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South Platte River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Deckers to CR 96 / CR 97 Junction
~ 16 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.

Between the Community of Deckers and the CR 96 / CR 97 Junction at the confluence of the North Fork and South Fork southwest of Chatfield Reservoir State Park the South Platte River flows about 16 miles as a Class II to III+ whitewater stream with a pool-and-drop format that is more pool than drop. Most of the rapids are straightforward and non-technical, though solid whitewater skills are necessary to successfully negotiate some of them. This is NOT Disneyland! A narrow chute between large boulders about 2 miles before the take-out can be a real challenge, especially in higher flows, but it is probably the most technical drop on the river. It is quite scenic and exciting on this run on an average gradient of about 20 fpm. This reach is served by numerous access points at road crossings and roadside all along this run. County Highway 67 loosely parallels the river for the first 6.6 miles, after which County Road 97 runs riverside from that point to the take-out at the junction with CR 96 east of Foxton. About 13.3 miles below this point lies the dam at Strontia Springs Reservoir. Boating is NOT PERMITTED in Waterton Canyon or on Strontia Springs Reservoir (see Rules and Regulations HERE for details) necessitating that this trip ends at the CR 96 / CR 97 Junction. While it is technically possible to paddle on downriver above the lake there are no roads, so paddling back upriver would be required, but not necessarily possible. The option is to load your boat on your back and hoof it on foot back to the confluence. There are a series of Class III+ to IV rapids below the take-out that make the extra effort worth it to some kayakers. And there is no legal take-out on Stontia Springs Reservoir, so there is no option for paddling to the lake and taking out there.

Granite boulders in the riverbed create interesting, but not too challenging, rapids, drops and holes (the holes will increase in difficulty as flows increase.) The river is generally safe for novice whitewater paddlers to develop their skills before moving on to more challenging waters. Excellent camping opportunities are available both on and off the river, though most of the off-river sites are much closer to the take-out than the put-in, specifically at Roxborough or Chatfield. This run typically ends at the CR 96 / CR 97 Junction (North Platte River Road) just southwest of Strontia Springs Reservoir with its dam at the northeast end of the South Platte River continuing on downriver to Chatfield Reservoir State Park with its vast recreational amenities.

This reach of the South Platte River ends less than 25 miles (as the crow flies) south of downtown Denver, yet the surrounding area is still quite remote and peaceful as the river flows through Pike National Forest in Douglas County. The run is best suited for intermediate or higher level whitewater paddlers in canoes with flotation or kayaks, though less skilled paddlers can hone their skills when accompanied by more experienced paddlers. Rafts can run this section paddled by lesser experienced boaters, especially in guided rafts. The trip is 3-5 hour run for most boaters, which works well for the crack-of-noon'ers. This is a popular destination, especially on weekends, so do not expect much solitude. Campsites along the river can be found on either bank in numerous locations and campsites near the water can be found along the river below Strontia Springs Dam on the riverbank at Roxborough State Park about 14 miles downriver from the CR 96/CR97 take-out, and Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area about two miles below the state park, though they are not reachable from the river - you have to drive there from the take-out at CR 96 / CR 97.

Location

Southwest to central Douglas County in central Colorado southwest of Denver. Colorado Springs and Pueblo are both very nearby to the southeast.

Distance from major cities

Denver 45 miles; Colorado Springs 40 miles; Pueblo 82 miles; Grand Junction 270 miles; Durango 340 miles; Salt Lake City 555 miles; Albuquerque 552 miles; Phoenix 818 miles; Oklahoma City 735 miles; Dallas 747 miles; Austin 928 miles; San Antonio 1,008 miles; Houston 1,174 miles; Little Rock 1,051 miles; Kansas City 716 miles; (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The South Platte River flows clean, clear and cold most of the time, but is not drinkable without purification. This section is rated Class II to IV- with huge granite boulder gardens and occasional tree debris, flowing from June through August, depending upon dam releases at Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir.

Best time to go

This section of the South Platte River is prime from June through August, depending upon the amount of water being released from Spinney and Elevenmile Canyon Reservoirs, which get their water from winter snowpack in the drainage basin. Spring to summer rainfall may add additional flow. Check gauges before going.

