Forming in the San Juan Mountains of San Juan County, the Animas River is a free-flowing, cold-water stream running north to south through Durango and down into New Mexico. It is larger than most rivers in the area, and a lot more beautiful, offering great Class II-V whitewater and excellent fishing opportunities. The season on the Animas River is longer than that of most Colorado streams. Heavy run-off from snowmelt and summer rains usually continues until mid-June, though the water may not be clear until well into July. The Animas may remain navigable into late August or early September, depending upon snowpack and summer rains.
For advanced to expert level paddlers the Upper Animas River between Silverton and the bottom of Upper Rockwood Box is a Class IV to V paradise of stunning beauty and whitewater excitement. The run is long - 24.2 miles if taking out at the Tacoma power plant, or 26.8 miles if running through the Upper Rockwood Box - but the gradient is steep and the flow is fast. Access is reasonably easy and the shuttle distance is almost equal to the downriver distance because US Highway 550 parallels the river along this section. Also shadowing the run is the Durango to Silverton narrow gauge railroad line, an alternative to self-shuttling.
The Upper Animas River is demarcated into almost equal length segments by three major drops - Garfield Slide, No Name Falls and Broken Bridge. This upper 24.2 miles can be run in kayaks or rafts by paddlers with at least advanced whitewater skills. The 2.6 miles of the Upper Rockwood Box can be run by kayakers with expert level skills. Canoes are not well-suited for this run regardless of outfitting or paddler skills. The water is cold ( 40° F ) so wear proper attire to protect yourself from hypothermia. In addition to the aforementioned garment options, Neoprene or other insulating gloves should be worn to protect your hands.
San Juan County, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains between Silverton and the Tacoma powerplant near Durango. Nearby streams include the San Juan, Dolores, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers.
Durango 47 miles; Grand Junction 217 miles; Denver 386 miles; Santa Fe 259 miles; Albuquerque 259 miles; Phoenix 501 miles; Oklahoma City 797 miles; Tulsa 903 miles; Dallas 911 miles; Austin 1,101 miles; San Antonio 1,181 miles; Houston 1,157 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally very good to excellent and clear, though snow-melt cold. Minimum flows should be about 1,000 cfs and maximum flows for safe boating are about 4,000 cfs. Below 1,000 cfs the river channel can be rocky and may require excessive hiking, dragging, carrying or portages. Above 4,000 cfs the river is dangerous and can be deadly regardless of boat or experience.
Generally, the optimum season is from late May through August, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains.
The Upper Animas River has rapids in the Class IV to V range above Upper Rockwood Box, and most are accompanied by great surfing holes. Generally, at normal flows, the rocks are well covered and pose no significant hazards for experienced boaters, but could be very dangerous for lesser experienced paddlers in either rafts or kayaks. The holes are not "keepers" as a rule, but paddlers should not be lax in navigating through and out of them. The 24.2 miles from Silverton to Upper Rockwood Box can be run by advanced to expert skill level kayakers or rafters. The Upper Rockwood Box can be run by expert kayakers. Canoeists should go somewhere else to play! Do NOT atempt to run the Lower Rockwood Box regardless of boat or paddling experience!
Mineral Creek at the US Highway 550 crossing; Animas River alongside the railroad track southeast of Silverton; Tacoma powerplant parking lot at 24.2 miles; Rockwood Railyard at 26.8 miles.
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 Upper Animas River is a scenic run that is best left to highly experienced kayakers and rafters. The Class IV-V rapids and accompanying holes make this no place to learn whitewater river skills. The setting is stereotypical Colorado wilderness, with the San Juan Mountains providing the backdrop and a narrow gauge railroad track running alongside the river most of the way. The train also serves as a shuttle back to the Silverton access if your cars are parked up there.
Because the water is cold and the sun is often blocked by the mountains, wearing wetsuits or drysuits is advisable for most paddlers. The Upper Animas would not be a good place to become hypothermic. Ear plugs would be advisable to keep the cold water out of your ear canals, a situation that can lead to serious aural complications from repeated and prolonged exposure. Canoes should not challenge the Upper Animas. Swiftwater rescue skills would be advisable for all paddlers running the Upper Animas River.