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Roaring Fork River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Aspen Music School to Slaughterhouse Bridge
~ 2 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Roaring Fork River begins in Pitkin County high in the San Isabel National Forest and flows to the northwest through Aspen, Snowmass and Glenwood Springs to its confluence with the Colorado River. The Fryingpan River Flows into the Roaring Fork just below Snowmass, and the Crystal River joins the Roaring Fork at Carbondale. Its headwaters are between Mt. Elbert, Colorado's highest peak at 14,443 feet msl and Independence Pass at 12,095 feet msl. SH 82 parallels the river in very close proximity along most of its run.

The Castle Creek to Slaughterhouse Bridge run begins at the parking lot of Aspen Music School and ends on the Roaring Fork River at the Slaughterhouse Bridge. The entire run is about 2 miles off SH 82 northwest of Aspen. The run is rated Class IV+ at flows of 1,000-2,000 cfs, escalating to Class V- in high water conditions, but will normally flow in the Class IV to IV+ range due to the diversion of water for residential and commercial users in the nearby ski resort towns of Aspen and Snowmass, among others. The run begins at an elevation of about 8,035 feet msl and descends some 319 feet with a gradient starting at 162 fpm and ending at 152 fpm. Diversions typically shorten the season to a few weeks in May through July.

The canyon is adorned with aspen, pine and cottonwood trees while the riverbed is populated by many old granite boulders, set against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains that hide most of the development in close proximity to the river. This section is runnable by kayakers with advanced to expert level whitewater skills. Rafts are really not well-suited for Castle Creek, and canoes should be limited to those outfitted for heavy whitewater paddled by strong advanced or expert level whitewater paddlers only. While really not too technical, this run is a lot of fun at any navigable flow, and parts of it can be VERY exciting when the flow is high.


The White River National Forest of Central Pitkin County, southeast of Aspen. Aspen, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Ski Areas are in the general vicinity. Glenwood Springs, in Garfield County, is about 30 miles to the northwest.

Distance from major cities

Durango 290 miles; Grand Junction 120 miles; Denver 190 miles; Salt Lake City 405 miles; Albuquerque 550 miles; Phoenix 703 miles; Oklahoma City 815 miles; Dallas 974 miles; Austin 1,165 miles; San Antonio 1,138 miles; Houston 1,224 miles; Little Rock 1,131 miles; Kansas City 796 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point and destination point on the river, and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Roaring Fork River flows clean, clear and cold, but is not drinkable without purification. The Castle Creek run is rated Class IV+ at 1,000-2,000 cfs, and Class V- at flows over 2,000 cfs, as measured on the gauge at Maroon Creek on the Roaring Fork River just below Slaughterhouse Bridge. The cold water and high elevation make it necessary to wear drysuits or wetsuits with base layers, or water-repelling garments that are layered to prevent hypothermia. Neoprene glove and hard-soled river boots are also strongly recommended.

Best time to go

The prime season for the Castle Creek run is June and July, though it may be runnable in May, depending upon winter snowpack, spring rainfall and the amount of water being diverted.

Hazards to navigation

The Castle Creek section begins with a narrow river run of fairly easy whitewater that may be clogged with dead-fall debris, then opens up at a small dam that can be run to the left of center by paddling fast, then making a "ski-jump" over a large hole just below - do NOT get stuck in this hole! Below the dam is about a mile to technical whitewater rapids with blind turns around huge boulders. Eddy out and scout the drops before running them. The rest of the run down to and on the Roaring Fork River is fairly easy, but may be tree-clogged.

River Access Points

Put in at the Aspen Music School parking lot at 0.0 miles; Take out at the Slaughterhouse Bridge, on Cemetery Lane off SH 82 northwest of Aspen, at 2.0 miles; An optional take out can be at the Upper Woody Creek bridge off SH 82 (about mm 34.5) at 6.5 miles. There are no other accesses on Castle Creek and this section of the Roaring Fork River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Difficult Canyon Campground, near Weller Lake on the Upper Roaring Fork River, offers campsites. There are at least 3 campgrounds on the Fryingpan River just a few miles to the north and above its confluence with the Roaring Fork near Snowmass. There are no other campgrounds known to be available on the Roaring Fork River itself, or on Castle Creek. There are accommodations available in surrounding ski resort towns near the river, but expect to pay a pricey rate, even in the skiing off-season. Some resort facilities may be closed during river running season.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

At least three commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information on the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Rivers.

Reviewer's Comments

The Castle Creek run is for advanced to expert level whitewater kayakers. The Slaughterhouse section can be run by advanced to expert kayakers almost anytime there is adequate water to paddle. Rafts paddled by experts can also enjoy the run on the Roaring Fork River section under the same water conditions, but not on Castle Creek. Advanced to expert paddlers in open canoes outfitted for heavy whitewater can run Castle Creek and the Slaughterhouse runs at flows up to 1,700 CFS, but should carefully consider the consequences at higher flows, especially those over 2,500 CFS. The scenery surrounding this run is just gorgeous - some of the prettiest in all of Colorado. Sandwiched between the Crystal River to the south and the Fryingpan River to the north, this is a great area for paddlers looking for real whitewater fun and challenge in the Colorado Rockies. Be sure to dress for the cool to cold air, especially at night, and the cold water temperatures that can produce hypothermia. The short season makes it necessary to hit the Roaring Fork in the summer, which just happens to be the warmest months, even though you may wonder about that if you are from somewhere that is really hot in June and July. The thin air requires acclimation for those from lower elevations, especially when having to portage up hillsides or along the river. Be sure to bring your camera, because you will want to have it here!

Technical Data
Class Rating IV to IV+ (V- @ > 2,000 cfs)
Length 2 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000-2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Aspen Music School parking lot
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Slaughterhouse Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 8,035-7,716 feet msl
Gradient 162, 152 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: above Difficult Campground
Boats Advanced/Expert Kayaks & Canoes
Season May (?) through July
Permits No

Map of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan Rivers

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

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

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

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

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Rio Grande and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Roaring Fork Homepage ] [ Upper Roaring Fork River ] [ Upper Woody Creek Bridge to SH 82 Bridge ]
[ SH 82 Bridge to SH 133 Bridge ] [ SH 133 Bridge to Glenwood Springs ] [ Upper Fryingpan River ] [ Lower Fryingpan River ]

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Last updated December 26, 2014

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