Hazards to navigation

This section of the South Platte river has numerous rapids in the Class II to III+ range, many of which require solid intermediate or higher level whitewater skills to negotiate, especially at higher flows. Boulder gardens and occasional log jams make paddling here a run that requires vigilance to avoid serious mishaps. The most technical drop is a narrow chute between large boulders located a couple of miles before the final take-out at CR 96 / CR 97. It is normally a Class III to III+ drop that may be a little more difficult in high flow conditions. Cold water temperatures necessitate wearing water-repelling garments (no cotton) to avoid hypothermia, especially if you take an unplanned swim. Most rapids are negotiable by competent boaters who take the time to evaluate the run, then hit their lines. None of the rapids in this section are generally life-threatening at normal flows.

River Access Points

Hwy 67 Bridge at Decker (N 39 15' 14.27" / W 105 13' 38.27") SE corner on river right at 0.0 miles; Hwy 67 Bridge at Decker (N 39 15' 15.67" / W 105 13' 39.50") NW corner on river left at 0.0 miles; Hwy. 67 Bridge (N 39 15' 21.25" / W 105 13' 28.40") SW corner on river right at about 0.35 miles; Hwy. 67 Bridge (N 39 17' 26.97" / W 105 12' 27.05") SW corner on river right at about 4.10 miles; Hwy. 67 Bridge (N 39 17' 27.03" / W 105 12' 24.77") NE corner on river left at about 4.10 miles; Hwy. 67 Bridge (N 39 18' 33.36" / W 105 11' 54.47") SW corner on river left at about 6.60 miles; CR 97 / North Platte River Road Roadside Access (N 39 18' 35.20" / W 105 11' 54.25") on river right at about 6.70 miles; CR 97 / North Platte River Road Roadside Access (N 39 20' 33.97" / W 105 10' 46.51") on river right at about 10.10 miles; CR 97 / North Platte River Road Roadside Access (N 39 20' 59.49" / W 105 10' 36.06") on river right at about 10.70 miles; CR 97 / North Platte River Road at W. Pine Creek Road (N 39 21' 30.95" / W 105 10' 11.32") on river right at about 11.50 miles; CR 97 / North Platte River Road at Colorado Trail (N 39 23' 59.93" / W 105 10' 03.17") on river right at about 15.40 miles; CR 97 / CR 96 Junction (N 39 24' 27.78" / W 105 10' 15.48") on river right at about 16.00 miles. There are other roadside promitive access points along this section of the South Platte River, but NONE are below the CR 96 / CR 97 take-out.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Abundant primitive campsites can be found all along the river between Deckers and the CR 96 / CR 97 take-out. Lone Rock Campground is located about a half mile from the Deckers Access on CR 126. Riverside campgrounds are available below Strontia Springs Dam at Roxborough State Park and at Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area where excellent campsites with amenities are available. Buffalo and Kelsey campgrounds are available on the west and east sides of SH 67, respectively, near the North Fork of the South Platte River confluence. Devils Head Campground is located just east of Decker. Buffalo, Kelsey and Devils Head Campgrounds are all located with the boundries of Pike National Forest. Corral Creek Access, about 7.3 miles below US Highway 285/24 on river left, offers riverside primitive campsites. Happy Meadows Campground, on river right just below the US Highway 285/24 bridge, offers excellent campground facilites just outside the Town of Lake George. Elevenmile Canyon State Recreation Area, on river left above the dam, offers excellent campground facilities.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are some commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information on the South Platte River.

Reviewer's comments

The Decker run is one that most whitewater boaters can really enjoy. It is fun, though not too chal;lenging on Class II to III+ rapids. The area is very scenic, less threatening than the Cheesman Canyon run, a little closer to Denver and lacking the potential confrontations that come from disgruntled landowners in the Sportsman's Paradise Club area above. This is still a serious whitewater run on a moderate gradient of about 20 fpm with huge boulders to dodge, but is runnable by canoeists, kayakers and rafters during summer months. Excellent riverside camping facilities allow trips of up to 16 miles. Scenery on this section of the river is remote and very eye-appealing, so bring your camera. The lower elevation (just over a mile high) means warmer summertime days than on sections above, though water temperatures will still be cold. Expect crowds on weekends!

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III+
Length 16 miles
Minimum Flow 150 cfs
Optimum Flow 500 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,000 cfs
First Put-in Hwy 67 Bridge at Decker
Lat. / Long. N 39 15' 14.27" / W 105 13' 38.27"
Last Take-out CR 96 / CR 97 (North Platte River Rd)
Lat. / Long. N 39 24' 27.78" / W 105 10' 15.48"
Elevation 6,414 - 6,092 feet msl
Gradient 20.1 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Trumbull
Boats Canoes w flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season June through August dam releases
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 ] [ North Fork Bailey Run ] [ North Fork Foxton Run ]

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

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Last updated August 10, 2020

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