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Crystal River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Crystal Mill Falls
~ 3 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Crystal River, from Crystal Mill Falls to the top of Crystal Gorge, is a picture postcard run of 3 miles in moderate whitewater that is well-suited for advanced to expert kayakers. This short run begins at an elevation of 8,880 feet msl and drops to 8,550 feet msl at a gradient of about 110 fpm. Its very short (2 months) summer season is fickle, but it also portend conditions for running Crystal Gorge below. If the flow in this section is high enough for a "smooth" ride over the rocks, then it will be too high to run the Gorge.

Crystal Mill, a relic from a bygone era on river left, casts a striking pose against a backdrop of towering mountains, tall spruce and aspen trees and endless skies, with a foreground waterfall of about 15 feet plunging into the river below. This is one of the most photographed spots in all of Colorado, and for obvious reasons. Access to this section is just above or below the falls, depending upon skill, nerve and water conditions. The run is short, but very exciting, if you are up to it.


Gunnison County in the Gunnison National Forest, west of Denver and near the ski resort towns of Crested Butte, Aspen and Snowmass. Nearby streams include the Roaring Forks, Fryingpan, Colorado, Gunnison and Taylor Rivers, with many feeder streams in close proximity.

Distance from major cities

Fort Collins 268 miles; Durango 220 miles; Grand Junction 136 miles; Denver 206 miles; Santa Fe 432 miles; Albuquerque 432 miles; Phoenix 674 miles; Oklahoma City 831 miles; Tulsa 936 miles; Dallas 990 miles; Austin 1,170 miles; San Antonio 1,181 miles; Houston 1,370 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. This section is rated Class II to IV at flows above 1,000 cfs, with one Class V (Crystal Mill Falls) at that level.

Best time to go

Typically, this section of the Crystal River has a short 2-month season in June and 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

There are only two real hazards on the Crystal Mill Falls run - the Falls, located at the put-in, and a drop of significant technical difficulty less than a mile from the take-out. Crystal Mill Falls can be run right of center, but left of center should be aggressively avoided. At high flows a strong hydraulic current can pin even a perfect run and pummel a paddle before kicking him or her out downriver. The second drop, the most technical on this section, has a strong hydraulic current that can be avoided by running right of center. After this drop the rest of the run is a bumpy, rolling ride around blind corners and through sloping rock shelves along the banks, where fallen trees and other avalanche debris can clog a run and pose dangers for paddlers, boats and gear. Do NOT miss the take-out for this section unless you intend to run Crystal Gorge, and only then after scouting and IF you have expert whitewater kayaking skills (a death wish also helps!)

River Access Points

Put in off FR 314, either above or below Crystal Mill Falls at 0.0 miles; Take out on FR 314 (CR 3) from Marble at 3.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

The National Forest Service operates 5 campgrounds along the banks of the Crystal River. From top to bottom, these are on the North Fork at the end of FR 315 on river left; Bogan Flats off FR 314 on river right; Below Redstone (just above Meatgrinder) on river right; Above Avalanche Creek on river right; and the BRB Campground on river right below Nettle Creek. There may be other primitive campsites available along various sections of the Crystal River.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

There are no liveries or shuttle services known to be operating along this section of the Crystal River. Liveries and shuttle services off the river may be available - ask local paddlers or outfitters in nearby towns.

Reviewer's comments

For expert whitewater kayakers it would be difficult to find a more beautiful place to play than Crystal Mill Falls. In addition to some of Mother Nature's finest work ever, the run is tough and challenging, but runnable at the right water levels and with the proper skills and gear. This is no novice run! Crystal Mill Falls starts the run with a plunge off a waterfall of at least 15 feet, and the rest of the 3-mile run just gets better. Optimum flow is 1,000 - 1,200 cfs. Higher flows will end any chances of running Crystal Gorge below, which is not runnable in high water conditions. If the ride is bumpy on the Crystal Mill Falls run, then the Gorge may be good for a run if, and ONLY if, you have the skills to handle it. At 110 fpm, the gradient on this section pales in cocmparison for waits below. Be sure to take a camera, because whether or not you run Crystal Mill Falls you will want to capture the gorgeous scenery to show others what a beautiful place you discovered.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV (V)
Length 3 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000-1,100 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,200 cfs
First Put-in FR 314 above Crystal Mill Falls
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out FR 314 below Crystal Mill Falls
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 8,880-8,550 feet msl
Gradient 110 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Redstone
Boats Advanced or Expert Kayakers only
Season June through July
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

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

[ Crystal River Homepage ] [ Crystal Gorge ] [ Bogan Canyon ] [ Meatgrinder to The Narrows ] [ Avalanche to BRB Campground ]

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