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Animas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Baker's Bridge to State Line
~ 34.5 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

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.

The Lower Animas, starting below Lower Rockwood Box, flows about 34.5 miles from Baker's Bridge in La Plata County down through Durango and across the New Mexico state line with an average gradient of about 27 fpm. Numerous rapids in the Class I to III range form long wave trains that are exciting and wet. This section is very well suited to canoeing, kayaking and rafting. While enjoyable for experienced paddlers, this section offers excellent opportunities for beginner or novice paddlers to develop their chops for whitewater adventures. The Animas River is fed by snowmelt and summer rains, so expect cold water. Even in mid-summer the air temperature can be cool to cold, especially at night. And, because of the altitude paddlers not from the area may need to acclimate to be comfortable in the thinner, cooler air.

The Animas is a gorgeous river flowing from high in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. This section flows through downtown Durango, and includes an excellent 10 mile run with Class I-II rapids between Trimble Lane and 32nd Street Park, as well as a fantastic Class III run of about 5 miles between 32nd Street Park and High Bridge below Four Corners, featuring super runs at Smelter Rapid, Santa Rita Hole and one super set of haystacks. Because of huge boulders in the channel helmets are strongly recommended to prevent or reduce head injuries.

Below Durango, and continuing to the state line, the Animas River is a Class I-II stream that is fun, but not particularly technical or difficult, especially for boaters with intermediate or higher level whitewater skills. Multiple access points and US Highway 550 in very close proximity to the river allow paddlers to opt for trips of varying lengths and difficulty to fit their needs. Durango retains much of its ambience left over from the days of the "Old West". This is truly a great Colorado paddling destination when it is running.


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, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers. The river runs through the San Juan National Forest.

Distance from major cities

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 and Flow Rates

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.

Best time to go

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.

Hazards to navigation

The Animas River has rapids in the Class I to III range, but at normal flows (1,000 - 4,000 cfs) most will not pose significant hazards to experienced whitewater boaters with intermediate or higher level skills. The rapids create long wave trains that are 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 and wear your helmet to protect your head from rocks.

River Access Points

Baker's Bridge at 0.0 miles; Trimble Road access at 6.0 miles; 32nd Street Park access at 16.0 miles; 9th Street Access at 18.0 miles; Four Corners River Sports Access at 20.0 miles; Purple Cliffs (High Bridge) Access at 22.5 miles; Bondad Access at 28.0 miles; State Line access at 34.5 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

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.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Animas River.

Reviewer's comments

The Lower Animas River is a scenic run that is suitable for canoeists, kayakers and rafters. The Class I-III rapids and accompanying holes make this a great place to learn or hone whitewater river skills before jumping off into bigger waters. The setting is like something out of an "Old West" movie, complete with the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad running alongside the river through town.

Because the water is cold, wearing wetsuits or drysuits is advisable for most paddlers. The 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 Animas except when properly outfitted for heavy whitewater. Swiftwater rescue skills would be advisable for all paddlers running the Animas River.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III
Length 34.5 miles
Minimum Flow 300 cfs
Optimum Flow 800-2,500 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Baker's Bridge
Lat. / Long. N 37° 27' 32.07" / W 107° 47' 57.28"
Last Take-out State Line access
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,753 - 5,938 feet msl
Gradient 24 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Silverton
Web: Durango
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
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 ] [ Lime Creek ] [ Hermosa Creek ] [ Upper Animas River ]

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