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Arkansas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Buena Vista Town Run
~ 6.75 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Arkansas River forms in the Pike National Forest of Chaffee County in central Colorado, then flows south through Buena Vista and Salida before turning east by southeast at Coaldale. From there, it flows through Canon City and Pueblo to John Martin Reservoir, then into and across Kansas through Wichita, down into Oklahoma through Tulsa and Muskogee, where it again turns eastward into Arkansas at Fort Smith, flowing through Russellville, Little Rock and Pine Bluff before reaching its confluence with the Mighty Mississippi River on the Arkansas-Mississippi border. The Ark is a VERY long river with a large number of dams creating reservoirs in each state through which it passes. This description covers the section from Buena Vista Riverside Park to Fisherman's Bridge near Johnson Village known as the Buena Vista Town Run.

The Buena Vista Town Run is classic Colorado catering to the whims of its citizens and visitors. This 6.75 mile reach starts at Riverside Park in town and runs through the man-made whitewater park with the channel opening up in a wide rural valley for most of the remainder of this run. The channel has small rapids along the run below the dam at 1.5 miles, but most of the real whitewater excitement is above the dam in the whitewater park itself. If the rapids are why you are here, then you have the option of taking out at the W.A.R. Access off US Highway 24 about 2.6 miles below the put-in at Riverside Park, then shuttle back to the top and do it again. But then, it is only 6.75 miles total, so you could just run the while thing and then do it again. With all services you need in Buena Vista, and considering the runs above and below this one, you could make this a multi-day stopover offering a range of exciting whitewater on a tight river with a steep gradient and cold water ... and an audience to watch you strut your stuff as you take the wet ride through town.

The whitewater park has several accesses positioned between rapids to allow ingress and egress where desired, and the entire course runs along the east side of town about three fourths mile from the main drag intersection of US Highway 24 and CR 306 making it easy to quickly find food and beverages to satisfy the appetite you work up running the river. When the mountains start to toward US Highway 285 just south of Johnson Village you know you are only a couple of miles for the Fisherman's Bridge take-out for this run.

Additional information about this and other reaches of the Arkansas River within the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area can be found on the AHRA website HERE. This link will include safety information, helpful tips and suggestions and notices of things to avoid, like major holidays when crowds can be huge.


Chaffee County, Colorado, bordered on the west by the San Isabel National Forest and on the east by the Pike National Forest in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Denver and Colorado Springs are to the north, Pueblo is to the east and Grand Junction is almost due west.

Distance from major cities

Durango 220 miles; Grand Junction 210 miles; Denver 120 miles; Pueblo 125 miles; Salt Lake City 490 miles; Santa Fe 240 miles; Albuquerque 302 miles; Phoenix 671 miles; Oklahoma City 703 miles; Tulsa 780 miles; Dallas 810 miles; Austin 948 miles; San Antonio 974 miles; Houston 1,043 miles; Little Rock 1,045 miles; Kansas City 684 miles; St. Louis 931 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 generally very good to excellent and clear, though snow-melt cold. This section is rated Class II to III- at flows below about 2,200 cfs. Because of the cold water temperature, and the often cool to cold air temperature, wetsuits or drysuits are highly recommended to prevent hypothermia.

Best time to go

This section is usually boatable May through August, and depending upon rainfall, winter snowpack and temperatures the season may be extended or shortened.

Hazards to navigation

As with all man-made whitewater parks the diversions that funnel the water through the drops present potential hazards to boats and people, but generally speaking there are no serious hazards on this run with the possible exception of the blown out dam about 1.5 miles below Riverside Park Access 1 where this reach begins. Typically that dam is run on river right and it is a lot more gnarly on river left, so don't go there unless you are really serious about challenging your skills at avoiding harm to your body. Nothing else presents a serious threat to safety other than the cold, fast moving water that can carry you into rocks if you swim.

