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Animas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Durango to State Line
~ Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The San Juan River begins at the confluence of its East and West Forks in Archuleta County, Colorado and then flows about 383 miles through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to its confluence with the Colorado River. And while it does come within one half mile the river does not actually flow through Arizona. Both forks source above 10,000 feet in elevation in the eastern San Juan Mountains in the San Juan National Forest, but the first practical navigable elevation is at about 7,965 feel msl on Sand Creek for the East Fork, or at about 7,936 feet msl for the West Fork. The confluence sits at about 7,578 feel msl. The river flows southwest through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains through the town of Pagosa Springs to its confluence with the Navajo River, where it turns west and heads into Navajo Reservoir on the Colorado - New Mexico State Line near Arboles, Colorado. Below the Navajo Dam the San Juan River flows west through a narrow farming valley in the Colorado Plateau high desert, then west through the Navajo Nation, turning northwest near Shiprock. From there, it re-enters Colorado very near the Four Corners point where all four states touch - the only such place in the United States, before entering southeastern Utah. West of Bluff, Utah the river flows through the Comb Ridge and then through a series of rugged winding canyons, often over 1,500 feet in depth, in a remote portion of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which was formed by Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. The San Juan confluence with the Colorado is in San Juan County, Utah at an elevation of about 3,704 feel msl - some 4,261 feet lower than the East Fork run starting at Sand Creek on an average gradient of about 11.13 fpm, but do NOT be deceived - the river above Navajo Reservoir drops at a much steeper 17.3 fpm as the river drops some 891 feet in vertical elevation over about 51.3 miles.

This reach description begins at Dallabeta Park Access and continues about 17.2 miles to the US Highway 550 second crossing, the last practical access above the New Mexico state line, on a Class I to II whitewater run. A real gem on this trip is the very large natural gas midstream compressor station and processing plant located about 12.1 miles below the top of this reach. Other than that this run is mostly through wide open agricultural lands. Five access points(at least) offer opportunities for trips of various lengths, and it is mostly flatwater with small riffles and rapids occasionally, but MUCH less frequently that reaches above. You could continue acorss the New Mexico state line, but it is many miles to the next access point, so be prepared if you make that decision.

The run starts at an elevation of about 6,368 feet msl at Dallabeta Park in Durango and drops about 393 feet on a gradient of about 22.8 fpm, so there is a good current on a moderate slope. The river below this reach flows through Aztec, New Mexico toward the San Juan River confluence at Farmington near the Four Corners area where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona all touch. Almost anybody can enjoy this most flatwater paddle in canoes, kayaks, rafts or SUPs, though the rapids that make rafing fun are all found upriver from here. The run is mostly remote though county roads are nearby, but with little traffic in this rural, open valley landscape.


La Plata County, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains within the city limits of Durango. Nearby streams include the San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Uncompahgre, Lime Creek, Hermosa Creek, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers, among many others in this area. The river runs through the San Juan National Forest.

Distance from major cities

Durango 0.0 miles; Grand Junction 170 miles; Denver 339 miles; Santa Fe 212 miles; Albuquerque 212 miles; Phoenix 454 miles; Oklahoma City 750 miles; Tulsa 855 miles; Dallas 864 miles; Austin 1,054 miles; San Antonio 1,134 miles; Houston 1,110 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally good and sometimes clear, though snow-melt cold. Minimum flows should be about 300 cfs and maximum flows for safe boating are about 3,000 cfs, though there are no major obstructions or hazards on this reach. The Durango Whitewater Park has some drop features that can definitely flip your boat, but recovery is generally quick and easy.

Best time to go

Generally, the optimum season is from late April through July, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains. In wet years it is possible to have year-round flow.

Hazards to navigation

This reach of the Animas River has a few small riffles and rapids in the Class I to II range, but at normal flows (300 - 3,000 cfs) most will not pose significant hazards to most boaters. There are no known significant hazards on this reach of the Animas River (unless that compressor station blows up or leaks toxic vapors as you are in the area.)

River Access Points

Dallabeta Park Access (N 37 13' 17.68" / W 107 51' 37.91") on river right before the bridge at 0.00 miles; CR 213 Roadside Access (N 37 11' 06.91" / W 107 52' 43.69") on river right at the clearing at about 4.60 miles; CR 214 Access (N 37 09' 06.66" / W 107 53' 02.76") off CR 213 on river left before the bridge at about 7.20 miles; US Highway 550 first crossing access (N 37 04' 02.94" / W 107 52' 34.20") on river left at an unimproved ramp off a dirt road at about 14.00 miles; US Highway 550 second crossing access (N 37 01' 55.15" / W 107 52' 32.71") on river right at an unimproved ramp just off the highway at about 17.2 miles this is the last practical take-out above the New Mexico state line.) There may be other available access points to this reach of the Animas River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

South Mineral Campground off US Highway 550 above Silverton is a public camping area; Purgatory, off US Highway 550 above Electra Lake and below Rockwood Box is a public camping area; There are numerous commercial campgrounds with tent camping, motels accommodations, supplies and other amenities on or near the Animas River. Contact the USDA Forest Service Office at Durango (970-247-4874) for information on campsites and restrictions.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Some commercial outfitters may offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Animas River.

Reviewer's comments

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III+
Length 17.20 miles
Minimum Flow 300 cfs
Optimum Flow 800-2,500 cfs
Maximum Flow 3,000 cfs
First Put-in Dallabeta Park Access
Lat. / Long. N 37 13' 17.68" / W 107 51' 37.91"
Last Take-out US Highway 550 Second Crossing
Lat. / Long. N 37 01' 55.15" / W 107 52' 32.71"
Elevation 6,368 - 5,975 feet msl (-393')
Gradient ~ 22.8 fpm av.
USGS Gauge Web: Silverton
Web: Durango
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through July, but year-round, weather and river level permitting
Permits No

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

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak 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 HERE to visit the web site of Pikes Peak Whitewater Club

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the San Juan River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

San Juan River

[ San Juan River Homepage ] [ West or East Fork to Pagosa Springs ] [ Pagosa Springs to Trujillo Bridge (Mesa Canyon) ] [ Trujillo Bridge to Navajo Reservoir ]

Animas River

[ Eureka to Silverton ] [ Silverton to Baker's Bridge ] [ Baker's Bridge to Durango ] [ Durango Town Run ]

Other Tributaries

[ Piedra River FR 635 to Piedra ] [ Piedra River to Navajo Reservoir ] [ Lime Creek ] [ Hermosa Creek ]

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