Colorado has fantastic rivers all over the state that are perfect for whitewater rafting. You don’t have to travel far to experience the excitement and wonderment of a trip down one of the state’s many waterways. There are fun, easy stretches for families looking for an enjoyable day trip and more intense sections for hardcore adrenaline hounds that need to satisfy their urges.
The state’s many rivers vary from the mighty Colorado River to more intimate tributaries and offshoots that journey deep into the Rocky Mountain wilderness. While there are incredible whitewater rafting trips in seemingly every corner of the state, some of the finest river outings are not too far from Denver, Colorado’s largest city. Let’s take a closer look at a few of our favorites for whitewater rafting close to the Mile High City.
The historic mining town of Idaho Springs is just 40 miles west of downtown Denver and presents the quickest – and perhaps best – whitewater rafting experience on the Front Range. The river is the No. 1 spot for a whitewater day trip from Denver because it’s convenient, offers a big variety of runs, and is chock-full of scenery and wildlife.
If you’re looking for rafting right off the highway and a town you can hang out in afterward for a burger and a craft beer, then this is your spot. Simply take Exit 239 off I-70 and you’re there.
The river parallels Interstate 70 and flows through the town of Idaho Springs, offering pleasant Class III rapids in sections that complement calmer Class II sections. The Gold Rush section between Chicago Creek and Kermit’s takes you past old gold mines and is a cool ride with plenty of sunshine and bluebird skies on most days. It’s the ideal mix for families who want a safe trip with some exciting parts. Children as young as 6 years old can enjoy Clear Creek.
The Upper Clear Creek section is a hot spot for intermediate and advanced rafters who are looking for some strong Class IV runs. The Upper Dumont to Satellite section will surely keep your head on a swivel as you navigate the treacherous waters.
The Lower Canyon of Clear Creek is a great spot for experienced rafters to step it up even further. The section offers mind-bending Class V stretches from the put-in at Kermit’s all the way to Miles Gulch Park. You must be at least 15 years old to raft this section. It is not to be taken lightly!
If you’re looking for something a little deeper in the Rocky Mountains, drive past Idaho Springs on I-70 and head north on U.S. Highway 40 at Exit 232. The exit is about 7 miles past Idaho Springs. From there, you’ll need to drive another 25 miles north on U.S. Highway 40 to Winter Park.
The clean, clear Fraser River only offers a short rafting season – from mid-May through June – but it’s worth it. There are nice, Class III and Class IV rapids in Fraser Canyon between the towns of Tabernash and Granby. There are several exciting rapids here for intermediate rafters and kayakers. White Mile Rapid just past the midpoint of Fraser Canyon is one of the best!
Silverthorne, about 70 miles west of Denver, might best be known for its awesome outlet shops, but it’s also one of the best places to have a fulfilling whitewater rafting experience on the beautiful Blue River. The river has something for everybody, and presents the opportunity for a full day of adventure when combined with other nearby activities like zip lining (or shopping!).
Silverthorne is west of Idaho Springs on I-70. Blue River has excellent sections for all rafting abilities during most of the summer. The quick-flowing rapids offer thrills around every bend, including incredible views of the Gore Range.
You can also raft the Blue River out of Breckenridge. It is about a 90-minute drive from downtown Denver, so take your pick! The Breckenridge stretch covers several miles of river in only a few hours. It’s a perfect trip for a half-day outing.
The Cache la Poudre River in Fort Collins about 90 minutes from Denver has a fancy name, but is no slouch when it comes to exciting rapids. The “Pooder,” as the locals refer to it, is the only river in the state that has been designated as “wild and scenic” for its breathtaking views and abundant natural wildlife.
The Lower Poudre has milder, Class II and Class III rapids for the most part, but there are some sweet Class IV rapids near Mishawaka Falls. This is a perfect half-day stretch of river for families looking for great scenery and exciting whitewater. The Lower section is highly recommended if you have children in your group.
At Mishawaka Falls are some solid Class IV rapids that should get your heart pounding a bit. The lower canyon is beautiful. The Mishawaka Amphitheater is a riverside venue that is a wonderful place to catch a show! Downtown Fort Collins is walkable, with lots of shops, restaurants and entertainment.
The Eagle River near Vail and Beaver Creek is about 1 hour and 45 minutes from downtown Denver. The river has family-friendly sections for a fun day outing, and some more treacherous areas for those with a bit more experience navigating the rapids. To families, the Lower Eagle River is easy but exciting. You can take a short, half-day outing or choose a longer full-day adventure that includes breaks along the way to rest and eat.
The Upper Eagle River is geared more toward intermediate- and expert-level rafters and kayakers. Most of the upper section is rated Class III, but there are some more involved parts that are rated Class IV. Overall, you’ll have your work cut out for you, but you’re sure to enjoy every second of it.
If you’re rafting the Eagle River, be sure to check out the popular Whitewater Park in Avon. Avon’s Whitewater Park offers an invigorating freestyle kayaking experience. Located directly under Bob the Bridge on Avon Road, the park is 350 feet in length. When you’re not rafting, grab a pole and try your hand at fishing!
It’s actually the Arkansas River, not the Colorado River, which is the most rafted waterway in the state. The east-flowing river has a few excellent spots to put in around Colorado, but the family favorite is clearly the Browns Canyon National Monument section near Buena Vista, about a 2-hour drive from downtown Denver. While it’s a little further trek than the others on the list, it shouldn’t be missed. The Numbers section presents an ideal stretch of Class IV rapids, while the Pine Creek run that follows is a solid Class V bad boy.
The Arkansas River originates at high elevation near Leadville and flows south past Buena Vista and Salida, then turns east toward Pueblo. The iconic Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River is about a 2 ½ hour drive from downtown Denver.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least include a short blurb about the legendary Colorado River. The quickest route to access the mighty Colorado River is to head to the town of Kremmling, a little less than 2 hours’ drive northwest of Denver.
At Kremmling, you can choose your own Colorado River adventure: there’s a calm, scenic float and one of the raucous stretches of rapids in the West. Which do you choose? Take an easy float with a stop by Jump Rock for a memorable dip in the balmy radium hot springs, or head to Gore Canyon for the Class V ride of a lifetime? This area of the Upper Colorado River has so many options you might want to plan a fun multi-day, overnight adventure just to experience it all!