River Access Points

Riverside Park Access 1 (N 38 50' 50.68" / W 106 07' 20.22") in Buena Vista on river right at the ramp adjacent to the sports fields at 0.0 miles; Riverside Park Access 2 (N 38 50' 37.93" / W 106 07' 11.92") in Buena Vista on river right at about 0.25 miles; Riverside Park Access 3 (N 38 50' 32.29" / W 106 07' 08.16") in Buena Vista on river right at about 0.4 miles; W.A.R. Access (N 38 48' 49.51" / W 106 06' 15.03") before the US Highway 24 / 285 Bridge on river right at about 2.6 miles; US Highway 285 Access (N 38 48' 49.65" / W 106 06' 14.73") south of Johnson Village on river right at about 4.7 miles; CR 301 / Fisherman's Bridge (N 38 46' 02.30" / W 106 05' 41.74") on river left below the bridge at about 6.75 miles. There may be other potential access points along this reach of the Arkansas River, but most of the adjaent land is privately owned, so please avoid prepassing if at all possible.

AHRA charges a fee for access at its sites. Current fee schedules can be found HERE.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Railroad Bridge Rec. Area Campground (N 38 55' 23.25" / W 10610' 14.97"), located at 33827 CR-371, Buena Vista, CO 81211, Phone: (719) 539-7289; Arrowhead Point Campground, located at 33975 US Highway 24 N, Buena Vista, CO 81211, Phone: (719) 395-2323; Arkansas River Rim Campground, located at 33975 US Highway 24 N, Buena Vista, CO 81211, Phone: (719) 395-2323; Ruby Mountain Campground (state park), located at County Road 301, Buena Vista, CO 81211, Phone: (719) 539-7289; Cascade Campground, located at 11430 County Road 197A, Nathrop, CO 81236. Other campgrounds are available in each of the sections above this one.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Rentals, shuttles and/or other river related services are available from any of several outfitters located on or serving the Arkansas River.

Reviewer's comments

This run is fun ... and convenient! AT just 6.75 miles, with access points at shorter distances for those only wanting part of this trip the Buena Vista Town Run is just what the doctor ordered. It starts at Rierside Park in Buena Vista and carries through the whitewater park before heading off into a rural valley on its way to Fisherman's Bridge where this reach ends. The water is easy Class II to III- whitewater, but it gives enough bounce to make it itnerting. The man-made whitewater park definitely has the biggest bumps on this reach of the arkansas River. And, every convenience you could want or need during a trip is available right in town where nothing is far away. One thing that won't be far away during paddling season will be other paddlers. This place can get rather busy with boaters from novice to expert in canoes, kayaks and rafts running the rapids and enjoying the splash. It's a wild ride for the first 1.5 miles, and then things calm down considerably for the remaining 5+ miles to the take-out. Be sure to dress in your best paddling clothes because there will probably be an audience and, you know, looking good is as important as being good.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III-
Length 6.75 miles
Minimum Flow 400 cfs
Optimum Flow 600 - 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 2,500 cfs
First Put-in Riverside Park Buena Vista
Lat/Long N 38 50' 50.68" / W 106 07' 20.22"
Last Take-out Fisherman's Bridge
Lat/Long N 38 46' 02.30" / W 106 05' 41.74"
Elevation 7,930 - 7,685' msl (-245')
Gradient ~ 36.3 fpm av.
USGS Gauge Web: 07091200 (Nathrop)
Web: 07094500 (Parkdale)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Sunshine Falls on the Arkansas River - photo courtesy Wilderness Aware Rafting
Sunshine Falls on the Arkansas River
photo courtesy Wilderness Aware Rafting

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 Arkansas River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Arkansas River

[ Arkansas River Homepage ] [ Hayden Meadow to Granite ] [ Granite to Numbers Launch Site ] [ Numbers Launch Site to Railroad Bridge ]
[ Railroad Bridge Access to Buena Vista ] [ Fisherman's Bridge to Stone Bridge ] [ Stone Bridge to Rincon ] [ Rincon to Pinnacle Rock ]
[ Pinnacle Rock to Canon City ] [ Canon City to Pueblo Reservoir ]


[ Grape Creek ] [ Lake Creek ]

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