Whitewater rafting companies that operate on the Colorado River typically present three different packages: half-day, full-day and overnight trips. Full-day packages are popular with vacationers who want a more complete experience than a half-day trip may offer. With a full-day whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River, you’re able to see more of the awesome scenery while covering some serious ground.
When half-day trips just aren’t enough and overnight trips seem slightly excessive, a full-day outing is exactly what you need. Single-day rafting trips can be mild or intense, depending on where you go. Here are some of the best rafting trips on the Colorado River that you can do in one day.
The massive Colorado River begins like most rivers in the Rockies – way up high in the mountains. It’s near Lake Granby, to be exact. From there, the river gains momentum and grows as it reaches the town of Kremmling. At Kremmling is the first opportunity for genuine excitement on the river as it meanders through surrounding ranch land and nearby Gore Canyon, an isolated 3-mile canyon with sharp, 1,000-foot canyon walls.
The Upper Colorado, or “Upper C” as it is called by rafters, has mild, float sections at Little Gore Canyon near Kremmling that are ideal for a family trip. The waters here are rated Class I or Class II, prime waters for a lazy float. Rafting and tubing in the Upper Colorado attracts families of all ages, especially those with young children. Kids as young as age 3 can participate in family rafting or duckie trips, with adult supervision.
At Kremmling, many float trips are geared specifically for children and include sights that kids are interested in, along with a tasty midday meal. One popular rafting trip takes you past ancient dinosaur tracks with a cheese tortellini riverside lunch.
At Gore Canyon, you can find the opposite end of the spectrum as well, with fierce Class V rapids that offer the steepest gradient drop in the state. Gore Canyon is a well-known hot spot for epic commercial whitewater that is treacherous and strictly for expert paddlers only.
Between Kremmling and Bond, downstream from Gore Canyon, is the Pumphouse Recreation Site. The recreation site has a campground and wonderful, intermediate Class II and Class III rapids that make for a fun ride down the river with a few exciting spots. The Pumphouse/Radium section is popular with adventuresome families that don’t want to ride the kiddie rides, so to speak.
Class II and Class III rapids are great for families with older children. There’s some intensity and splashing in sections with calmer sections to recuperate in between. The Radium Hot Springs, downstream from the Pumphouse, is the best place for a memorable soak.
As the Upper Colorado River works its way west through the Centennial State, the next hotbed for rafting is in Glenwood Canyon near Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs is along Interstate 70, about 60 miles west of Vail and 85 miles east of Grand Junction. Glenwood Springs is a family-friendly town with an adventure park, hot springs, great shopping and convenient rafting. Glenwood Canyon is just outside of Glenwood Springs and has both thrilling whitewater rafting and laid-back floats.
For a full-day rafting trip with lots of photo opportunities and limited raft rocking, consider a mild and scenic trip through Glenwood Canyon on the Upper Colorado River. Sections of the canyon are perfect for an easy ride, with Class I and Class II rapids that are bumpy, splashy and fun. You may get a little damp, but it’s doubtful you’ll get soaked – unless your group requests it. During the journey, you’ll stop off for a delicious riverside lunch before continuing down the river.
Adventurous rafters seeking more action should hit the 2-mile stretch of the Shoshone Rapids of the Colorado River. It is one of the most exciting (but not intimidating) sections of Class III and Class IV waters in the West. The popular trip is an ideal introduction to intermediate rafting. In a full day, you can run the rapids twice. Many choose to run the rapids once, then reload and hit the river for another run – with a more extreme line the second time.
If you don’t want to repeat the same route, you can continue down the river. It gradually mellows out, giving you time to enjoy the awesome scenery of the canyon. Your guide can explain the unique geology of the region, and there’s lots of opportunities for photos. You can bask in the sun, take a swim, ride inflatable kayaks or “duckies” in the lazy river, and enjoy a hot catered lunch when you’re hungry. End the day with a fun second section and a final splash at the South Canyon rapids. The entire day of adventure should take about six or seven hours from start to finish.
Grand Junction is a hub for outdoor adventure on Colorado’s Western Slope, near the border with Utah. The Colorado River flows just south of downtown Grand Junction and offers a few unique float trips and some good sections of rapids for those wanting more thrills.
Accessible only by trail or river, the Ruby and Horsethief Canyons of the Colorado River serve up 25 miles of river that’s prime for a full-day float trip. The canyons have steep, towering red sandstone walls and a few nice beaches that are perfect to stop for lunch. The territory has some points of interest about the Fremont Indians, who used to roam here. On the river, the waters are calm and cool – ideal for kicking back and taking in the amazing scenery.
Another entertaining float is through the immaculate fruit and wine country near Palisade. A scenic float trip on the Colorado River from Palisade to the state park at Corn Lake is a wonderful 2-hour journey. You’ll float through some of the state’s finest orchards and vineyards. The trip is a dream for families, romantic couples and wine lovers! Beverages are provided (yes, that kind) or you can bring your own.
If you’d rather splash than sip, the 17-mile Westwater Canyon stretch is just what you need. The section is about 30 miles downriver from Grand Junction at the Westwater BLM Ranger Station. The stretch of glorious Class III and Class IV rapids ends in Cisco, Utah. In addition to heart-pounding rapids, you’ll encounter billion-year-old Precambrian rock formations in the stunning red-rock canyon country, where cliffs rise more than 1,200 feet above the Colorado River.
Westwater Canyon starts and ends with calmer waters, so there’s time to enjoy the view before and after the hubbub. This part of the river is remote, and there’s terrific wildlife in the air and on the ground. You may spot the occasional bald eagle high in the sky or bighorn sheep resting on the mountainside. There are spotless beaches here for a riverside lunch, and you can even explore historic pictographs and a stone cabin used by unruly outlaws, bootleggers and cattle thieves. Then, it’s back in the river for a roaring finish!