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Yampa River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Stillwater to Steamboat Springs
~ 35 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Yampa River forms near Stillwater, Colorado in the Rocky Mountains of White River National Forest in Garfield County, and flows generally south to north into Steamboat Springs where it turns west and continues to the confluence of the Green River at Echo Park near the Utah border. The reach from the Town of Yampa to Steamboat Springs is about 25 miles, though an additional 10 miles can be added by starting near Stillwater. The run is on the western edge of Routt National Forest as it approaches Steamboat Springs.

Surrounding the river is a generally remote area of limited access and development, contributors to the scenic beauty that draws whitewater paddlers to the Yampa. National Forest Service permits are required for putting in, paddling through or taking out within the boundries of a national forest. Camping is available at Stagecoach State Recreation Area about halfway between Stillwater and Steamboat Springs. The headwaters are located near the Williams Fork Mountains. Due to private land ownership issues and a generally low regard for paddlers by local land owners it is not advisable to camp along the river unless you have first received permission.

The Yampa River is very scenic, as are most Colorado streams, and offers exciting Class I to III whitewater rapids accentuating spectacular surroundings. Intermediate or higher level whitewater skills are recommended for canoeists and kayakers, though not absolutely necessary for those riding in guided rafts. Wetsuits or drysuits would be preferrable to protect against the cold water. The Yampa is Colorado's only free-flowing river, and it generally offers decent flows from March through August, or possibly even into September, depending upon winter snowpack and spring through summer rainfall. Days may be cold to very warm, but nights will be very cool to cold. It may be dry, raining or snowing so prepare for wet weather, as well. Bring plenty of clothing and dress for the conditions you encounter.


Garfield and Routt Counties of northcentral Colorado, just north of Glenwood Springs. Denver is about 3 hours to the southeast.

Distance from major cities

Durango 390 miles; Grand Junction 215 miles; Denver 170 miles; Albuquerque 600 miles; Salt Lake City 375 miles; Phoenix 845 miles; Oklahoma City 795 miles; Dallas 955 miles; San Antonio 1,125 miles; Houston 1,200 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Yampa usually flows clean, cold and clear, though it may become muddy right after a heavy rainfall or during the start of the snowmelt season. The cold water and high elevation make it necessary to wear drysuits or wetsuits with base layers, or water-repelling garments that are layered to prevent hypothermia. Neoprene gloves and hard-soled river boots are also strongly recommended. Avoid wearing cotton clothing on the river - it will get wet, trap moisture against your body, and keep you cold until you dry out and change clothing.

Best time to go

The prime season for the Upper Yampa run is May through August depending upon winter snowpack, spring/summer rainfall and the amount of water being diverted. Local conditions may extend or reduce the length of the normal paddling season.

Hazards to navigation

The Upper Yampa River has many Class II and III whitewater rapids that can be problems if not negotiated properly. Serious hazards are usually few, but occasional log jams from avalanche debris may pose unexpected problems. It is advisable to scout the river from the road before beginning a paddle trip on this section. Inquire from locals about known current conditions and hazards.

River Access Points

Put in at Stillwater at 0.0 miles; SH 131 bridge near the Town of Yampa at about 10.0 miles; Stagecoach State Recreation Area at about 18.0 miles; Mt. Werner Road (Steamboat Springs) at about 32.0 miles; Pine Grove Road at about 32.5 miles; Safeway at about 33.0 miles; 5th Street Access at about 34.0 miles; 9th Street Access at about 34.5 miles; and 12th Street Access at about 35.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Camping is available at Stagecoach State Recreation Area on SH 131 between the Towns of Yampa and Steamboat Springs, and at the confluence of Fish Creek in the Town of Steamboat Springs. There are no other public or private campgrounds on the Upper Yampa River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least two commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Yampa River.

Reviewer's comments

Running the Yampa from its headwaters down to Steamboat Springs is not a commonly paddled adventure for most boaters. The river is spectacular in its scenic beauty and offers some decent Class I to III whitewater rapids that can be exciting as they test skills and nerve. However, despite the lack of usual activity, when the river is flowing this is a gorgeous place to paddle close to Steamboat Springs, yet far enough away to avoid all those kayakers playing in the waves to be found in town. The river is narrower and shallower on the upper reach, but it is guaranteed to be fun and well worth the effort to paddle here. Be sure to arrange your own shuttles because there are no local services available above Steamboat Springs. Stagecoach State Recreation Area is an excellent place to stay on overnight trips between Stillwater and Steamboat Springs, though it can get crowded during the peak season of May through July.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III
Length 35 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Stillwater
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out 12th Street Access
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 7,485-6,680 feet msl
Gradient 23 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Stagecoach Dam
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season March through August (September ?)
Permits No

Map of the Yampa River public access points courtesy Colorado State Parks Department
Map of the Yampa River public access points courtesy
Colorado State Parks Department

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

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

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

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

[ Yampa River Homepage ] [ Steamboat Springs to Deer Lodge Park ] [ Deer Lodge Park to Split Mountain Campground ]
[ White River ] [ Elk River ]

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