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North Platte River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Routt Launch Site to Six Mile Gap
~ 10.8 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The North Platte River flows north from Routt National Forest in the Rocky Mountains of Jackson County, Colorado across the Wyoming border to Casper, then east southeast into Nebraska where it joins the South Platte River at the City of North Platte before continuing its journey to the confluence with the Missouri River on the Nebraska-Iowa border. The section described below is the Northgate Canyon section of about 10.8 miles flowing from the Routt Launch Site off Colorado SH 125 to the Six Mile Gap Campground off FR 492 in Wyoming, a few miles west of Wyoming SH 230 in Carbon County. The river is rated Class III at flows below 1,200 cfs, and Class III+ to IV- over 1,200 cfs, with a gradient of about 20 fpm.

The run is great for intermediate or higher level whitewater paddlers in canoes outfitted for whitewater, kayaks and rafts. It is a wide and immensely gorgeous river with boulder garden rapids between sloping mountainsides lined with dense spruce forests. This high desert area is pure wilderness where bighorn sheep graze the ridges and slopes with eagles soaring overhead. This section is miles away from any signs of urban sprawl. The run starts at an elevation of 7,820 feet msl and drops to 7,600 feet msl, with great camping on either end. Because of the high elevation daytime temperatures will be cool and nights will be very cold, so be sure to bring along a variety of clothing suitable for whatever the weather throws at you. Prepare for warm, cold, sunny rainy and/or snowy conditions - you might get all of them on a single trip!


The Routt National Forest of far northern Jackson County, flowing north into Wyoming on its way to Casper, then east into and across Nebraska to the Missouri River.

Distance from major cities

Fort Collins 105 miles; Durango 470 miles; Grand Junction 300 miles; Denver 167 miles; Santa Fe 553 miles; Albuquerque 553 miles; Phoenix 980 miles; Oklahoma City 792 miles; Tulsa 897 miles; Dallas 951 miles; Austin 1,132 miles; San Antonio 1,212 miles; Houston 1,201 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The North Platte River flows clean, clear and cold most of the time, but is not drinkable without purification. This section is rated Class III below 1,200 cfs and Class III+ to IV- at flows over 1,200 cfs.

Best time to go

The North Plate River has an unusually long season for Colorado rivers, lasting from May through August in normal snowpack years. Above normal snowpack and/or spring rainfall can extend the season by a few weeks.

Hazards to navigation

Other than the general remoteness of the area and the coldness of the water and air, there are no significant hazards on this section of the North Platte River. However, you do have be vigilant for rattlesnakes, mountain lions, bears and other harmful or predatory creatures when off teh river. Observe safety practices for bear country - NEVER wipe hands on clothing after handling food, never store food near where you sleep, lock all food in secure containers and do not leave scraps or anything with the smell of food where it can be found by animals. If hiking in the adjacent mountains or canyons watch for snakes and be careful where you place your hands and feet.

River Access Points

Put in at the Routt Launch Site at the end of FR 896 off SH 125 northwest of Fort Collins. Take out at Six Mile Gap Campground at the end of FR 492 off SH 230 in Carbon County, Wyoming.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Campgrounds are available at either end of this run. Both are adjacent to the access points. Observe nature-preserving practices. Use firepans for all open fires. Use porta-potties for containing all human waste. If you pack it in, then pack it out. Take only photographs - leave only footprints. These basic rules should ALWAYS be followed regardless of where you paddle or camp. Preserve the natural environment because it is the only one we have.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least five commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information on the North Platte River.

Reviewer's comments

If you are looking for a true wilderness trip, then this is it! Northgate Canyon is many miles from any signs of civilization and the North Platte River flows through majestic canyons and high desert terrain. You will probably not see anybody else on this run. Much of the channel is flatwater with a very moderate gradient of about 20 fpm, but there are Class III to IV- whitewater rapids, depending upon flow conditions, that must be negotiated properly to avoid swimming in very cold water. If you are thoroughly prepared for it, then you can actually paddle many miles past Six Mile Gap, ending above IH 80 at Seminoe Reservoir, but that will require packing in a lot of gear and supplies, as well as being on the river for several days and nights. There is also the option of running the Encampment River a few miles to the west of the North Platte, where you can find a great 15-mile run in Class IV+ water. The area has a natural, undisturbed beauty that is nothing short of awe-inspiring in its grandeur. This trip is not for everybody, but if you enjoy a truly primitive experience and a oneness with Mother Nature, then this is a trip you should consider.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV-
Length 10.8 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 400-1,200 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Routt Launch Site
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Six Mile Gap Campground
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Northgate
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season May through August
Permits No

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

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