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South St. Vrain Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

South St. Vrain Creek
SH 7 milemarker 34 to SH 7 milemarker 28
~ 6 Miles


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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 Saint Vrain Creek (SSV) is a sister to the NSV, sharing many of the characteristics found above Button Rock Reservoir to the 80 Road access below Longmont Reservoir. It is rated Class V at flows of about 150 to 250 cfs, then Class V+ when flows exceed 250 cfs. SSV features broken granite boulders with jagged edges that are capable of making a plastic surgeon's job very difficult - avoid paddling upside-down! The creek is steep and fast, with little time to gather your thoughts between rapids. The water is probably blue-green colored, but it all looks white on top. The run is very technical, with one section flowing through a narrow channel between a cliff on one side and a roadway retaining wall on the other side. Runs start at an elevation of about 6,200 feet msl, then drop 620 feet in 3 miles (between SH7 milemarkers 31 and 28) on a changing gradient of 300, 220 and 100 fpm. This is a short, E-ticket ride on the outskirts of Boulder, Longmont and Loveland. Many paddlers opt to start at MM 31, but runs can start as high as MM 34 for an additional 3 miles, making it a 6-mile run. Cinch everything up tight, suck it up, and then hit the water!


Northwestern Boulder County, just north of Boulder near Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder Creek, Big Thompson and Little Thompson Rivers and the Roosevelt National Forest.

Distance from major cities

Denver 40 miles; Fort Collins 50 miles; Grand Junction 286 miles; Durango 380 miles; Salt Lake City 574 miles; Albuquerque 477 miles; Phoenix 853 miles; Oklahoma City 665 miles; Dallas 824 miles; Austin 1,005 miles; San Antonio 988 miles; Houston 1,074 miles; Little Rock 981 miles; Kansas City 646 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 usually excellent, flowing clean, clear and cold except for occasional dead-fall debris, but is not drinkable without purification. Flows usually occur in late spring through early summer, depending upon local runoff from snowmelt and/or rainfall.

Best time to go

The prime season for South Saint Vrain Creek is April through June, depending upon snowmelt and rainfall runoff. The creek is extremely dangerous at or near flood stage, and may be too low to boat if flows are below about 125 cfs. If the Watertalk gauge reading for SSV is 500 CFS or higher, and the NSV is lower, then beware of serious dangers (this run can produce Class V difficulty with as little as 150 cfs.)

Hazards to navigation

Everything on South Saint Vrain Creek should be considered a hazard at any navigable flow level because of the non-stop nature of the rapids, the constricted canyon walls and the potential for being sliced on jagged granite boulders, especially when upside-down in the water. This is a hairboat run for strong advanced to expert level whitewater kayakers ONLY!

River Access Points

SH 7 milemarker 34 on river left at 0.0 miles; SH 7 milemarker 31 on river left at 3.0 miles; SH 7 milemarker 28 on river left at about 6.0 miles. Other access points may be available depending upon which part of the creek you want to test your luck and skills.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds located along South Saint Vrain Creek. Several excellent campgrounds are available nearby in state and national forests, and in Rocky Mountain National Park. Hotel and motel rooms are available nearby in Boulder, Longmont and Loveland.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

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

Reviewer's comments

The South Saint Vrain Creek run offers the general type of boating that is banned on the NSV, with tight, technical boating amid granite boulders and constricted canyon walls. The creek is rated Class V at flows below 250 cfs, and Class V+ above that level in a fast-moving current that gives little wiggle room. The steepest section drops at 300 fpm, and the "flat" section has a gradient of about 100 fpm. This run is best left to kayakers with advanced to expert level whitewater skills, though they probably will not have time to appreciate the splendid natural beauty along this run.

Technical Data
Class Rating V to V+
Length 6 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 150-250 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 7 milemarker 34
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 7 milemarker 28
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,200-5,580 feet msl
Gradient 300, 220, 100 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Vrain Creek below Longmont
Season April (?) through June
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 ] [ Upper Boulder Creek ] [ South Boulder Creek ]
[ Big Thompson River ] [ Little Thompson River ] [ North Saint Vrain Creek ]

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