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. The river is comprised of four natural elements listed in order of their prevalence: rock, wood, water, air (as in whitewater.) It begins west of the Purgatory Ski Area, then flows southeast taking in the discharge of a number of creeks before reaching the Animas River below the intersection of FR 576 and US Highway 550 about 11 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, and many of the rapids are either blocked or severely constricted by logjams that require quick reaction to avoid a pin situation, or worse. However, the lower 9 miles above the Town of Hermosa offers a clearer channel that has far fewer trees to act as obstacles (the key word being "fewer"), 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.
This description eliminates the reach above the Trail 514 access because the river is usually far too clogged with down and dead trees to make for a safe and enjoyable trip. That being said, there are some runs that can be done between the low water crossing at CR 577 and the put-in for this reach if you don't mind the extra work and potential risk of logs blocking Class IV drops. From the top of this reach you can run 5.8, 7.3 or 10.7 miles depending upon your preferred take-out.
They say that getting there is half the fun. Getting to the Hermosa Creek put-in is half driving (from the Town of Hermosa) and half hiking. Fortunately, the driving half is uphill, while the hiking half (about 3.5 miles) is downhill. Say what you will, but this is still a major effort for a rather short run. The payoff for the effort is a beautiful and exciting Class IV whitewater run, and the reward is probably proportionate to the amount of weight you had to carry for 3.5 miles to get here. There were/are several riverwide log jam dams (including at miles 3.0 and 4.5) and a diversion dam at about 7.0 miles just above the take-out at the bridge across the creek on US Highway 550 that requires a portage, but the rest of the run gets better as you paddle downstream from the put-in. THe logjam dams can be removed by a flood, reformed in another location, or made bigger by subsequent floods. Do not assume an obstruction will or will not be there on this river. 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. And timing is everything, so plan you trip for when the flow is navigable.
This run is not a disneyland ride. The rapids are full of boulders, waves and holes (and sometimes wood), and there are many of them. This lower each of the river is tamer than above, but it is not a walk in the park. The river drops some 835 feet on an average gradient of about 78 fpm, so the curent is fast and the snowmelt water is cold. A swim here could be a rough experience. A lack of ready access to the river until you reach Hermosa raises the threat threshhold for injury. The overall difficulty of this run makes it most suited for advanced to expert level boaters in properly outfitted whitewater canoes and kayaks.
A tributary of the Animas River in La Plata County of southwestern Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains above Durango. Nearby streams include the Animas, San Juan, San Miguel, Uncompahgre, Piedra, Dolores, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers.
Durango 11 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 7,411 feet msl and drops to 6,576 feet msl in just 10.7 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 on an average gradient of about 78 fpm. 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 10.7 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 this lower reach of Hermosa Creek.
Hermosa Creek Trail 514 Access (N 37° 29' 07.46" / W 107° 53' 09.83") from the end of FR 576 hike 3.5 miles to the river left access at 0.0 miles; CR 202 Bridge (N 37° 25' 47.00" / W 107° 51' 01.41") at the end of CR 202 on river left at about 5.8 miles; CR 203 Bridge (N 37° 24' 56.16" / W 107° 50' 16.44") in Hermosa on river left before the bridge at about 7.3 miles; Animas River confluence (N 37° 24' 11.80" / W 107° 49' 29.49") no access at about 8.75 miles; Trimble Lane Bridge Access (N 37° 23' 06.50" / W 107° 50' 13.53") in Hermosa on the Animas River on river right after the bridge at about 10.7 miles. There may be other access points available along Hermosa 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.
No known commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for Hermosa Creek.
Hermosa Creek is a very pretty, though short, run for advanced 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, often still attached to the trunk, into the creek and causing obstructions, though most of those will be above the 6 - 11 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. Come prepared for cold water and a bumpy ride from top to bottom! 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.