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Crystal River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Meatgrinder through The Narrows
~ 4.1 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

This section of the Crystal River has a split personality - Meatgrinder, and The Narrows. Meatgrinder itself has a split personality, so this is truly a schizophrenic river run. The whole section is gorgeous and the whitewater is big. But, the channel is frequently clogged by downed trees that find their ways into the channels between huge boulders that create the rapids. For practical purposes, Meatgrinder is one 2-mile long boulder garden with a gradient that starts at 111 fpm, then "flattens" to 81 fpm. Enter Meatgrinder through the center chute. A good brace will be necessary to get you through twwisting, turning, big waves that can roll a kayak - this is NOT a place where you want to do an inverted run. The section is rated Class IV+ to V+, and lives up to it!

The Narrows is fairly easy, though rough, but it gets a lot tougher at medium to high flows. Like Meatgrinder above, The Narrows is a boulder garden. Unlike Meatgrinder, this section includes a constricted chute with big standing waves, a hole that spans most of the width of the river and a cave that has potential for becoming an entrapment. On one side of the channel is an old rail line against a talus slope, while the other side is cluttered with rock debris from road construction. Going upside-down in this section could result in serious injury or death. The Narrows has a gradient of about 95 fpm, about midway between the split gradients of Meatgrinder above.

This 4.1 mile run is nearly continuous boulder-dodging with occasional log-dodging. Thanks to the selfless actions of local paddlers, most of the dead-fallen tree debris is periodically removed to open the channel for safer boating. Three nearby campgrounds and okay access make this an excellent expert kayaker's run with great excitement. Canoes should not attempt this run, and rafts should not attempt to run Meatgrinder, nor should they run The Narrows at flows below 1,100 cfs unless manned by a team of expert paddlers.


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, white and cold, but not drinkable without purification. Snowmelt water temperatures mandate wearing layered water-repelling garment, wetsuits, drysuits or combinations to prevent hypothermia. Neoprene gloves and hard-soled river boots should also be worn for added protection against cold, as well as hand and foot injuries in or near the river. Meatgrinder is rated Class V+ at flows of 500 - 1,200 cfs. Above 1,200 cfs it becomes treacherous and should be avoided. The Narrows is rated Class IV+ at flows of 500 - 1,100 cfs, and Class V above 1,100 cfs. Below 500 cfs, the channel may be too cluttered with boulders and/or logs for safe, enjoyable trips. At high flows this section can be deadly. ALWAYS scout this section before attempting a run!

Best time to go

Typically, this section of the Crystal River runs best from May through July, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snowpack and/or recent local rains.

Hazards to navigation

This entire section should be considered a hazard that poses significant risk to life and limb. Boulder gardens, standing waves, corkscrew waves, road debris, dead-fallen trees, flood and avalanche debris and carelessness and/or stupidity (ego) all work against a safe run on this section of the Crystal River. Take nothing for granted, and expect everything you encounter. Stay upright to avoid serious head injuries or death. Do NOT attempt to run this section unless you have expert whitewater skills and are accompanied by other paddlers of equal skill level.

River Access Points

Put in north of Redstone at SH 133 mm 53.0 at 0.0 miles; Penny Hot Springs off SH 133 mm 55 at 2.0 miles; Take out off SH 133 mm 57 at 4.1 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

While this section does not have the drops or the tightness of Crystal Gorge, it is almost as treacherous for the unwary or underskilled paddler who attempts to run it. This is no place for canoes, and rafts should seriously consider the conditions before running it. This section is for expert kayakers who have carefully scouted the river and set up a plan to negotiate the obstacles and hazards to be encountered along the way. The section is beautiful, but there will be little time for taking photographs unless you stop along the banks somewhere, and even that can be difficult. The cold water demands wearing properly clothing to insulate against hypothermia. Do not go upside-down in the channel! But, if you are up to the task, have the skills set to handle what Meatgrinder and The Narrows will throw at you, and are ready for a challenge, then this section will be an enjoyable, albeit short, run that keeps your adreneline pumping long after you are finished.

Technical Data
Class Rating IV+ to V+
Length 4.1 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 500-1,200 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 133 pull-off north of Redstone
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 133 at Avalanche Creek
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 7,068-6,680 feet msl
Gradient 111, 81, 95 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Redstone
Boats Advanced or Expert Kaykers
Expert Rafters @ flows < 1,100 cfs
Season May through July
Permits No

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[ Crystal River Homepage ] [ Crystal Mill Falls to Crystal Gorge ] [ Crystal Gorge ]
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