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Lime Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Molas Pass to the Animas River
~ 20 Miles


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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Lime Creek, a tributary of the Animas River in the San Juan River basin, is truly a hairboater's paradise in every way. The run begins at a nose-bleed elevation of 9,652 feet msl, then plunges nearly 2,000 feet in about 20 miles with an ever-changing gradient from a "flat" 40 fpm to a steep 282 fpm. Lime is a low-volume creek with a moderately short season that is fed entirely by snowmelt in the Upper Animas River basin. Its "easy" rapids are Class IV+ with a serious pucker factor. It is a run recommended for expert kayakers ONLY! The high alpine surroundings are very beautiful - the stuff of camera food in a photographer's banquet, but don't be fooled by all this natural beauty. The creek is loaded with potential for serious injury or death. Paddlers should note that running all the way to the bottom of the Upper Rockwood Box on the Animas River (20 miles) WILL require a mandatory and difficult portage around an unrunnable drop near the end of the second gorge, as well as probably spending a night on the river. Many paddlers who go to Lime Creek to play take out after the first gorge.

Lime Creek consists of three gorges with particularly cleaver names - First Gorge, Second Gorge and Third Gorge. Somebody probably stayed up all night after surviving a run just thinking about what to name them. It is more likely somebody stayed up because they had the crap scared out of them and couldn't sleep for fear of nightmares. This is a place where a narrow, constricted canyon makes portages nearly as difficult as the runs. Huge granite boulders, and occasionally downed trees, litter a steep, narrow, fast-moving channel where most of the water is VERY white. Paddle Lime Creek only if you are truly an expert whitewater kayaker accompanied by others of a similar level of proficiency.


A tributary of the Animas River in San Juan and La Plata Counties of southwestern Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains above Durango. Nearby streams include the Anima, Piedra, Dolores, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers.

Distance from major cities

Durango 50 miles; Grand Junction 120 miles; Denver 389 miles; Santa Fe 262 miles; Albuquerque 262 miles; Phoenix 504 miles; Oklahoma City 805 miles; Tulsa 910 miles; Dallas 914 miles; Austin 1,000 miles; San Antonio 1,080 miles; Houston 1,200 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Lime Creek has a rather small drainage basin fed almost entirely from Upper Animas River basin snowmelt. Its short season flows wild and cold, and is usually optimum when the Animas is gauging around 2,200 cfs. The water moves fast and furious, with few places for survivable mistakes. Drysuits or wetsuits with base layers, neoprene gloves and neoprene river boots with hard soles should be worn to guard against hypothermia. Helmets with facemasks are strongly recommended. Good judgement is much more important than a daring ego. Do not drink the water without purification.

Best time to go

Generally, the optimum season is a short two months in May and June, with the possibility of some July days, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snowpack and/or recent local rains. The creek will run very low in dry winter years.

Hazards to navigation

Lime Creek is only hazardous when it is running! First Gorge has some "easy" Class IV stuff, then quickly turns hairy. Adrenaline Falls is a 25-foot cascading waterfall that is very narrow and protected by a 6-foot drop that absolutely MUST be nailed to prevent disaster at the big drop. Scout on river right above the lead-in drop, and develop a solid plan for the run. Screw up this one and you may go over the big one backward - a prescription for disaster. First Gorge begins shortly after Adrenaline Falls. The small canyon twists and turns amid solid Class V drops, one of which has a definite keeper hole in the middle of the landing zone. This series of drops is affectionately known as the "S-Turns", and is quickly followed by "Dragon's Back", a Class V, 14-foot waterfall, after which the creek becomes tamer as you approach the Lime Creek Road access on river right, with options for taking out here to change your pants, or continuing on to Second Gorge.

Second Gorge begins as you paddle past Trinity Creek on river left, where Lime Creek bends right. Second Gorge is the hairiest of the hairy on the Lime Creek run. It features a winding start into a walled canyon and quickly shows you a ledge hole spanning the creek. Be ever vigilant for places to quickly exit the creek, and scout often because there are some really nasty drops in this section. The last bend of Second Gorge, above Purgatory Flats access, is home to some potentially deadly Class VI+ drops that resemble a miniature version of Niagara Falls. The closer you get to them the harder it becomes to find a safe portage. In fact, if you get too close, then your only option may be to run the drops as your life flashes through your mind one last time.

Third Gorge is a little more open than First and Second Gorges. You can find better eddies and banks for scouting the Class IV+ rapids that awit you. However, just to make things really interesting, you must run a Class V drop created by a landslide, with huge boulders to dodge (or perhaps "cushion" your fall.) The scenic Third Gorge then send you through some class IV+ stuff on your way to a major log jam near the end that must be portaged. Once you arrive safely below the log jam you can relax and enjoy the paddle to the Animas River take-out above Upper Rockwood Box, or if you still need a rusk, below Upper Rockwood Box. Read about Rockwood on the Animas River description and DO NOT attempt to run Lower Rockwood Box!

River Access Points

Above First Gorge on Lime Creek Road off US Highway 550 south of Molas Pass; Lime Creek Road below First Gorge; Purgatory Flats, with a hike in and out off US Highway 550 near SH 591. Optional take-outs are on the Animas River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Lime Creek Campground off Lime Creek Road a few miles below Dragon's Back Rapid; Purgatory Flats Campground on TR 511 just east of US Highway 550. Other campgrounds may be available near the Lime Creek / Animas River area.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for Lime Creek.

Reviewer's comments

Unless you are an expert kayaker with a death wish you would be advised to not even consider running Lime Creek. Drive up there and shoot some photographs, or something. If you are truly a hairboater and want a super adrenaline rush, then this is the place for you! Three gorges with cascading waterfalls, tight channels, huge pieces of granite in your path, very difficult portages (when they are there at all) and trouble everywhere you look await anybody who runs Lime Creek. This place starts with Class IV+ water and escalates to Class VI+ before leveling off to the same type stuff that began the run. The water is wild and very cold, but the valley and surroundings are picture perfect. This is a run that typifies the best about Colorado steep creeking and hairboat runs.

Technical Data
Class Rating V to VI
Length 20 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Old Lime Creek Road
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Lime Creek Road pulloff unless going to the Animas River
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 9,652-7,685 feet msl
Gradient 40-282 fpm (9 changes)
USGS Gauge Web:
Season May through July (?)
Permits No

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

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

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

Click HERE to visit the web site of Pikes Peak Whitewater Club

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the San Juan River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ San Juan River Homepage ] [ San Juan River ] [ Piedra River ] [ Hermosa Creek ] [ Upper Animas River ] [ Lower Animas River ]

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