The Colorado River is a major water source for the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, draining a significant amount of snowmelt water all along the western half of Colorado. The river begins at an elevation of about 10,000 feet msl in the Rocky Mountains of Grand County, Colorado near Silver Creek on the western edge of Arapaho National Recreation Area northwest of Denver. From its headwaters the Colorado River flows west through Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, into Utah then down to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border, where it begins to cut the Grand Canyon. The river then flows through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border before heading south along the Arizona-California border to its mouth at the Sea of Cortez. Along the way, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles, mostly through three deserts.
From New Castle in Garfield County to Plateau Creek in Mesa County the Colorado River flows about 58 miles, dropping some 500 feet in elevation from 5,580 feet msl at a gradient of about 8-9 fpm. The run offers little in the way of real whitewater excitement, though a few Class I to II rapids will be encountered. This run leaves behind the White River National Forest as it enters the high desert plains of west central Colorado. A number of small towns dot the landscape along the river, and IH 70 / US Highway 6 closely parallels the run on this reach.
Joining the river in this area are Rifle Gap Creek between the Towns of Antlers and Rifle, Peachtree Creek at the Town of Parachute and Branch Creek at the Town of De Beque. The run ends at the confluence of Plateau Creek just north of the Powderhorn Ski Area and east of the Island Acres State Recreation Area. The river is scenic in a high desert sort of way - the big mountains are far behind and wilderness is all around. Take plenty of drinking water!
If you are into running whitewater, then some of Colorado's best are not far away. The Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan Rivers are to the east, flowing into the Colorado from the south at Glenwood Springs. The Gunnison River and its tributaries are just a few miles south of the take-out. This reach is runnable in canoes, kayaks and rafts, though inflatables will not get a lot of help from a river current in this relatively flatwater section of the river. There are some spectacular vistas suitable for photographs, so bring your camera.
The New Castle to Plateau Creek run starts in Garfield County in west central Colorado just west of Glenwood Springs and ends in Mesa County in far western Colorado about 17 miles east of Grand Junction. The Grand Mesa National Forest area is just to the south of this run.
Durango 245 miles; Grand Junction 75 miles; Denver 160 miles; Salt Lake City 360 miles; Albuquerque 457 miles; Phoenix 700 miles; Oklahoma City 785 miles; Dallas 914 miles; Austin 1,135 miles; San Antonio 1,108 miles; Houston 1,194 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
This section of the Colorado River usually flows clean, clear and cool, though it can become muddy after heavy rainfall (when that happens, and that is rarely.) Water quality is very good to excellent, but not drinkable without purification.
This section of the Colorado River is generally boatable year-round in canoes, kayaks and rafts. It will tend to run lower during winter months, then increase its flow after the spring snowmelt above starts to fill reservoirs and prompt dam releases from Hanging Lake Reservoir above Glenwood Springs.
There are no significant hazards on this section of the Colorado River other than summertime desert heat. Take plenty of drinking water!
Eastbound IH 70 at Exit 105 two miles east of New Castle at 0.0 miles; IH 70/US Highway 6 roadside at Silt at about 8.0 miles; IH 70/US Highway 6 roadside at Antlers at about 11.0 miles; IH 70/US Highway 6 roadside at Rifle at about 15.0 miles; IH 70/US Highway 6 roadside at Rulison at about 24.0 miles; IH 70/US Highway 6 roadside at Parachute at about 30.0 miles; IH 70/US Highway 6 roadside at De Beque at about 43.0 miles; SH 65/IH 70 intersection at Plateau Creek at about 58 miles.
Numerous campgrounds are available near the put-in at Rifle Gap State Recreation Area, Harvey Gap State Recreation Area and Rifle Gap Reservoir. Additional campgrounds are available in the Island Acres State Recreation Area adjacent to and east of the take-out at Plateau Creek. There are no campgrounds along the river, though abundant natural campsites are available.
Numerous commercial outfitters in Colorado and other states are available to provide rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information services for the Colorado River.
This reach is very similar to the one above from State Bridge to Barrel Springs, and is very opposite the one immediately above from Barrel Springs to New Castle, a section filled with big water rapids. Almost anybody who is fit for multiple day wilderness trips can run this section of the Colorado River in canoes, kayaks and rafts year-round. The high desert offers much to see in the way of panoramic vistas of distant mountains and desert topography. The ride is gentle, and offers excellent photographic opportunities. Abundant natural riverside campsites are available all along this run, and crowds will not be as great as on more popular sections of the river above and below this one.