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

Upper Mishawaka to The Bridges
~ 10.3 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

This section of the Cache la Poudre River includes Upper and Lower Mishawaka, Poudre Park and The Bridges, a run of about 10.3 miles with an average gradient of just under 60 fpm amid rapids ranging from Class III easy whitewater to more challenging Class IV+, depending upon flow. All around the river is breath taking natural beauty punctuated by a gorgeous river with a season of 2-4 months, depending upon winter snowpack and summer rains. Parts of this run may be navigable when other parts are not, but good access allows paddlers to plan accordingly. Rafts and whitewater-outfitted canoes can join kayaks on this section of the Poudre. A good brace and swiftwater rescue skills could be helpful in some places along this run.

While some of the rapids can be challenging, the real threats come from man-made hazards in the form of bridge abutments, or the naturally-occuring undercut ledges where the river bends, aided in either case by strong currents that want to send boats into those obstacles. At least a half dozen good access points and two USFS campgrounds in the top third of this run make it convenient for daytrippers or overnighters. Blind corners add to the excitement of paddling this section of the Poudre. It is obvious why this free-flowing stream was designated as a National Wild and Scenic River in 1987.


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. Upper Mishawaka is rated Class III+ at stages below 2.5 feet (470 cfs), Class IV- at stages from 2.5 to 4.0 feet (470 - 1,300 cfs) and Class IV above 4.0 feet (>1,300 cfs). Lower Mishawaka is rated Class III- below 2.5 feet, Class III from 2.5 to 4.0 feet and Class III+ at stages above 4.0 feet. Poudre Park is rated Class III+ at stages below 33.0 feet (650 cfs), Class IV between 3.0 and 5.0 feet (650 - 2,250 cfs), and Class IV+ above 5.0 feet. The Bridges is rated Class III below 3.5 feet (910 cfs), Class III+ at 3.5 to 4.0 feet (910 - 1,300 cfs) and Class IV- above 4.0 feet.

Best time to go

Upper Mishawaka is generally runnable from May through August with an average gradient of 64 fpm. Lower Mishawaka and Poudre Park has their best water in June and July, with a gradient of 62 fpm, but may be runnable in early to mid-May, or as late as August, depending upon winter snowpack and summer rains. The bridges offers its best runs from mid-May through August, with a gradient of only 33 FPM.

Hazards to navigation

Split Rock Rapid about 1.7 miles below the Steven's Gulch Access at SH 14 mm 106.4; Tunnel Falls, at SH 14 mm 107.2, slams hard to the left wall of a constricted canyon with severely undercut ledges; Mishawaka Falls, at SH 14 mm 108.1, is the most serious rapid in the Upper Mishawaka section, and should be scouted on river right; Bridge pilings of the five bridges near the top of the Poudre Park run, starting at SH 14 mm 110.7, should be carefully negotiated to avoid pinning and injuries; Cardiac Corner, at Sh 14 mm 112.3, pushes hard against small cliffs on river left; Pineview Falls, at SH 14 mm 112.7, is marked by holes created by a constricting riverbed with an increasing gradient; Difficult Bridge and Rapid, at SH 14 mm 114.0, draws boats to the bridge abutment with sometimes fatal results - portage this area if you lack confidence in your ability to negotiate the strong currents and bridge abutments; Red House Hole, at SH 14 mm 114.2, is a keeper hole at high flows - paddle straight and hard to avoid getting sucked in. There are numerous other Class III to IV rapids on this run that are not generally dangerous if run properly.

River Access Points

(Cautions shown in red): Steven's Gulch Access at 0.0 miles (mm 104.7); Mishawaka Inn off SH 14 at 3.5 miles (mm 108.2); Poudre Park Picnic Ground at 6.0 miles (mm 110.7; above Pineview Falls at 8.0 miles (mm 112.6); Poison Ivy Corner at 8.3 miles (mm 112.9); and The Bridges take-out off SH 14 at 10.3 miles (mm 114.7).

Campgrounds and accommodations

The U.S. Forest Service operates 1 campgrounds that bookend this section, plus 6 more in adjacent sections, of the Cache la Poudre River. Ansel Watrous Campground, off SH 14 just below Mishawaka Inn and Falls (SH 14 mm 108.1), is the closest to this section. The six adjacent campgrounds are Narrows Campground between Century Park Access at SH 14 mm 100.0 and Narrows Picnic Ground at SH 14 mm 101.9; Stove Prairie Campground between Steven's Gulch Access off SH 14 at mm 104.7 and Split Rock Rapid at SH mm 106.4; 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; and Dutch George Flats Campground between Century Park Access at SH 14 mm 100.0. 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 all 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 10.3 miles
Min. Stage ~ 2.0 feet
Opt. Stage 2.5 to 4.5 feet
Max. Stage ~ 5.0 feet
First Put-in Steven's Gulch Access
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out The Bridges take-out off SH 14
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,075 to 5,865 feet msl
Gradient 64 fpm Av (33 fpm min.)
USGS Gauge Web: 06752260 (Fort Collins)
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season May through August
Permits No

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

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

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 ] [ The Narrows ] [ Filter Plant ]

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