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Boulder Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Doherty Park to 55th Street
~ 8.6 Miles

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.

Driving north of Denver about 26 miles you will come to the mountain valley Town of Boulder, where excellent whitewater boating can be done on the very scenic and exciting Boulder Creek. This is a summertime run that occasionally sees the sick-o's of the paddling crowd donning cold weather gear for moonlight paddles in the dead of winter, when releases from Barker Dam upstream are used to generate a little additional electricity for the good people of Boulder. The common runs span about 8.6 miles of the creek, all within the city limits of Boulder, from Doherty Park on the west end, down to 55th Street on the east end of the run. The first 3.2 miles has a changing gradient of 90, 220 and 100 fpm, while the rest of the run drops at about 52 fpm.

From Doherty Park to Eben G. Fine Park the creek is rated Class IV to IV+ on a run of 3.2 miles that is very popular with advanced or expert level whitewater kayakers. From Fine Park to 55th Street this Class III run of about 5.4 miles is well-suited for canoes with flotation and kayaks paddled by those with at least intermediate level whitewater skills. Boulder Creek is not well-suited for rafting. The creek is conveniently located near restaurants, bars, motels, gas stations and the University of Colorado. The water is very blue, ice cold and crystal clear, but will be populated by many kayakers when it is flowing. It is a great town run near many other super Colorado streams including the Fraser, South Platte, Little Thompson and Big Thompson Rivers, as well as several great creek runs.

Location

Boulder County in central Colorado, just a few miles north of Denver and a few miles south of 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

Boulder Creek usually flows clean, clear and cold most of the time, but is not drinkable without purification. This section is rated Class III to IV+ with granite boulder gardens and small ledge drops. It usually flows from June through August, depending upon snowmelt from the drainage basin northwest of Denver and water releases from Barker Dam upstream. An outdoor fish aquarium is located on a protected part of the creek about 5.25 miles below the first put-in, and should be avoided at all times. Do NOT paddle across the barrier into the aquarium to avoid incurring the wrath of local citizens and possibly the constabularies.

Best time to go

Boulder Creek is usually a summertime run from June through August, but it may flow at other times when water is being released from above to generate electricity for Boulder residents and businesses.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards on this section of Boulder Creek. However, there are a couple of potential hazards that, if not properly considered and run, could possibly cause some problems for some boaters. About 0.2 miles below the Doherty Park put-in is a pipe laying across the creekbed that, at low water, could be a problem. Be looking out for this pipe immediately after putting in at the top of this run, then take whatever evasive action (run or portage) may be required to safely navigate around the obstacle. The only major rapid on this run is located at about 2.2 miles below the put-in. It is a Class IV to IV+ drop that usually requires scouting to find the best line for current flow conditions. At about 2.6 miles below the put-in is a man-made weir across the creek, below which is a playhole sometimes referred to as "The Widowmaker", where kayakers love to practice doing enders, but it can be broken through by running the small dam with adequate downstream speed. There are no other major hazards on this Boulder Creek run.

River Access Points

There are many public access points along this short run of about 8 miles. Starting with the uppermost, they are: Doherty Park on river right at 0.0 miles; Bike path bridge on river left at about 0.9 miles; Eben G. Fine Park on river right at about 3.2 miles; South library parking lot on river right at about 4.5 miles; adjacent to the Harvest House Hotel and outdoor fish aquarium on river left at about 6.0 miles; Scott Carpenter Park on river left at about 6.3 miles; University of Colorado Computer Center on river left at about 6.8 miles; Adjacent to Jose Muldoon's Bar on river left at about 7.1 miles; Access public parking on river left at about 8.6 miles. It is possible to take out almost anywhere along the creek, though using accesses other than those mentioned may entail walking farther to reach your vehicle. Please be respectful of other park users - this area is very popular with walkers, joggers, skateboarders, picnickers and others, some of whom may not be as courteous as you should be.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no public or private campgrounds located along Boulder Creek. This town run is very conveniently located to numerous hotels and motels. Camping is available in the near distance around the Boulder area.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on Upper Boulder Creek. Several outfitters are located in Boulder, Denver and surrounding areas, any of which may be able to provide rentals and/or shuttles for reasonable rates. This popular run also allows paddlers to connect with each other to arrange shuttles. Plan on providing your own boats, gear and shuttles if not contracting with a local outfitter for services.

Reviewer's comments

Boulder Creek, inside the City of Boulder, is a run that almost anybody with intermediate or higher level whitewater skills can thoroughly enjoy in canoes with flotation or kayaks, though the creek is too small for rafts. Below the first four miles this run can be made by anybody regardless of skill level, the rapids of any significance being located in the first half of this run. Expect crowds of people, both on and off the creek, in the Boulder area. The University of Colorado is located adjacent to the creek, so there will always be a lot of students enjoying the Boulder summer alongside the creek. Excellent access and convenience, added to the natural beauty of this gorgeous creek, make paddling here a true delight, and the surrounding atmosphere ain't bad, either!

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV+
Length 8.6 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Doherty Park
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Access public parking
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 5,825-5,230 feet msl
Gradient 52-220 fpm (3 changes)
USGS Gauge Web: 06730200 (Boulder)
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks
Season June through August (?) dam releases
Permits No


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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 ]

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

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