The San Juan River begins at the confluence of its East and West Forks in Archuleta County, Colorado and then flows about 383 miles through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to its confluence with the Colorado River. And while it does come within one half mile the river does not actually flow through Arizona. Both forks source above 10,000 feet in elevation in the eastern San Juan Mountains in the San Juan National Forest, but the first practical navigable elevation is at about 7,965 feel msl on Sand Creek for the East Fork, or at about 7,936 feet msl for the West Fork. The confluence sits at about 7,578 feel msl. The river flows southwest through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains through the town of Pagosa Springs to its confluence with the Navajo River, where it turns west and heads into Navajo Reservoir on the Colorado - New Mexico State Line near Arboles, Colorado. Below the Navajo Dam the San Juan River flows west through a narrow farming valley in the Colorado Plateau high desert, then west through the Navajo Nation, turning northwest near Shiprock. From there, it re-enters Colorado very near the Four Corners point where all four states touch - the only such place in the United States, before entering southeastern Utah. West of Bluff, Utah the river flows through the Comb Ridge and then through a series of rugged winding canyons, often over 1,500 feet in depth, in a remote portion of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which was formed by Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The San Juan confluence with the Colorado is in San Juan County, Utah at an elevation of about 3,704 feel msl - some 4,261 feet lower than the East Fork run starting at Sand Creek on an average gradient of about 11.13 fpm, but do NOT be deceived - the river above Navajo Reservoir drops at a much steeper 17.3 fpm as the river drops some 891 feet in vertical elevation over about 51.3 miles.
This reach description begins at Baker's Bridge then flows through Hermosa taking in the waters of Hermosa Creek, and continues to East 32nd Street Access in Durango on a Class I to II run of about 18.2 miles. With mountains in the background this reach flows through farmland in a wide open valley. There is a diversion dam about 1 mile below the put-in at Baker's Bridge that must be negotiated by a portage on river left, though it may be runnable by experienced paddlers when the flow is right. This run starts at an elevation of about 6,778 feel msl and drops some 216 feet on an average gradient of about 12 fpm - almost flat by Colorado standards! It is an easy trip for less experienced boaters in canoes, kayaks, rafts or SUPs. And with an access point at Trimble Lane in Hermosa at about 6.7 miles this reach can be run as a short trip from Baker's Bridge to Trimble Lane, a medium length trip of about 11.5 miles from Trimble Lane to East 32nd Street in Durango, or as a longer 18.2 mile trip from top to bottom. It can also be combined with the reach below that ends in New Mexico on a river that is very similar to this reach in characteristics and "difficulty." It is close to Durango so the shuttle is quick and easy - even easier than the run. The scenery is great, but not as awesome as other reaches of this river or other nearby streams. Still, don't forget the camera because you will have more time to use it on this run.
La Plata County, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains between Baker's Bridge and the Colorado-New Mexico state line near Durango. Nearby streams include the San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Uncompahgre, Lime Creek, Hermosa Creek, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers, among many others in this area. The river runs through the San Juan National Forest.
Durango 15.0 miles; Grand Junction 170 miles; Denver 339 miles; Santa Fe 212 miles; Albuquerque 212 miles; Phoenix 454 miles; Oklahoma City 750 miles; Tulsa 855 miles; Dallas 864 miles; Austin 1,054 miles; San Antonio 1,134 miles; Houston 1,110 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good and sometimes clear, though snow-melt cold. Minimum flows should be about 500 cfs and maximum flows for safe boating are about 3,000 cfs, though there are no major obstructions or hazards on this reach other than the diversion dam about 1 mile below Baker's Bridge.
Generally, the optimum season is from late April through July, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains. In wet years it is possible to have year-round flow.
This reach of the Animas River has rapids in the Class I to II range, but at normal flows (500 - 3,000 cfs) most will not pose significant hazards to experienced whitewater boaters with intermediate or higher level skills. The rapids are short, fun and wet. The larger rapids, located mostly below the 32nd Street Park in Durango, offer great surfing holes that are not generally "keepers", but which can play havoc with lesser experienced boaters or anybody else who is lax entering and paddling through them. When in doubt, SCOUT! Wear your PFD and proper clothing to protect you from the cold water. A brain bucket (helmet) is optional on this reach due to its gentle demeanor.
Baker's Bridge (N 37° 27' 32.07" / W 107° 47' 57.28") on river right immediately after the CR 250 bridge at 0.0 miles; Trimble Road (N 37° 23' 06.21" / W 107° 50' 13.59") in Hermosa on river right after the bridge at about 6.7 miles; 32nd Street Park Access (N 37° 18' 05.48" / W 107° 52' 03.65") in Durango on river left at about 18.2 miles. There may be other available access points to this reach of the Animas River.
South Mineral Campground off US Highway 550 above Silverton is a public camping area; Purgatory, off US Highway 550 above Electra Lake and below Rockwood Box is a public camping area; There are numerous commercial campgrounds with tent camping, motels accommodations, supplies and other amenities on or near the Animas River. Contact the USDA Forest Service Office at Durango (970-247-4874) for information on campsites and restrictions.
Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Animas River.
The run between Baker's Bridge above Hermosa down to East 32nd Street in Durango is a gem of a run for people wanting a more leisurely trip down a beautiful river in the heart of Colorado's mining district. The run on Class I to II water flows through Hermosa and Durango, both of which sit in a wide agricultural valley constrasted by near-distant mountains, but lacking the ferocity of the river above, or other nearby rivers that are destinatiosn for hairboat kayakers only. This run is one almost anybody can enjoy unless they need an adreneline rush, which probably will not be found ghere unless one is easiloy amused. With its shallow gradient of about 14 fpm the water still moves and the current is fantastic, but it is definitely slower than the flows above giving more time for relaxation and taking in the surrounding scenery. At about 18.2 miles on a 12 fpm gradient this run could be done in 3-6 hours, though many will prefer to stretch it out a little more. There is a lot of private property along the river, so please avoid trespassing whenever possible.
This reach can be a year-round option IF both weather and river flow permit. One of the tough things about winter paddling in Colorado is being able to get to a river in areas with road closures due to ice and snow. Be sure to chack local road conditions before coming to this reach of the Animas in winter months.