The Fryingpan River begins near the Continental Divide as a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, joining it just above the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers at Glenwood Springs. It is a sister tributary to the Crystal River, which joins the Roaring Fork between its confluences with the Fryingpan and Colorado Rivers. The Fryingpan River flows east to west across Colorado north of Aspen in far southern Eagle County above and below Ruedi Reservoir in the White River National Forest. The upper section, above Ruedi Reservoir, is fed by snowmelt, while the lower section, below the reservoir, is a 14-mile run to Basalt fed by dam-released water from Ruedi. The upper section has a roller coaster gradient while the lower section has a more constant 80 fpm gradient, both with big water and big drops. Above Ruedi, the Upper Fryingpan River is rated Class IV+ to V- whitewater. Below Ruedi, the rating drops to Class III to IV-, both sections characterized by large boulder gardens and dead-fallen trees occasionally creating obstacles to be avoided.
The Lower Fryingpan River flows from below the dam at Ruedi Reservoir in the White River National Forest of far southern Eagle County to the town of Basalt and the confluence with the Roaring Fork River. The river maintains an almost constant, albeit low, flow other than when high-volume dam releases occur. The river channel is much wider than the Upper Fryingpan above the reservoir, and lined with high rock cliffs and tall aspen and spruce trees, where bighorn sheep are frequently seen grazing. This section is more widely known for its trophy wild trout fishing than as a boating stream, but when the flow is good, LOOK OUT! This can be a very interesting and fun run in Class IV- whitewater.
Most boaters only run the 4.4 miles starting at Seven Castles just outside the Town of Basalt, though the river can be paddled all the way from Ruedi Reservoir Dam to the Roaring Fork if there is adequate flow. This section begins at an elevation of 7,240 feet msl and drops some 655 feet in the about 14 miles miles on an average a gradient of about 46 fpm, though the lower 4.4 miles drops at about 80 fpm. Nearing Basalt the current becomes a little slower, though it can still be strong enough to get away from an unattentive paddler. Short runs of about 4.4 miles start near Seven Castles above a slide-type rapid with access points immediately above and below it, giving an option for putting in below the rapid for anybody not comfortable with running it. Some of the rapids have the same tight, technical characteristics as on the Upper Fryingpan, but the most prominent obstacles may be trees and tree debris that create strainers in the river. The real problem for boaters is the inconsistency of flow. Unless coming to the area to camp, hike and/or run other nearby rivers, be sure to check the flow before making a trip here. If you arrive and find it lacking in water, then either go fishing, take some photos, or both!
The White River National Forest of far southern Eagle County, flowing east to west from south of Norrie Colony through Ruedi Reservoir to Basalt where it joins the Roaring Fork.
Durango 280 miles; Grand Junction 110 miles; Denver 180 miles; Salt Lake City 395 miles; Albuquerque 540 miles; Phoenix 693 miles; Oklahoma City 805 miles; Dallas 964 miles; Austin 1,155 miles; San Antonio 1,128 miles; Houston 1,214 miles; Little Rock 1,121 miles; Kansas City 786 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The Lower Fryingpan River flows clean, clear and cold most of the time, but is not drinkable without purification. During periods of big dam releases the river tends to churn up a lot of mud, and the water takes on a reddish-brown, opaque tint. The run starts at an elevation of 7,240 feet msland drops to 6,585 feet msl, so be sure to bring warm clothing for off the river because it will get very cold, occasionally freezing at night, even in mid-summer. 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 Lower Fryingpan River is a dam-controlled river, and can be run anytime there is adequate flow from releases at Ruedi Reservoir. Always check the flow before coming to the river.
Like the Upper Fryingpan above, this section has floating trees and tree debris as its biggest potential threat of injury to paddlers or damage to boats and gear. The slide rapid waterfall near Seven Castles could cause problems for boaters without sufficient whitewater paddling skills, or cavalier boaters who are not paying attention. Generally, there are no other significant hazards on the Lower Fryingpan River.
Put in off FR 105 about 14 miles east of the Town of Basalt at 0.0 miles; Seven Castles off FR 105 just south of the Town of Basalt at 9.6 miles; Take out adjacent to the 7-11 convenience store on Basalt Avenue in the Town of Basalt at about 14.0 miles. Other access points may be available above and below the out-in, depending upon how much of the river you want to paddle.
Three campgrounds along the river and a fourth north of the dam at Ruedi Reservoir offer great base camp opportunities for paddling the Upper and Lower Fryingpan, Crystal, Roaring Fork or other nearby rivers and creeks. From top to bottom, these are: Chapman Gulch Campground off FR 105 southeast of Norrie Colony; off FR 501 about 2 miles east of the FR 105 split; off FR 105 on Miller Creek at the inlet to Ruedi Reservoir; and off FR 105 at Ruedi Creek just north of the dam at Ruedi Reservoir.
At least three commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information on the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Rivers.
The Lower Fryingpan River is slightly easier than the upper section, but will still require advanced whitewater skills to successfully run it due to the slide-type waterfall near Seven Castles and the Class IV- rapids downriver. If you are into trout fishing, then you are gonna love this section of the Fryingpan, because the trout here dine of sumptuous meals of mysis shrimp that wash out of the reservoir, and they have been described as "shaped like a football". These are well-fed trout! If you are a paddler-fisherman, then you can save the expense of bringing meats and just catch your fill of fish to round out any meal. The Lower Pan is a gorgeous river without the ever-changing gradient of the river above the reservoir, and when the flow is adequate it can be paddled all the way to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River near Basalt. You will never be paddling among big crowds of novice boaters on either section of the Fryingpan, so the others you encounter will be of similar skills and can probably swap lies about their adventures around a campfire at night. The area is located near Glenwood Springs, a little closer to Grand Junction than Denver, and in an area that sees a lot of ski activity in winter months. Nights can get to freezing temperatures, even in the heat of the summer, so be prepared for conditions on and off the river. Be sure to pack a camera and take a lot of great photos.