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 East 32nd Street Access in Durango and continues to Dallabeta Park Access on a Class II to III whitewater run of about 5.0 miles. The entire run is within the city limits of Durango, so access is great, frequent and easy, food and beverages are nearby before, during and/or after the trip and almost all services you would require are readily available. In addition, you get a fantastic intermediate level whitewater experience that packs many rapids into a short few miles, and if it's not enough, then you can can shuttle back to the top and do it again ... three of four more times a day!
If beginning at East 32nd Street, then your trip will begin on mostly flatwater with some riffles for the first three miles approaching the Durango Whitewater Park, and then the fun begins.Immediately below the access at the park is the first drop in the man-made whitewater feature that is designed to perfect optimally at up to 1,400 cfs. The rapids are class II to III, possibly III+ in higher flow conditions. And, there will be plenty of spectators to wow with your personal boating skills and talent, so dress for the occasion and make a good showing. One nice amenity is having other boaters around to help if you get into trouble. The big rapids are all packed into about 0.15 mile from the top of the first drop in the whitewater park. After that, there will be a lot of rocks in low water conditions and riffles to minor rapids in moderate water level conditions the rest of the way to the take-out at Dallabeta Park off CR 213 at River Road in the southernmost part of Durango. It's time to saddle up and ride that pony! You may not need a camera - you will probably find yourself on YouTube, especially if you do a really good flip.
La Plata County, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains within the city limits of 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 0.0 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 300 cfs and maximum flows for safe boating are about 3,000 cfs, though there are no major obstructions or hazards on this reach. The Durango Whitewater Park has some drop features that can definitely flip your boat, but recovery is generally quick and easy.
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 III+ range, but at normal flows (300 - 3,000 cfs) most will not pose significant hazards to experienced whitewater boaters with intermediate or higher level skills. The rapids are mostly at the Durango Whitewater Park about 3.3 miles below East 32nd Street Access, and they short, fun and wet. The larger rapids offer great surfing holes for kayakers and SUP'ers 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. This is a tight, short whitewater park with about 7 drops in rapid succession. 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.
32nd Street Park Access (N 37° 18' 05.48" / W 107° 52' 03.65") in Durango on river left at about 0.0 miles; West 29th Street Bridge Access (N 37° 17' 43.62" / W 107° 52' 14.35") on river left immediately after first rapid at about 0.46 mile; East 16th Street Access (N 37° 16' 50.93" / W 107° 52' 35.37") on river right after the bridge at about 1.75 miles; East 9th Street Access (N 37° 16' 25.31" / W 107° 53' 07.31") on river right after the bridge at about 2.50 miles; US 160 first crossing access (N 37° 16' 05.88" / W 107° 53' 09.96") on river right after the bridge at about 2.90 miles; Durango Whitewater Park (N 37° 15' 51.18" / W 107° 52' 51.55") on river left just above the first drop - be left to access - at about 3.30 miles; Santa Rita Access (N 37° 15' 45.91" / W 107° 52' 53.69") on river left after the chute drop at about 3.40 miles (bottom of Durango Whitewater Park); US 160 second crossing access (N 37° 15' 35.04" / W 107° 52' 40.83") on river left before the Camino del Rio bridge at about 3.70 miles; Cundiff Park Access (N 37° 14' 56.48" / W 107° 52' 21.10") on river right after the foot bridge at about 4.60 miles; US 160 third crossing access (N 37° 14' 04.62" / W 107° 52' 07.04") on river left after the bridge at about 5.80 miles; Dallabeta Park Access (N 37° 13' 17.68" / W 107° 51' 37.91") on river right before the bridge at about 7.00 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 Durango Town Run is primarily an easy float trip that almost anybody can safely enjoy with a CLass III to III+ whitewater feature right smack in the middle of this short 7 mile reach. Access is ecellent and runs of several lengths can be done, including doing laps at the whitewater park if the flatwater is not your thing. Optimum flows usually occur in April through July, but dry years may have a much shorter season and especially wet year may extend the season into August or later. Being a run entirely with Durango city limits means all kinds of services are available, which makes this a really nice run. And, there are great runs above and below this one, as well as on numerous other super Colorado whitewater streams not too far away. This runs brings out everybody except the motorboaters, and I will bet they are trying to find a way to get here, but you will be at home among canoeists, kayakers, rafters, SUP'ers and even tubers.