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Arkansas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Stone Bridge to Rincon
~ 19.6 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 Stone Bridge Recreation Site to Rincon Recreation Site with accesses in between for shorter runs.

Between Stone Bridge Recreation Site ramp and Rincon Recreation Site ramp flows 19.6 miles of the Arkansas River as a Class II to III+ run that gives a little more time to enjoy the immense natural scenery all around this reach. Situated between Brown's Canyon above and Royal Gorge below, this reach flows through an open alluvial valley on easy Class I to II whitewater for about the first half of the trip through Salida until you approach East Salida, when the canyon walls start closing in and some of the rapids become a little bigger ... but not too big! There is one area of concern in the first third of this trip - a dam located 6.8 miles below the Stone Bridge Access. It has a left side boat bypass lane with three small drops and a left to right to left move to exit the bypass channel back into the main current below the dam. A dirt trail on river left will afford a portage path for those desiring to carry around rather than run the chute.

Upon reaching Salida you will find a whitewater park consisting of a few small drops, some with surfing holes that are popular with local kayakers. The entire northeastern to southeastern edge of Salida backs up to the river and downtown is right in the center. Whether stopping in Salida or passing through, the town offers a chance to grab a bite to eat or something to drink in close proximity to the river. And two local access points just 2.7 river miles apart you can run one or more town runs while you are there. Another option, for running just the bigger stuff, is to start at the East Salida Access and go to Rincon on a run of about 7.4 miles of mostly Class II water with at least three rapids that will rate Class III to III+, depending upon water level.

The four access points for this reach are easy to find a short distance off major roads. The moderate gradient of 26+ fpm means the current will be steady, cold and swift. The run is very scenic, even around Salida because the river flows along the easternmost edge of the town and up against a mountain on the other side. Dress for cold water immersion and prepare to have a blast on the Arkansas River.

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 and Fremont Counties, 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, to the northeast, and Pueblo, to the southeast, are just about equidistant from the river.

Distance from major cities

Durango 200 miles; Grand Junction 228 miles; Denver 138 miles; Pueblo 107 miles; Santa Fe 222 miles; Salt Lake City 508 miles; Albuquerque 288 miles; Phoenix 653 miles; Oklahoma City 722 miles; Dallas 792 miles; Austin 928 miles; San Antonio 956 miles; Houston 1.026 miles; Little Rock 1.040 miles; Kansas City 702 miles; St. Louis 950 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point and destination point on the river.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent and clear, though snowmelt cold. This section is rated Class . 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 heavily dependent upon winter snowpack and seasonal rains, but when it flows its season is April through August, or possibly September. The window may be longer or shorter depending upon winter snowpack and seasonal rainfall in the drainage basin.

Hazards to navigation

There are no major hazards to navigation on this reach of the Arkansas River, though there are some rapids that can be formidible if run improperly. A dam is located at 6.8 miles below the Stone Bridge put-in for this run. It can be portaged or run through a chute on river left. Starting about 12.5 miles below Stone Bridge is Bear Creek Rapid (Class III), followed by Spider Rapid (II), Badger Creek Rapid (III) and the Flume (II to III), all of which command attention and boat control to negotiate successfully. For competent paddlers these rapids will be fairly straightforward, but less experienced paddlers will get a thrill ride and possibly get a little wet.

River Access Points

Stone Bridge Access (N 38 36' 41.33" / W 106 03' 48.03") off SH 291 on river right at 0.0 miles; Big Bend Access (N 38 34' 26.31" / W 106 04' 40.55") on river left at the boat ramp on CR 165 off US Highway 285 at about 3.1 miles; Slaughterhouse (CR 166 primitive) Access (N 38 33' 41.74" / W 106 02' 42.98") on river left just after the bridge at about 5.7 miles; Salida F street Access (N 38 32' 16.64" / W 105 59' 25.26") on river left before the bridge at about 9.5 miles; Salida East Access (N 38 30' 34.75" / W 105 57' 48.87") on river right at ramp just off US Highway 50 at about 12.2 miles; Point Barr Campground Access (N 38 28' 17.73" / W 105 52' 20.38") on rive rleft along CR 45 at about 19.0 miles; Rincon Recreation Site (N 38 28' 21.05" / W 105 51' 55.86") on river right at ramp off US Highway 50 at about 19.6 miles. Additional primitive accesses may be available along the river.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Ruby Mountain Campground (N 38 47' 09.99" / W 106 04' 15.04") is an AHRA fee site on river left at river mile 1.75 below Fisherman's Bridge; Hecla Junction Recreation Site (N 38 39' 06.69" / W 106 03' 03.87") on river right off CR 194 east from US Highway 285 at river mile 9.60 is an AHRA fee site; Salida East Access (N 38 30' 34.75" / W 105 57' 48.87") on river right at ramp just off US Highway 50 is an AHRA fee site at about 12.2 miles; Point Barr Campground (N 38 28' 17.73" / W 105 52' 20.38") on river left along CR 45 is an AHRA fee site at about 19.0 miles; Rincon Recreation Site (N 38 28' 21.05" / W 105 51' 55.86") on river right at ramp off US Highway 50 is an AHRA fee site at about 19.6 miles. Other campgrounds are available in reaches above and below this one.

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

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are several liveries or shuttle services serving this reach of the Arkansas RIver. Ask local paddlers for details.

Reviewer's comments

At nearly 20 miles on a moderate gradient that keeps the current flowing at a nice rate this reach of the Arkansas River still offers some whitewater excitement, but it also has a few miles of flatwater that allows paddlers to kick back and appreciate the awesome scenery all around this river. The run begins in a wide open agricultural valley that is quite scenic until you reach Smeltertown on the outskirts of Salida, at which time you will pass a large sand mining oepration on river left. In Salida you will run through the whitewater park consisting of several man-made and natural small drops, and then on to East Salida where the canyon walls begin to close in for a much more secluded finish where the roads on either side of the river are the only signs of civilization. Access is great all up and down this run, and there are several AHRA campsites available for use before, during or after a trip on this reach of the Arkansas River.

This is a popular run for canoes, kayaks, rafts and SUPs. A dam about 6.8 miles below Stone Bridge can be run through a chute on river left or portaged on the left along a dirt road next to the Smeltertown sand pit operation. Just south of Salida a vista of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains forms the skyline ahead of you, and as you approach East Salida the mountains become your traveling partner as they close in on both sides of the river for the last 7+ miles of this reach. The bigger rapids are all below East Salida starting about 0.3 mile past the East Salida access. The rapids are fairly straightforward and short followed by long recovery pools (in the event such an action is necessary.) The majority of this run will be one for relaxation and enjoyment as you ride a steady, moderately strong current on a gradient of better than 26 fpm.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III+
Length 19.6 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs
Optimum Flow 800 - 2,200 cfs
Maximum Flow 3,000 cfs
First Put-in Stone Bridge Access
Lat/Long N 38 36' 41.33" / W 106 03' 48.03"
Last Take-out Rincon Rec. Site Access
Lat/Long N 38 28' 21.05" / W 105 51' 55.86"
Elevation 7,276 - 6,759' msl (-517')
Gradient ~ 26.4 fpm av.
USGS Gauge Nathrop
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, SUP (?)
Season April through August or September
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

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 ] [ Buena Vista Town Run ] [ Fisherman's Bridge to Stone Bridge ] [ Rincon to Pinnacle Rock ]
[ Pinnacle Rock to Canon City ] [ Canon City to Pueblo Reservoir ]


[ Grape Creek ] [ Lake Creek ]

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