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Crystal River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Avalanche to BRB Campground
~ 4.8 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

While typically described as a 4.8 mile, Class III whitewater run, the Crystal River below The Narrows can actually be boated in canoes, kayaks and rafts all the way to the confluence with the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale, a distance of probably 15-16 miles. The scenery is spectacular and the run is exciting for those with intermediate or higher whitewater skills. Paralleled by SH 133 until just above Carbondale, this run offers easy access, pretty colors, riverside camping and no major hazards for skilled paddlers.

A USFS campground at the end of the typical 4.8 mile section, two more in the 5 miles immediately above this section, plus two others at Bogan Flats and on the North Fork provide boaters with excellent overnight opportunities from late spring through mid-summer, when the boating season usually ends. For those who just want to enjoy the scenery from land, the area can be camped as late as the end of summer or sometimes into mid-fall.


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. This section is rated Class III when flows exceed 500 cfs. The "flat" gradient of 58 fpm makes for a little slower ride than on sections above Avalanche.

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

Other than water temperature, there are no significant hazards on this section of the Crystal River.

River Access Points

Put in off SH 133 pull-off at mm 57, at 0.0 miles; Take out at the bridge to the west entrance to BRB Campground off SH 133 near mm 62 at 4.8 miles. An optional takeout is at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River where SH 133 junctions with SH 82 below Carbondale at about 16 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

The U.S. 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

Anybody with intermediate or higher whitewater skills can enjoy the Avalanche run on the Crystal River. In guided rafts, even novices can make this easy whitewater run of 4.8 miles. For those who are not satisfied with such a short run, there is always the opton of paddling all the way to the confluence with the Roaring Fork River about 16 miles below the Avalanche put-in. The summer season is gorgeous, with warm days and very cool or cold nights, so you need to bring a variety of clothing, as on most Colorado streams. The water is very cold, so be sure to dress approprriately to avoid hypothermia. With no major rapids, few hazards of any kind and easy whitewater, this section will see a little more traffic than those sections above it. There is plenty to see, both on and off the river, and the general area lends itself to photographic opportunities all around. The elevation in this section rages from a high of 6,680 feet msl down to a low of 6,400 feet msl, so it is higher than Denver, and a little cooler, too! Unlike many Colorado streams, this section of the Crystal River can be run in canoes, kayaks and rafts, so you will see a diverse group of paddlers on the river and in the camps. Nearby roads make getting to and from the area very easy, and Carbondale is just a few miles away for those who want restaurant food, additional supplies to some local shopping.

Technical Data
Class Rating III
Length 4.8 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 133 pull-off at milemarker 57
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 133 at BRB Campground
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,680-6,400 feet msl
Gradient 58 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Redstone
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season May through July
Permits No

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

[ Crystal River Homepage ] [ Crystal Mill Falls to Crystal Gorge ] [ Crystal Gorge ]
[ Bogan Canyon ] [ Meatgrinder to The Narrows ]

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Last updated September 12, 2014

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