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San Miguel River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Sawpit to Norwood
~ 17.0 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

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.

Between the Towns of Sawpit and Norwood the San Miguel River flows about 17 miles with numerous rapids in the Class II to III categories. Starting at an elevation of 7,465 feet msl, the river drops some 905 feet at a gradient of about 53 fpm amid gorgeous, tree-lined slopes of the Uncompahgre National Forest on the east side and ranchland on the west side. The area sits between the alpine setting of Telluride above and the desert topography of Naturita below. It is a section of river that is frequented by commercial outfitters as well as those learning or honing their whitewater skills for bigger streams.

This section is runnable in canoes, kayaks and rafts, though paddlers need to plan on running the entire 17 mile section in one day, or else breaking it up into a 2-day run with riverside camping. There are no campgrounds along the river, so it may be necessary to acquire permission to camp on private land if planning on a 2-day trip. There are no public access roads between the put-in and take-out points. SH 145 parallels the river nearby, but is far enough away to lend a remoteness to the general character of the river. Its only real drawback is the shortness of its season, lasting only a few weeks in June and possibly July. The natural beauty surrounding the river adds to the enjoyment of paddling here.


San Miguel County between the Towns of Sawpit and Norwood in southwestern Colorado. The Town of Dolores is less than 2 hours to the southwest. The Dolores, West Dolores, Animas, Piedra, Gunnison and Colorado Rivers all flow nearby.

Distance from major cities

Durango 116 miles; Grand Junction 116 miles; Denver 455 miles; Salt Lake City 401 miles; Albuquerque 328 miles; Phoenix 570 miles; Oklahoma City 870 miles; Dallas 996 miles; Austin 1,031 miles; San Antonio 939 miles; Houston 1,181 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 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.

Best time to go

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.

Hazards to navigation

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.

River access points

57P Road (Fall Creek Road) at about 0.0 miles; Norwood Bridge at the SH 145 crossing at about 17.0 miles. There are no other access points on this section of the San Miguel River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

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!

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

Shuttles may be available from the BLM at 970-859-7445 (Bedrock) or 970-677-2772 (Slick Rock). Rentals and shuttles 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 Dolores River.

Reviewer's comments

This section of the San Miguel River is not particularly difficult, and almost anybody can enjoy paddling here. It is popular with outfitters, and there are usually some beginner to novice paddlers learning their whitewater skills along this section of the river. It is in a gorgeous setting of forested banks along the Uncompahgre National Forest of San Miguel County that begs to be photographed. The clean, clear waters may look inviting, but they are cold, so wear layered, water-repelling garments (non-cotton) to protect against hypothermia in the event you go swimming. Be perpared to run one of the other nearby streams in the event you arrive to find flows too low to paddle.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III
Length 17 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000-1,500 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in 57P Road (Fall Creek Road)
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Norwood Bridge at SH 145
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 7,465-6,560 feet msl
Gradient 53 fpm av.
USGS Gauge Web: Placerville
Boats Canoes, Kayaks Rafts
Season June through July (?)
Permits No

Dolores River map

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

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

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

Dolores River
[ Dolores River Homepage ] [ Roaring Forks Creek to Stoner Bridge ] [ Stoner to Dolores ]
[ Bradfield Launch to Slick Rock ] [ Slick Rock to Bedrock ] [ Bedrock to Gateway ] [ Gateway to Dewey Bridge ]

San Miguel River
[ Sawpit Run ] [ Norwood to Green Truss Bridge ] [ Green Truss Bridge to Dolores River ]

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