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South Platte River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Deckers to Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area
~ 16 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.

Between the Town of Decker and Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area the South Platte River is a Class II to IV- whitewater stream with a pool-and-drop format that is more pool than drop. It is quite scenic and exciting on this run of about 16 miles and an average gradient of about 35 fpm. Granite boulders in the riverbed create interesting, but not too challenging, rapids, drops and holes (the holes will increase in difficulty as flows increase.) Excellent camping opportunities are available both on and off the river, though most are much closer to the take-out than the put-in.

This reach of the South Platte River ends less than 25 miles south of 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. Rafts can run this section paddled by lesser experienced boaters, especially in guided rafts. The trip is an all-day run for most boaters (3-4 days for playboaters - JUST KIDDING!) that offers campsites near the water at Roxborough State Park about 14 miles below the put-in, and Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area about two miles below the state park, at the take-out for this section.


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 IV- 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. 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

SH 67 bridge at Decker at 0.0 miles; Roxborough State Park access on river right at about 14.0 miles; Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area access on river right at about 16.0 miles. There are no other access points to this section of the South Platte River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Riverside campgrounds are available at Roxborough State Park on river right at about 14.0 miles, and at Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area on river right at about 16.0 miles, 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

At least four known commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information on the South Platte River.

Reviewer's comments

The Decker to Chatfield run is one that most whitewater boaters can really enjoy. 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 35 fpm with huge boulders to dodge, but is runnable by canoeists, kayakers and rafters during summer months. Excellent riverside camping facilities allow trips of 14 or 16 miles to be run. 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.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to IV-
Length 16 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 67 bridge at Decker
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Chatfield Reservoir State Recreation Area access
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 35 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 ]

[ 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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