Forming in the San Juan Mountains of San Juan County at the confluence of its West and East Forks, the Animas River is a free-flowing, cold-water stream running north to south through Durango and down into to Navajo Reservoir on the New Mexico state line over a distance of about 126 miles, some of which is actually navigable. Actually, most of it is navigable if you have the right stuff (skills, experience and equipment.) It is larger than most rivers in the area, and a lot more beautiful, offering great Class I-V whitewater (though not all in the same reaches) and excellent fishing opportunities. The season on the Animas River is longer than that of most Colorado streams. Heavy run-off from snowmelt and summer rains usually continues until mid-June, though the water may not be clear until well into July. The Animas may remain navigable into late August or early September, depending upon snowpack and summer rains. The river begins at an elevation above 13,000 feet msl, but the river above Eureka is dangerous and best avoided due to its massive gradient, huge boulders, Class V to V+ drops, swift current, cold water temperature and lack of access.
This reach description begins at the Eureka Access at an elevation of about 9,874 feet msl, at the site of the former Place gold mining operation and the town it spawned, and then flows about 8.1 miles to the 14th Street Access in Silverton at an elevation of about 9,304 feet msl as a Class I to II stream on an average gradient of about 70 fpm - STEEP! This run is suitable for canoes, kayaks and rafts at most water levels. This river is gnarly above and below this reach, but this is a less demanding run on a somewhat "shallow" gradient. Go beyond the last take-out for this reach and you will have committed yourself to running the Class IV to V+ Rockwood Box. If you are running this reach, then it is most likely that you do NOT want to run Rockwood Box, which is an expert kayaker ONLY run. Yet, while the gradient here is steep and the current is fast this run is actually quite well suited for less experienced whitewater paddlers looking to enhance their chops.
The water is cold (40° F), so wear proper attire to protect yourself from hypothermia. In addition to the aforementioned garment options, Neoprene or other insulating gloves should be worn to protect your hands and a helmet is recommended to protect your brain.
San Juan County, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountains between the ghost mining town of Eureka and Silverton. Nearby streams include the San Juan, San Miguel, Dolores, Lime Creek, Hermosa Creek, Uncompahgre, Rio Grande, Rio Chama and Gunnison Rivers, among many others.
Durango 55 miles; Grand Junction 217 miles; Denver 386 miles; Santa Fe 259 miles; Albuquerque 259 miles; Phoenix 501 miles; Oklahoma City 797 miles; Tulsa 903 miles; Dallas 911 miles; Austin 1,101 miles; San Antonio 1,181 miles; Houston 1,157 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally poor, though snow-melt cold, oweing torun-ff sediment loads and mine tailing leeching. Early flows may contain heavy sediment loads resulting in murkiness and a brownish color until the river settles out. Minimum flows should be about 500 cfs and maximum flows for safe boating are about 4,000 cfs. Below 1,000 cfs the river channel can be rocky and may require excessive hiking, dragging, carrying or portages. Above 4,000 cfs the river is dangerous and can be deadly regardless of boat or experience.
Generally, the optimum season is from late May through August, though the season may be extended or reduced according to the depth of the snow pack and/or recent local rains.
This reach of the Animas River is a gentle Class I to II whitewater stream that is ideal for learnng or improving whitewater skills in a less threatening environment - IF you do not go below Silverton. There are no major obstacles or hazards to navigation between Eureka and Silverton.
Eureka Access (N 37° 52' 46.00" / W 107° 33' 56.30") on river left off CR 2 at 0.0 miles; Howardsville Access (N 37°50' 06.14" / W 107° 35' 54.71") on river left just after the CR 2 bridge at about 4.0 miles; CR 52 Bridge Access (N 37° 49' 38.00" / W 107° 37' 34.85") on river right before the bridge at about 5.9 miles; CR 20 Access (N 37° 48' 58.40" / W 107° 38' 58.70") in Silverton at the landing on river right off CR 2 at the end of the road at about 7.45 miles; and 14th Street Access (N 37° 48' 39.98" / W 107° 39' 33.08") in Silverton on river left after the bridge at about 8.1 miles. There are other possible roadside access sites along this reach of the Animas River.
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.
Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Animas River.
The Upper Animas River is a scenic run some of which is best left to highly experienced kayakers and rafters, but this reach is an exception. The Class I to II rapids make this an exciting and scenic river for canoeists, kayakers and rafteres to enjoy when visiting the San Juans. On a gradient of about 78 fpm this is a fast run, so it will not take a long time unless you make it take longer. The advantage is that you can run it again the same day, or else make your way to another reach on this river or a run on one of the other nearby Colorado whitewater streams. With a population of about 700 Silverton is the county seat of San Juan County and is the only incorporated municipality within the county. A visit here has a definite effect on the then-current population of the area! It has a lot to offer visitors, not the least of which is a gorgeous river set amid an alpine backdrop that is breathtaking.
Because the water is cold wearing appropriate river gear is advisable for most paddlers. The Upper Animas would not be a good place to become hypothermic. Or, you could stay in your boat and stay dry avoiding the need for protection. This is definitely a camera trip, so come prepared, but carry it in a waterproof case if it is not a waterproof camera because it probably will get wet. Some of the rapids will definitely break over the bow and give you a bath. And whatever else you do, do NOT go past the 14th Street take-out because doing so will soon put you on a collision course with moster whitewater in the Class V to V+ Rockwood Box. Do NOT miss your take-out!