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

The Narrows
~ 3.4 Miles


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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Narrows is a short 3.4 mile section of Class IV to V+ whitewater "designed" for expert kayakers only. This is their playground, where rafts and canoes would be well advised to sit on the banks and watch. The drops are big, turbulent, technical and wet. On one side is a road (SH 14) and on the other side, a canyon wall rises from the river. Here, you will find rapids with names like "Whiteline", "Super Collider" or "Cabbage Shredder" to get your blood pumping. Easy access make this a popular play spot for expert paddlers, but parking space is very limited, so please be considerate of other paddlers, and DO NOT get yourself or your boat in the path of passing traffic on the narrow highway. It could ruin your whole day, and perhaps the day of other padlers, as well.

The Narrows is generally defined as three sections, each with varying gradients and technical difficulties that fluctuate, depending upon flow. The snowmelt water is cold, and for a Colorado river, this section has a long season that can last about 4 months, depending upon winter snowpack and summer rains. Take note that this is NOT a beginner run! The scenery is absolutely incredible, but paddlers will have little time to take it in as they work to negotiate the rapids and obstacles along this section of the Cache la Poudre River.


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. The Upper Narrows is rated Class V at stages below 2.5 feet (470 CFS) and Class V+ above 2.5 feet. The Middle Narrows is rated Class IV below 2.5 feet, Class IV+ from 2.5 to 4.5 feet (470 - 1,800 CFS) and Class V- at stages above 4.5 feet. The Lower Narrows is rated Class V- at stages below 2.5 feet, Class V between 2.5 and 4.5 feet, and Class V+ above 4.5 feet.

Best time to go

Generally, the long season runs May through July, and possibly into August, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains.

Hazards to navigation

This entire section of the Cache la Poudre should be considered hazardous at any navigable level. The first 1.1 miles below The Narrows Picnic Ground access contains three significant drops that demand attention to detail - Super Collider, Cabbage Shredder abd Whiteline, any of which can be a killer if run improperly. Other significant rapids include Sports Car Corner Rapid at 1.1 miles below the put-in and Green Footbridge Rapid just below Sports Car Corner. It is advisable to scout all rapids from SH 14 before beginning a run, then developing a plan for setting up safety people and running the drops along this section.

River Access Points

(Cautions shown in red): Narrows Picnic Ground at 0.0 miles (mm 101.9); Sports Car Corner off SH 14 at 1.4 miles (mm 103.0); and Steven's Gulch Access off SH 14 at 3.4 miles (mm 104.7).

Campgrounds and accommodations

The National Forest Service operates 2 campgrounds that bookend this section, plus 5 more in adjacent sections, of the Cache la Poudre River. Narrows Campground between Century Park Access at SH 14 mm 100.0 and Narrows Picnic Ground at SH 14 mm 101.9, and Stove Prairie Campground between Steven's Gulch Access off SH 14 at mm 104.7 and Split Rock Rapid at SH mm 106.4. The five adjacent campgrounds 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 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 IV- to V+
Length 3.4 miles
Min. Stage ~ 2.0 feet
Opt. Stage 2.5 to 4.5 feet
Max. Stage ~ 5.0 feet
First Put-in Narrows Picnic Ground
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Steven's Gulch Access
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 77 to 135 fpm (3 changes)
USGS Gauge Web: 06752260 (Fort Collins)
Season May through July (August?)
Permits No

Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
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Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
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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
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Click to paddle to the Rocky Mountain Canoe Club Web Site

Cache la Poudre River photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy

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

[ Cache la Poudre Homepage ] [ Upper and Lower Rustic ] [ Upper Mishawaka to The Bridges ] [ Filter Plant ]

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