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San Miguel River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Green Truss Bridge to Dolores River
~ 35.0 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The San Miguel River forms at an elevation of about 12,126 feet msl in San Miguel County southeast of Telluride near the San Juan County Line in southwestern Colorado. Its headwaters are in the San Juan Mountains and the San Juan National Forest, though it also sits very near the Uncompahgre National Forest, which grows along the east or west side of the river depending upon where on the river you are at any given time. The San Miguel flows generally northwest for about 81 miles of which the lower 75 miles are navigable through the mining town / ski resort Telluride, then on through Sawpit, Placerville, flowing near but not by Norwood, and then by Naturita and Uravan on its way to its confluence with the Dolores River in Montrose County at an elevation of about 4.842 feet msl, dropping about 7,300 feet of which 3,145 feet are within the navigable reach of the river. The upper six plus miles are not navigable due to numerous factors including river width, depth, gradient, boulders and a general lack of water that falls off the mountain at an average gradient of about 690 feet per mile. Boating usually begins just below Telluride at any of several access points found along or just off SH 145, which parallels the river most of the way to the Norwood Bridge.

On an historical note, Uravan was once a bustling uranium mining town located in the lower section of the river until many people started developing cancers. The entire town was burned to the ground and then buried under rock to prevent radiation exposure from the remaining uranium in the dust and dirt beneath the rock. You might not want to fill your water bottle here.

The river becomes a boatable stream just a few miles outside the resort town along SH 145, and continues as a Class I to III stream all the way to the Dolores River confluence. This section will describe the 35 miles from Green Truss Bridge through Uravan to its confluence with the Dolores River, though the first 12.6 miles is seldom, if ever, paddled probably due to a couple of dam portages, the first at about 4.0 miles and the second at about 9.4 miles. For this reason most Lower San Miguel trips start at the SH 97 Access at Naturita on river right before the bridge and continue on Class I to II water to the Dolores River confluence. The high desert setting offers a few minor rapids on a mostly flatwater section. Along its eastern side the Uncompahgre National Forest is just a few miles away. Most of the adjoining land is privately owned ranchland starting in northern San Miguel County and ending in Montrose County.

This run is not a popular section because of its length and the lack of public access, though some shorter runs can be made between Green Truss Bridge and Naturita or Vancorun. The gradient is about 35 fpm amid a slower current, and summertime temperatures are warmer than on sections above. The alpine and canyon foliage from the headwaters through Norwood Canyon gives way to a decidedly desert topography. This section could be used as a starting point for a Dolores River run from the confluence to Gateway, or even on down into Utah.

Location

Montrose County between the Towns of Naturita and Uravan in southwestern Colorado. The Town of Dolores is about 3 hours to the southwest. The Dolores, West Dolores, Animas, Piedra, Gunnison and Colorado Rivers all flow nearby.

Distance from major cities

Durango 156 miles; Grand Junction 156 miles; Denver 495 miles; Salt Lake City 441 miles; Albuquerque 366 miles; Phoenix 610 miles; Oklahoma City 910 miles; Dallas 1,036 miles; Austin 1,071 miles; San Antonio 979 miles; Houston 1,221 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

This section of the San Miguel usually has a navigable flow in early to 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.

Best time to go

Generally, the optimum season is May and 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.

Hazards to navigation

This section of the San Miguel River has several Class I-II rapids, but none with serious potential hazard threats other than perhaps the water temperature early in the "season" of a few short weeks.

River Access Points

Green Truss Bridge (N 38 15' 59.75" / W 108 24' 04.23") at the intersection of BB36 Road and SH 90 at 0.0 miles; SH 97 / Naturita Access (N 38 13' 02.92" / W 10833' 57.24") on river right before the bridge at about 12.60 miles; CC Road / 10th Av. Bridge (N 38 15' 16.09" / W 108 36' 52.26") on river left before the bridge at about 17.4 miles; SH 141 @ V19 Road Access (N 38 21' 26.23" / W 108 42' 46.50") on river right after the bridge at about 28.30 miles; Y11 Road @ SH 141 Bridge Access (N 38 21' 58.19" / W 108 44' 00.24") on river right before the bridge at about 29.80 miles; Y11 Road - SH 141 Connection Bridge (N 38 22' 27.60" / W 108 44' 36.12") on river right before or after the bridge at about 30.60 miles; Y11 Road @ Dolores River Confluence (N 38 22' 47.44" / W 108 48' 11.33") on river left at the confluence at about 35.0 miles. There may be other access points on this section of the San Miguel River, but some may be on private property.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no public or private campgrounds along this section of the San Miguel River, though some primitive camping areas can be found. Smokehouse and Iron Spring campgrounds are located in Uncompahgre National Forest just a few miles east northeast of this run. Public campgroundsd are available at Caddis Flat Rec Area and Lower Beaver Creek, both located along SH 145 just north of Telluride and at Town Park in Telluride. Sunshine Campground, south of the Telluride Ski Area on SH 145, is a campground located 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. Of course, you are more than likely going to have this reach of the river to yourself most of the time. Just be mindful of private property boundaries and respect them. If you pack it in, then pack it out. Take only photographs and memories - leave only footprints!

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

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.

Reviewer's comments

The lower section of the San Miguel may have lower water and a shorter season than sections above as it nears the confluence with the Dolores River below Uravan. This section is least paddled of all sections on the San Miguel because of its length (about 35 miles if starting at Green Truss Bridge) and lack of the beautiful scenery of upper sections, as well as its remoteness - it is a long way from anywhere unless you are a crow. This reach will tend to be warmer with more sun exposure during the normal season of May and June into early July. The reach flows through a rural valley that is rife with private property, though development is a bare minimum. A lack of riverside campsites makes this section less than desirable for most paddlers, though it is useful as a starting point for joining up with the Dolores on its way to Gateway or into Utah, where the Dolores flows into the Colorado River. Marathon paddlers will have no problem doing this entire 35 mile run in a day. Others may want to break it up into two or more days, or else paddle few miles than the entire reach.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 35 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs
Optimum Flow 700 - 1,500 cfs
Maximum Flow 2,000 cfs
First Put-in Green Truss Bridge
Lat. / Long. N 38 15' 59.75" / W 108 24' 04.23"
Last Take-out Dolores River confluence
Lat. / Long. N 38 22' 47.44" / W 108 48' 11.33"
Elevation 5,853 - 4,842 feet msl
Gradient 28.9 fpm av
USGS Gauge Web: Placerville
Web: Nucla
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season May and June, possibly through July (?)
Permits No




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

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Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

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Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Dolores River where you want to paddle.

Dolores River
[ Dolores River Homepage ] [ Rico Access to Stoner Bridge ] [ Stoner Bridge to Dolores ]
[ Bradfield Launch to Slick Rock ] [ Slick Rock to Bedrock ] [ Bedrock to Gateway ] [ Gateway to Dewey Bridge ]

San Miguel River
[ Silverpick Road to Caddis Flat Rec Area (Sawpit) ] [ Caddis Flat Rec Area to Norwood Bridge ] [ Norwood Bridge to Green Truss Bridge (Norwood Canyon) ]

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Last updated July 3, 2021

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