March 26, 2023

The Best Whitewater Rafting in Colorado | Travel | US News

Note: Some tour providers on this list may have limited or ceased operations due to COVID-19. Check with your tour operator about availability before you book.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced whitewater rafter, these tours have got you covered. U.S. News, after considering expert input and consumer sentiment, determined the following rafting trips are the best in Colorado. While they are offered in different parts of the state and promise varying levels of difficulty, all feature trained guides to help you navigate the rapids.

Rapids are rated on a six-level scale, ranging from Class I (the easiest) to Class VI (considered dangerous and unnavigable). Companies typically identify the type of rapids you’ll encounter on the trip within their tour descriptions. Know that you’re not likely to experience anything higher than Class IV. Additionally, it’s important to know that rafting expeditions have age and weight requirements. You’ll also be charged land and water access fees, which benefit state and/or national parks associations.

Colorado Adventure Center – Clear Creek Beginner Rafting Trip

Those with no previous whitewater rafting experience can enjoy both exciting rapids and peaceful paddling on this outing. Sights along the course include historic mining areas, including the town of Idaho Springs, as well as a water wheel. Past patrons consistently call the guides skillful, personable and engaging. Tours, which last approximately one-third of a day, are offered twice daily from late May through early September starting at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets start at $56 for adults and $51 for children 7 to 12. Trips depart from Dumont, Colorado, which is located about 35 miles west of Denver. In addition to half-day trips for more advanced rafters, Colorado Adventure Center offers other activities, such as zip lines, as well as combination packages.

Whitewater Rafting LLC – Full Day Rafting Trip

Navigate intermediate to more intense rapids (Class III and IV) on this expedition through the Colorado River’s Shoshone Rapids in Glenwood Canyon. The approximately six-hour outing also includes time on calmer waters, in which rafters may swim or switch to inflatable kayaks, as well as a hot catered lunch. In all, the trip covers 14 to 25 river miles, depending on conditions. Guides not only skillfully negotiate the waters; they also provide historical information about the region, which participants generally appreciate. Fees start at $104 for adults and $82 for children 5 to 12. Trips take place from May through mid-September, departing at 9 a.m. from Memorial Day weekend to mid-August and at 10 a.m. earlier and later in the season. Trips depart from Glenwood Springs, about 65 miles west of Vail. Whitewater Rafting LLC also offers shorter trips as well as private excursions.

Royal Gorge Rafting and Zip Line Tours – The World Famous Royal Gorge

Ride the Arkansas River through the 1,200-foot deep Royal Gorge on intermediate- and advanced-level rapids (Class III and IV and, depending on the time of year, V) including the Sledgehammer and Sunshine Falls. Guides earn plaudits for their helpful instruction and professionalism. This rafting trip is offered in half-day (three-hour) and full-day (six-hour) iterations. Tickets start at around $89 for the former and $149 for the latter. The price of the longer outing includes lunch. From April through September, tours commence at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., with additional 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. departures on popular days. Full-day tours start at 10 a.m. from April through September. Trips depart from Cañon City, which is about 45 miles southwest of Colorado Springs. Packages combining rafting with zip lines are also available.

Aspen Whitewater Rafting – Slaughterhouse Falls

Tackle advanced-level (Class IV) rapids like Hell’s Half Mile, Slaughterhouse Falls and Entrance Exam on the Roaring Fork River during this half-day outing. Rafters regularly describe the guides as adept and friendly. They also say the trip is exhilarating. Trips are offered daily from mid-May to mid-August with start times at 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets start at $103, which includes round-trip shuttle service to nearby Aspen as well as snacks and use of safety gear. For water sport enthusiasts with less whitewater rafting experience, Aspen Whitewater Rafting also offers beginner- and intermediate-level excursions as well as kayak trips and private tours.

Lost Paddle Rafting – Bighorn Sheep Canyon Half-Day Rafting

Families with children or novice rafters might want to book this expedition intended to be an introduction to the sport. In addition to rafting through Bighorn Sheep Canyon, this three-hour tour includes time for splashing in a swimming hole as well as plenty of wildlife watching. Past patrons find the guides exceptionally helpful, knowledgeable and friendly. Tours occur two times daily from late April through mid-September, departing from Cañon City at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tickets cost around $65 for adults and $55 for children 6 to 12. Full-day and overnight rafting trips in Bighorn Sheep Canyon, as well as trips in Royal Gorge are available, as are mountain biking tours.

