The Roaring Fork River begins in Pitkin County high in the San Isabel National Forest and flows to the northwest through Aspen, Snowmass and Glenwood Springs to its confluence with the Colorado River. The Fryingpan River Flows into the Roaring Fork just below Snowmass, and the Crystal River joins the Roaring Fork at Carbondale. Its headwaters are between Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak at 14,443 feet msl and Independence Pass at 12,095 feet msl. SH 82 parallels the river in very close proximity along most of its run. This section of the Roaring Fork is often described as separate runs, and Lower Woody Creek is further broken down into Lower Woody and Toothache. Remembering all those segments by name may give you an Excedrin headache to go with the "Toothache", so this review will treat the entire 10-miles as a single section with multiple access points.
The Woody Creek section offers mostly Class III whitewater with a few Class II rapids and one Class III+ to IV- (Toothache) thrown in for good measure. Some people refer to this beautiful 10-mile run as a good day-long run. Personally, I call it a 2-hour (or less) warm-up for a day run, but then I have been accused of not "taking time to smell the roses" when I paddle. When the water is up the Woody Creek section offers great surfing spots for kayakers. It is an excellent run for developing or honing intermediate level whitewater skills in canoes, kayaks and rafts. There are no major drops or anything of significant technical difficulty, so just about anybody with even novice whitewater experience can have fun here while preparing for more challenging runs elsewhere.
Below the Lower Woody Creek bridge are two small canyons that are in contrast to the tree-lined banks usually found on this run. The gradient, at 62 fpm through the first 4 miles and 59 fpm for the other 6 miles, is not as steep as in the Slaughterhouse section above, or on other Colorado streams, so the current is a little slower, though just as cold. Because of its close proximity to other great Colorado runs paddlers not looking for overnight downriver trips have the option of setting up a base camp somwwhere else nearby (there are no known public camping areas along this section of the Roaring Fork), then running different rivers, or sections of the same river n multiple days. If you paddle fast, then you might even be able to pack in a couple of short runs on the same day.
The White River National Forest of Pitkin County is home to the Roaring Fork River, which runs from its headwaters southeast of Aspen to the confluence with the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs in Garfield County.
Durango 285 miles; Grand Junction 115 miles; Denver 185 miles; Salt Lake City 400 miles; Albuquerque 545 miles; Phoenix 698 miles; Oklahoma City 810 miles; Dallas 969 miles; Austin 1,160 miles; San Antonio 1,133 miles; Houston 1,219 miles; Little Rock 1,126 miles; Kansas City 791 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The Roaring Fork River flows clean, clear and cold, but is not drinkable without purification. The Upper Woody Creek run, between the Upper and Lower Woody Creek bridges, is rated Class III at flows of 500-2,000 cfs, and Class IV- at flows above 2,000 cfs. Below Lower Woody Creek bridge the river is rated Class III at 500-1,700 cfs, and Class IV- above 1,700 cfs. The cold water and high elevation make it necessary to wear drysuits or wetsuits with base layers, or water-repelling garments that are layered to prevent hypothermia. Neoprene glove and hard-soled river boots are also strongly recommended.
The prime season for the Upper and Lower Woody Creek run on the Roaring Fork River is May through July, depending upon winter snowpack, spring rainfall and the amount of water being diverted.
There are no significant hazards for experienced whitewater paddlers on this section of the Roaring Fork River. The wide open channel usually allows a safe line around most of the bumpy stuff, and the rest can be negotiated rather easily. Toothache, in the last mile and one half, is rated Class III+ to IV-, so some care should be taken to see the best line and negotiate it properly. If you have to swim, then this is not the worst place on this, or other, Colorado rivers to do it provided you are dressed for the cold water temperatures.
Upper Woody Creek bridge between SH 82 and 19 Road at 0.0 miles; Lower Woody Creek bridge between SH 82 and 17 Road at 3.8 miles; SH 82 pulloff at 8.5 miles (immediately above Toothache); and SH 82 bridge above Wingo at 10.0 miles.
Difficult Canyon Campground, near Weller Lake on the Upper Roaring Fork River, offers excellent campsites. No other campgrounds are known to be available on the Roaring Fork River itself. There are at least 3 campgrounds on the Fryingpan River just a few miles to the north and above its confluence with the Roaring Fork near Snowmass. There are accommodations available in surrounding ski resort towns near the river, but expect to pay a pricey rate, even in the skiing off-season. Some resort facilities may be closed during river running season.
At least three commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information on the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Rivers.
Upper and Lower Wood Creek is a run that almost anybody can enjoy. It is ideally suited for developing or sharpening whitewater paddling skills because its rapids are not too technically difficult and most offer a sneak for those not wanting to challenge them. Best of all, swimming in this section will not usually result in beating a paddler against rocks and downed trees, like on many Colorado streams. The scenic area is a beautiful place to paddle and at 10 miles in length, this section could be run twice (or more) in a single day by anybody not satisfied with a single run. Nearby camping on the Fryingpan River or accommodations in the ski resort villages along the Roaring Fork River allow paddlers a wide range of choices for places to stay while running the Roaring Fork, Crystal or Fryingpan Rivers. This area does get cool to cold at night, even in summer, so bring warm clothing for off the river as well as for while paddling. You can run this section in canoes outfitted for whitewater, kayaks or rafts. As with most Colorado streams, bring your camera to take home some beautiful memories.