Hermosa Creek, flowing through the Hermosa Valley to its confluence with the Animas River, is another great whitewater run in the San Juan River Valley. It begins west of the Purgatory Ski Area, then flows southeast by a number of creeks before reaching the Animas River below the intersection of FR 576 and US Highway 550 about 8 miles above Durango. This Class IV to IV+ creek run is drop dead beautiful, with tall aspen and spruce forests lining its banks. Unfortunately, many of those trees eventually find their way into the creekbed. The upper few miles are so clogged with log jams that paddling frequently gives way to portages. However, the lower 6.5 miles above the Town of Hermosa offers a clearer channel that has far fewer trees to act as obstacles, allowing for great whitewater runs. The creek is too small for rafts, but kayaks and open canoes outfitted for whitewater can run the creek when paddled by those with advanced to expert level whitewater skills.
They say that getting there is half the fun. Getting to the Hermosa Creek put-in is half driving and half hiking. Fortunately, the driving half is uphill, while the hiking half (about 3.5 miles) is downhill. The payoff for the effort is a beautiful and exciting Class IV whitewater run. A diversion dam just above the take-out at the bridge across the creek on US Highway 550 requires a portage, but the rest of the run gets better as you paddle downstream. This may never be a major destination run, but it is a great secondary run when coming to the San Juan basin for other river trips.
A tributary of the Animas River in La Plata County of southwestern Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains above Durango. Nearby streams include the Anima, Piedra, Dolores, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers.
Durango 8 miles; Grand Junction 162 miles; Denver 330 miles; Santa Fe 220 miles; Albuquerque 220 miles; Phoenix 462 miles; Oklahoma City 763 miles; Tulsa 868 miles; Dallas 872 miles; Austin 958 miles; San Antonio 1,038 miles; Houston 1,158 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The water in Hermosa Creek flows clean, clear and cold, though parts of it may occasionally be clogged by downed trees. The creek is rated Class IV below 1,100 cfs, increasing to Class IV+ when the level exceeds 1,100 cfs. It begins at an elevation of 7,400 feet msl and drops to 6,630 feet msl in just 6.5 miles, with a gradient that undergoes a roller coaster ride of 7 changes starting at 105 fpm, rising to 140 fpm, and finally ending at 80 FPM with a fast-moving current. 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. Do not drink the water without purification.
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.
The upper reaches of Hermosa Creek are littered with log jams everywhere creating dangers and inconveniences. However, the lower 6.5 miles, where most boaters paddle, only has one significant hazard. The diversion dam near the end is not safely runnable, and requires a portage to get to the take-out. There are no other major hazards on Hermosa Creek.
Put in by driving north from Durango on US Highway 550 to FR 576, then turning left, driving across the bridge over Hermosa Creek to the end of FR 576. Hike the last 3.5 miles to the put-in near Clear Creek. Take out where the bridge on FR 576 crosses the creek.
Campsites are available all along FR 576 between the take-out and the end of the paved road. Other campgrounds may be available near the Lime Creek / Animas River area.
Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for Hermosa Creek.
Hermosa Creek is a very pretty, though short, run for intermediate or higher level whitewater boaters in canoes rigged for whitewater, or kayaks. This is not a practical run for rafts. You cannot drive all the way to the put-in, so pack lightly and be prepared to hike the final 3.5 miles with boats and gear to reach the put-in. The densely treed area is known for dropping its foliage into the creek and causing obstructions, though most of those will be above the 6.5 miles where most paddlers run. Still, there are always chances that you will need to avoid strainers or pinning caused by downed trees in the creekbed. This Animas River tributary is close to Durango and can be run as a secondary trip for paddlers wanting to do the Animas, San Juan, Gunnison or other nearby streams.