San Miguel River.
San Miguel County between the Towns of Norwood and Naturita in southwestern Colorado. The Town of Dolores is about 2.5 hours to the southwest. The Dolores, West Dolores, Animas, Piedra, Gunnison and Colorado Rivers all flow nearby.
Durango 132 miles; Grand Junction 132 miles; Denver 471 miles; Salt Lake City 417 miles; Albuquerque 344 miles; Phoenix 586 miles; Oklahoma City 886 miles; Dallas 1,012 miles; Austin 1,047 miles; San Antonio 955 miles; Houston 1,197 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
This section of the San Miguel usually has a navigable flow in mid summer for a few short weeks, but is too low to paddle at other times during normal years. Water quality is generally very good to excellent, flowing clean, clear and cold, but not drinkable without boiling or purifying by other methods. Be sure to check the flow before you go. Because of the cold water temperature, and the often cool air temperature, layered water-repelling garments (non-cotton) are highly recommended to prevent hypothermia. Rapids will generally be rated as Class II below flows of about 1,300 cfs, escalating to Class III when flows exceed 1,300 cfs.
Generally, the optimum season is June, and possibly part of July, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains.
This section of the San Miguel River has several Class II-III rapids, but none with serious potential hazard threats other than the water temperature. However, there are some features that require attention when running. About 2 - 2.5 miles below Horsefly Creek (entering on river right) is a low-head dam with a fairly strong hydraulic current and a keeper hole. This dam is runnable on the far left side, but a scout is recommended to see the best line. Hard paddling will get a boat through the hydraulic and the left side will avoid the hole, in most cases. This condition will fluctuate according to flow, with higher water levels creating a more intense hazard. After the dam comes The Ledges area located about two thirds of the way through this run from the Norwood Bridge. The gradient is steeper and the water flows a little faster. There are numerous good Class III boulder garden rapids and basement layer shelves that create surfing holes. Most of these are forgiving, but be aware of their presence.
Norwood Bridge at the SH 145 crossing at about 0.0 miles; Green Truss Bridge at the intersection of BB36 Road and FR 540 at about 16.0 miles. There are no other access points on this section of the San Miguel River.
There are no public or private campgrounds along this section of the San Miguel River. Sunshine Campground, south of the Telluride Ski Area on SH 145, is a riverside campground located just above this section. There are other campgrounds in the near vicinity off US Highway 550 between Durango and Grand Junction, and along the Animas, Dolores and West Dolores Rivers. Please observe the following use rules to insure that the river remains a pristine and wonderful place to paddle:
1. Fire pans are required for all open fires. Debris MUST be carried out;
2. Porta-potties are required for all human waste, which MUST be carried out;
3. Dogs must be on leashes at all times in camp;
4. Dog feces MUST be collected and carried out;
5. Strainers MUST be used for dishwater, and food debris MUST be carried out;
6. A scrim material should be used for kitchen floors to collect dropped food. All food debris MUST be carried out.
Because of limited campsites, courtesy in setting up camps and not intruding, either physically or by noise, on other campers is expected. When meeting other groups on the way downriver discussions about campsites should be undertaken so that groups know where each other are going to be staying. Cooperation on these simple rules and common courtesies will go a long way toward making your San Miguel River trip enjoyable for yourself and others who are on the river. If you pack it in, then pack it out. Take only photographs and memories - leave only footprints!
Shuttles may be available from the BLM at 970-859-7445 (Bedrock) or 970-677-2772 (Slick Rock). Shuttles and rentals may be available from any of several outfitters serving the Dolores and surrounding rivers. Other outfitters elsewhere in Colorado and other states may also provide services on the San Miguel River.
This section of the San Miguel River is not particularly difficult, and almost anybody can enjoy paddling here. It is the last of the "whitewater" sections on the San Miguel River, though there are some minor rapids between the Green Truss Bridge and its confluence with the Dolores River. This section flows through the small, but beautiful, Norwood Canyon. Much of the land along the riverbanks is privately owned, so please avoid trespassing. The water temperature will be cold, so dress for that condition to avoid hypothermia unless you plan on staying inside your boat with the hole up. Paddlers have the option of taking out at Green Truss Bridge, or continuing on downriver to Uravan, just before the San Miguel meets the Dolores, but no riverside campsites are available.