Wilderness Aware Rafting – Browns Canyon Half Day Trip

Travel approximately 10 miles of the Arkansas River, through Class III and IV rapids known as Zoom Flume and Seven Stairs (among other colorful names), on this half-day rafting trip. Reviewers are impressed with the guides’ skillful navigation and entertaining commentary. Trips are offered daily, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., from May 1 through early September. Tickets cost around $85, which includes post-rafting snacks on the drive back to the company’s base in Buena Vista; the fee also includes a light breakfast for morning excursions. Buena Vista is located about 55 miles south of Breckenridge. A full-day Browns Canyon rafting trip, among other options, is also available.

Best Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

Colorado’s rapids are best navigated with the help of a local guide.Getty Images

Noah’s Ark Colorado Rafting – Browns Canyon Full Day

Spend four to five hours rafting through the Rocky Mountain scenery of Browns Canyon National Monument on this 16-mile trip, which also includes a deli-style lunch. No prior experience is required to ride the intermediate- to advanced-level (Class III and IV) rapids encountered on this stretch of the Arkansas River. Rafters appreciate the guides’ professionalism and commitment to safety. In May and August, trips being at 8 a.m.; in June and July, they start at 8:45 a.m. It costs about $115 for adults and $105 for children 6 to 12 to participate, and prices cover equipment use and food. In addition to a half-day version of the Browns Canyon rafting trip, Buena Vista-based Noah’s Ark offers backpacking and rock climbing activities, as well as combination packages.

Mountain Whitewater – Poudre Splash Half Day

Explore moderate to fairly powerful rapids (Classes II, III and IV) on the Cache La Poudre River during this 8-mile ride. Guides consistently win high marks for their expertise and entertaining banter. Tours take place twice daily from mid-June through August, with meeting times at 7:30 and 11:30 a.m. Tickets cost approximately $70 and include round-trip transportation via a scenic byway to the company’s base of operations in Fort Collins. (Outings last approximately four hours, with about two hours on the water.) Half-day rafting trips with rapids of greater intensity, as well as full-day and two-day outings are also available.

Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours – 1 Day Telluride Rafting Trip

Spend a day on Telluride‘s San Miguel River splashing through mild (Class II) and occasionally more forceful (Class III) rapids. Scenery along the way includes pine trees and red rock walls. Rafting trips are offered daily from late May through July, and the guides who conduct them are lauded for their informative commentary about the region as well as their adept handling of the raft. Tours meet at 9:45 a.m. and the day’s activities conclude around 4 p.m. Tickets start at around $150 for children 10 and 11 and $170 for participants 12 and older. The price includes a deli-style lunch. Trips on other rivers in the state, some with more vigorous rapids, are also available, as are rafting trips in Arizona and Utah.

Mountain Waters – Upper Piedra River

Paddle through both relatively tame (Class II) and more intense (Class III) rapids of the Upper Box of the Piedra River during this daylong expedition through a tree-lined canyon. Travelers regularly describe the guides as personable, knowledgeable and helpful. Trips are offered daily in May and June. Rafters meet at the company’s store in Durango – a southwest town about 25 miles north of the New Mexico border – at 9 a.m., and return there around 4 p.m. The approximately $200 tour fee includes transportation, lunch and use of equipment. Mountain Waters also offers trips through the more challenging Lower Box of the Piedra River and, when water is sufficiently high, trips through both sections as well as rafting trips on other rivers.

Performance Tours Rafting – Blue River Half Day

With mainly moderate (Class II and III) rapids, this trip is suitable for rafters of all experience levels. It winds through Boulder Canyon and features the mountain scenery of the Gore Range and the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area – a highlight for travelers. Rafters describe the guides as highly professional and skilled at navigating the rapids. Shuttles depart from the tour company’s office in Frisco at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Expect to spend between 90 minutes and two hours on the water. Tickets start at $82 for adults and $80 for children. The season for this outing generally lasts from May to early July, but can change from year to year depending on the water level. Call the company before you book to check availability. Performance Tours offers several other rafting trips of varying duration and difficulty on courses other than the Blue River.

Echo Canyon River Expeditions – Family Float

If you’re seeking a relaxed raft ride on a comparatively calm, 5-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, then this might be the right trip for you. The journey through the upper Bighorn Sheep Canyon offers views of red rock cliffs and ponderosa pines and, possibly, some of the canyon’s namesake fauna. Guides are generally deemed professional, friendly and accommodating by reviewers. Children as young as 4 (or 5 when water levels are high) can join in, and past participants find the trip well suited for youngsters. Trips, which last approximately three hours (with 90 minutes on the water), take place daily from late May to mid-August. Check-in is at 12:45 p.m. The approximately $80 per-person fee includes transportation from the tour company’s office in Cañon City as well as light snacks. Echo Canyon River Expeditions also has trips with faster rapids as well packages combining rafting with zip lines.

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