navigation bar

Cache la Poudre River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Upper and Lower Rustic
~ 17.4 Miles

navigation bar River descriptions categorized by state First Aid and general safety information Southwest Paddler on-line store Southwest Paddler Yellow Pages listings Environmental issues and concerns Photos of rivers and surrounding areas Trip reports with photos How to advertise on Southwest Paddler Advertiser Index Internet links to related information and services Southwest Paddler visitor comments General disclaimer Product Reviews Federal and state navigation laws Credits for contributors Web Campfire

SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Upper and Lower Rustic is a Class III to IV- whitewater run with a gradient of 62 feet per mile (fpm) over the first 7.8 miles, decreasing to 58 fpm over the final 9.6 miles of this section in Larimer County. This section of the Poudre is naturally beautiful, with long, rolling waves rated Class III between 3.0 feet and 4.0 feet, with smaller crowds, better scenery and more seclusion than on runs further downriver. This section begins at an elevation of 7,150 feet msl and ends at 6,440 feel msl, for a drop of 710 feet in just 17.4 miles.

Even though the rapids are not particularly demanding or dangerous, there are a couple of obstacles that can pose threats to life and limb. The first is the low clearance at Indian Meadow Bridge, where great care must be taken at high flows. The second hazard of note is the bridge abutment below a drop with a strong currrent pushing to the left and into the hazard. The rest of this run is an excellent novice to intermediate level run. Multiple access points and 5 campgrounds make Upper and Lower Rustic a perfect 17.4 mile run that can be done in one day, or spread out over 2 days. If there is one negative it is the shortness of the season, lasting two summer months, or less. This section is runnable in canoes, kayaks and rafts.


Larimer County in north central Colorado, near the Wyoming border. Nearby streams include the North Platte, Yampa, Colorado and Arkansas Rivers, with many feeder streams in close proximity.

Distance from major cities

Fort Collins 40 miles; Durango 441 miles; Grand Junction 347 miles; Denver 102 miles; Santa Fe 457 miles; Albuquerque 457 miles; Phoenix 895 miles; Oklahoma City 727 miles; Tulsa 832 miles; Dallas 936 miles; Austin 1,126 miles; San Antonio 1,206 miles; Houston 1,182 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Clean, clear and cold, but not drinkable without purification. Snowmelt water temperatures mandate wearing layered water-repelling garment, wetsuits, drysuits or combinations to prevent hypothermia. Flows below 3.0 feet are dangerously low. Normal flows between 3.0 feet and 4.0 feet generate rapids in the Class III to III+ range, and flows over 4.0 feet can produce Class IV- rapids.

Best time to go

Generally, the short season is in June, and possibly into July, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains.

Hazards to navigation

Below Indian Meadows Bridge (Dadd Gulch) at SH 14 mile marker 93.0 is a dangerous bridge that can become a killer at above normal flows. Below Grandpa's Gorge, at mile marker 97.6, the drop is directly above a small bridge with a hole that pushes into a concrete bridge abutment that is esspecially difficult for rafts. There are not other significant hazards on this section of the Cache la Poudre River.

River Access Points

(Cautions shown in red): Home Moraine Access at 0.0 miles (mm 85.2); SH 14 pulloff at 3.4 miles (mm 88.6); Rustic Resort (private access) at 5.8 miles (mm 91.0); SH 14 pulloff at 6.7 miles (mm 91.9); Indian Meadows low bridge at 7.8 miles (mm 93.0); Indian Meadows Picnic Area at 9.4 miles (mm 94.6); Grandpa's Bridge at 9.8 miles (mm 95.0); 63E Road off SH 14 at 10.9 miles (mm 96.1); Ceentury Park Access at 14.8 miles (mm 100); and Narrows Picnic Area at 16.7 miles (mm 101.9).

Campgrounds and accommodations

The National Forest Service operates 5 campgrounds in this section, plus 2 more in adjacent sections, of the Cache la Poudre River. From top to bottom, these are Jack's Gulch Campground off Pingree Park Road from SH 14 near Grandpa's Bridge; Kelly Flats Campground below 63E Road off SH 14; Mountain Park Campground near Mountain Park Rapid at about SH 14 mm 98.0; Dutch George Flats Campground between Century Park Access at SH 14 mm 100.0 and Narrows Picnic Ground at SH 14 mm 101.9; Narrows Campground between Century Park Access at SH 14 mm 100.0 and Narrows Picnic Ground at SH 14 mm 101.9. The two adjacent campgrounds are Stove Prairie Campground between Steven's Gulch Access off SH 14 at mm 104.7 and Split Rock Rapid at SH mm 106.4, and Ansel Watrous Campground off SH 14 just below Mishawaka Inn and Falls (SH 14 mm 108.1). All campgrounds are on river right. There may be other primitive campsites to be found along this section of the Cache la Poudre River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Several local and regional outfitters may offer rentals, shuttles and other services for the Cache la Poudre River.

Reviewer's comments

The Cache la Poudre River got its name for a French trading expedition in the 1800's that was caught in a snowstorm and had to lighten their load to make it out of Poudre Valley. They dug a deep hole in the ground and buried al excess supplies, including stores of gunpowder for later retrieval, which they did. To mark the spot where the supplies were hidden, the French named the river in a loosely translated "Hiding place of the powder". The Poudre River is a long-established trade route of Native American nations. It is a scenic river valley amid the majestic Rocky Mountains, flowing through Fort Collins and almost to Greeley.

Because the water is cold, wearing wetsuits or drysuits is advisable for most paddlers. The Poudre River would not be a good place to become hypothermic. Ear plugs would be advisable to keep the cold water out of your ear canals, a situation that can lead to serious aural complications from repeated and prolonged exposure. Canoes should not challenge this section of the Poudre except when properly outfitted for heavy whitewater and paddled by advanced to expert paddlers who have the training and skills necessary to survive the run. Swiftwater rescue skills would be advisable for all paddlers running the Cache la Poudre River. Be sure to take along a water-proof camera and lots of film for this very scenic run.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV-
Length 17.4 miles
Min. Stage 3.0 feet
Opt. Stage 3.0 - 4.0 feet
Max. Stage ~ 4.5 feet
First Put-in Home Moraine Access
Last Take-out Narrows Picnic Area
Elevation 7,150-6,440 feet msl
Gradient 58-62 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 06752260 (Fort Collins)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season June, possibly July
Permits No

Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Cache la Poudre River where you want to paddle.

[ Cache la Poudre Homepage ] [ The Narrows ] [ Upper Mishawaka to The Bridges ] [ Filter Plant ]

Southwest Paddler
Click to return to the Southwest Paddler Homepage
Home Page
Southwest Paddler

Colorado Rivers Index
Canoeman River

Guide Services
Return to the homepage
Home Page

CobraGraphics - Web Designs with a Bite!

Send E-mail This web page designed, created and maintained by
Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics
© February 15, 2003. All rights reserved.
Last updated September 11, 2014

Copyright © 1998-2014, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.