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Boulder Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

South Boulder Creek
Rollinsville to Gross Reservoir
~ 8.6 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The South Platte River forms in the Pike National Forest of northern Park County, Colorado between Breckenridge and Alma near Hoosier Pass (elevation 11,541 feet msl), then flows southeast to Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument before turning to flow northeast through Cheesman Reservoir, into and through Denver to Greeley, where it then flows east by northeast to its confluence with the North Platte River at North Platte, Nebraska. It is a major Colorado waterway that is fed by numerous rivers and creeks including Clear Creek, Boulder Creek, Bear Creek, Big Thompson and Little Thompson Rivers, North and South Saint Vrain Creeks and others. The river is rated from Class I to V in various sections, and most tributary streams are rated Class IV to V+, or even VI.

South Boulder Creek is a summertime kayak run that begins with about 6 miles of Class III to IV whitewater, and which can be run by canoes with flotation when paddled by those with at least very strong intermediate level whitewater skills, and ends with about 2.6 miles of true hairboating that should be avoided by all except those with expert level whitewater kayak skills. This Gilpin and Boulder Counties run is just a few miles southwest of Boulder, and about an equal distance northwest of Denver near Eldorado Canyon State Park and Roosevelt National Forest. The area is home to some people who may remind you of locals from the movie "Deliverance", so try to avoid trespassing and be especially courteous to those you see on land along the way. They probably already think you are crazy for being on the creek in the first place, and they might be right!

This gorgeous, 8.6 mile trip begins just west of Rollinsville and ends at Gross Reservoir off SH 72 near Crescent Village. From Rollinsville to Pinecliff the creek is not particularly threatening. Its gradient is about 81.5 fpm over 6 miles from a starting elevation of 8,460 feet msl that drops 490 feet along the way in mainly Class III to IV rapids. However, the final 2.6 miles drops about 690 feet on a changing gradient of 171, 320 and finally 198 fpm amid big, tight drops rated Class IV to VI- (depending upon flow.) Experienced boaters suggest that the lower 2.6 miles can be an all-day run, depending upon your swiftwater rescue and boat recovery skills which can easily be tested on this reach of South Boulder Creek. This is NOT your father's kayak run!


Gilpin and Boulder Counties in central Colorado, just a few miles northwest of Denver and a few miles southwest of Boulder and Fort Collins.

Distance from major cities

Denver 26 miles; Colorado Springs 96 miles; Pueblo 138 miles; Grand Junction 272 miles; Durango 365 miles; Salt Lake City 570 miles; Albuquerque 473 miles; Phoenix 839 miles; Oklahoma City 651 miles; Dallas 810 miles; Austin 990 miles; San Antonio 974 miles; Houston 1,060 miles; Little Rock 967 miles; Kansas City 632 miles; (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

South Boulder Creek usually flows clean, clear and cold most of the time, but is not drinkable without purification. Dead-fallen tree debris may clog the channel at any time. Wearing a wetsuit or drysuit with a base layer will help prevent hypothermia in the event you should be trapped in the water, especially on the lower third of this trip.

Best time to go

South Boulder Creek is usually a summertime run from late-May through August. Be sure to check the gauge at Pinecliff for current flow rates. The upper 6 miles will drain before the lower 2.6 miles becomes unrunnable.

Hazards to navigation

The first 6 miles of the South Boulder Creeek run has few, if any, significant hazards for competent boaters. However, any of the rapids can pin and wrap boats, as well as injure boaters, if not run properly. When in doubt, SCOUT! The real hair begins below the Town of Pinecliff, where the rapids begin to rate Class IV to VI- (all Class VI- at flows exceeding about 400 cfs.) The major rapids of consequence are as follows: Trainspotting Rapid (Class IV- to V+) beneath the railroad trestle just below the put-in is a very technical, long rapid that twists and turns amid granite boulder garden obstacles. This one sets you up for what is to follow (experienced SBC paddlers recommend taking out and hiking back to your car if you have any real trouble running this rapid!); Gash (Class V+ to VI-) is just below Trainspotting with a scout and/or portage on river right; Lumberyard (Class V+ to VI-) is a log jam of sometimes serious proportions located less than 0.8 miles below Pinecliff; S-Turn Rapid (Class V to V+), located very shortly below Lumberyard, is a horizontal rollercoaster ride around huge granite boulders where playing bumper-boat with the rocks is discouraged; 40-Footer (Class VI-) is just what its name implies - a 40-foot waterfall drop that usually spells doom and gloom for those who run it. The drop has a small landing zone that may be clogged with dead-fall, and is hard to hit under any circumstances. Paddlers should exit the creek above this drop on river right, then portage around it; R.I.M.B.Y. (Right in my backyard) Rapid (Class V+ to VI-) is the last major drop, ending about 0.75 miles before the takeout at Gross reservoir. This drop is a huge boulder garden that should be scouted from river right about 100 yards before the entrance drop. An underwater cave of small proportion lies below the surface in this rapid, and great care should be exercised to avoid getting caught in it. The run-out down to the take-out is Class IV whitewater that will seem like a piece of cake compared to the previous two miles.

River Access Points

Put in just west of Rollinsville along SH 72 on river right at 0.0 miles; 11 Road Bridge west of Pinecliff on river left at about 5.0 miles; Pinecliff, off SH 72, on river left at about 6.0 miles; Gross Reservoir on river right at about 8.6 miles. Other than some hike-out trails, there are no other access points along this section of South Boulder Creek.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds located along South Boulder Creek. However, excellent camping is available nearby at Golden Gate Canyon and El Dorado Canyon State Parks, Grand Piton National Park, and numerous campsites in Roosevelt, Pike and Arapaho National Forests. Hotels and motels are also readily available in Boulder and Denver about a half hour away.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on South Boulder Creek. Plan on providing your own boats, gear and shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

South Boulder Creek is another run that should be reserved for expert whitewater kayakers only. For anybody else this is a suicide run, though canoes with flotation can paddle the first 6 miles of this reach if they are manned by boaters with very strong intermediate or higher level whitewater skills. The surroundings are just awesome. Big cliffs, beautiful trees and house-sized boulders, as well as a 40-foot waterfall, make this run very eye-appealing. Its close proximity to Denver and Boulder make it really convenient for those in the area when it flows. It would probably be advisable to run it for the first time with others who are experienced paddling here. There are some places where a portage is the intelligent thing to do, discretion being the better part of valor, and all that! This run cannot be made by rafts, and canoes should not attempt the Pinecliff to Gross Reservoir leg of this run regardless of circumstances, outfitting or boater qualifications.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV (V to VI-)
Length 8.6 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 150-300 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 72 west of Rollinsville
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Gross Reservoir
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 8,460-7,282 feet msl
Gradient 80-320 fpm (4 changes)
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks abv 11 Rd bridge
EXPERT KAYAKERS ONLY below 11 Rd bridge
Season May through July or August
Permits No

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

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

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

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

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

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

South Platte River
[ South Platte River Homepage ] [ Fairplay to Hartzel ] [ Elevenmile Canyon Res. to Lake George ]
[ Lake George to Cheesman Reservoir ] [ Decker to Chatfield Res. S.R.A. ] [ North Fork Bailey Run ] [ North Fork Foxton Run ]

[ Clear Creek ] [ Boulder Creek ]
[ Big Thompson River ] [ Little Thompson River ] [ North Saint Vrain Creek ] [ South Saint Vrain Creek ]

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