As the only designated National Wild and Scenic River in Colorado, the Cache La Poudre is one of the Centennial State’s most famous waterways. With the occasional steep drop among narrow passageways and beautiful scenery, whitewater rafting on the Cache La Poudre River is an exciting and memorable experience.
You can find rafting trips typically running on the Poudre River from mid May to early September. The more advanced whitewater is available earlier in the season, typically finishing up by the end of July/early August. Both beginner/intermediate trips with Class II and III rapids, as well as advanced trips with Class III and IV rapids are available.
Rafting Trips on the Cache La Poudre River
Although it may be intimidating to some first time rafters, there are Cache La Poudre River whitewater trips available for all skills levels. Thanks to its proximity to Fort Collins, there are many opportunities to take quarter, half, and full day trips. If you are setting out to raft the Cache La Poudre River independently, there are many great access points for put-in and take-out. In the summer, it is very common to find many riders hitchhiking the way back to their vehicle.
Rafting trips are super convenient to Fort Collins, usually meeting somewhere around town or close by. Then the shuttle will take you to your starting point and invite you to come onboard.
Whitewater Rafting Difficulty: Overall, most sections of the Cache La Poudre River range in difficulty from Class II to Class V. Although, the more advanced whitewater sections are typically only available at the beginning of the season until the end of July. Despite containing some continuously challenging sections, there are also portions of the Cache La Poudre River suitable for families.
Here are the most popular sections of the Cache La Poudre River to raft:
The Cache La Poudre River is divided into 3 designated whitewater sections, each of which can be broken down into even smaller subsections. From the west, the river is divided into the Rustic, Narrows, and Mishawaka sections. Beyond that, there is a bit more raftable water below Poudre Park. Here is a more detailed look at these portions of the Cache La Poudre River.
The Upper Rustic
The Upper Rustic section of the Cache La Poudre River begins at the Home Moraine access, passes through the community of Rustic, and ends at the Indian Meadows Picnic Area. This route is good for intermediate and adventurous beginner whitewater rafters and is primarily made up of Class III rapids.
Of all the nearly 10 miles of the Upper Rustic, the most intensive section is known as the “White Mile.” In reality, the White Mile is only a quarter of a mile, but the Class III-IV rapids do make it feel like a longer run.
The Lower Rustic
Below the bridge at the Indian Meadows Picnic Area, the Lower Rustic section flows for 8 miles down to the Narrows Picnic Area. This run is a bit more challenging than the Upper Rustic, with challenging Class IV drops in the spring and early summer.
Within the Lower Rustic, significant features include Grandpa’s Gorge and an unexpected drop just before Mountain Park Campground. The section also contains a few challenging holes that can be paddled through or avoided to the right. Along the way, there are also a few popular river surfing waves.
The Upper Narrows
If you are rafting down the Lower Rustic, it is critical inexperienced riders portage or end their trip at the Narrows Picnic Area. This is because the Upper Narrows contains three Class IV-V rapids, one after the other. The rapids (Super Collider, Cabbage Shredder, and Whiteline) can be extremely dangerous if not run properly.
The Middle Narrows
Of the three Narrows sections, the middle section is by far the most mild. That being said, it is still primarily made up of swift Class IV rapids. Namely, the Middle Narrows contains the significant Sports Car Corner and Green Footbridge rapids, which are about 1.1 miles from the Narrows Picnic Area. To avoid paddling above a Class IV rapid in the Lower Narrows, you can take-out on the left side of the river at the Highway 14 bridge.
The Lower Narrows
The Lower Narrows bring the action back with another mile of Class V rapids. This section is rocky, but also has eddies and famously long, fun rapids. At the end of the Lower Narrows, there is take-out access at Stephen’s Gulch. This point marks the end of the most difficult, three and a half mile Narrows section of the Cache La Poudre River.
The Upper Mishawaka
From Stephen’s Gulch, the Upper Mishawaka offers the most challenging whitewater experience downriver of the Narrows. Here, most of the rapids are around Class IV, especially in the early season. Rapids to look out for include Split Rock (also known as Triple Rock or Twin Pin), Tunnel Rapid, and Mishawaka Falls. At the Mishawaka Inn, rafters can stop in for a meal or a drink to complete their trip or as a pitstop, before continuing downstream.
The Lower Mishawaka
Past the Mishawaka Inn, the Lower Mishawaka is a 3 mile stretch of Class III whitewater. For beginners, the Lower Mishawaka is a great stretch of relatively easy rafting. Of course, an experience guide is also recommended for this section, as there are a few dangerous holes that need to be avoided. Take-out access for the Lower Mishawaka is commonly utilized at the Poudre Park Picnic Grounds.
Poudre Park / Bridges
From the picnic grounds, Poudre Park is a two mile section that may be intimidating for intermediate rafters. The section has low bridges, overhanging rocks, and a couple of steep holes, all of which are Class III – IV(+) rapids.
From Pineview Falls access, many whitewater rafters extend their Poudre Park trip for two additional miles to the Bridges takeout. Here, there are several more Class III – IV rapids, one of which is heavily obstructed by a bridge, and should be carefully maneuvered.
Approaching Fort Collins, the Filter Plant section of the Cache La Poudre River is a nice 2.4 mile stretch of beginner-friendly whitewater rafting. From the Filter Plant put-in, riders can travel along smooth Class II water until the take-out at Picnic Rock. There are two Class III rapids in this section, making it great for families or first time rafters.
Cache La Poudre River Rafting Guides
- A Wanderlust Adventure
- A1 Wild Water
- Arkansas Valley Adventures
- Mountain Whitewater
- Rocky Mountain Adventures
Activities near the Cache La Poudre River
After being named a National Wild and Scenic River, the Cache La Poudre was divided into two distinct designations: 46 miles of recreational use and 30 miles reserved to be wild. Within the recreational areas, the Cache La Poudre River is also popular for tubing, kayaking, and fly fishing for trout.
Above the river, the Roosevelt National Forest surround the area with hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing opportunities. There are many designated and dispersed camping opportunities scattered across and off of the route along the Cache La Poudre River.
The Mishawaka Inn is a great restaurant and bar with an outdoor concert stage sitting right above the flowing Cache La Poudre. In the summer, patrons can eat, drink or watch live music most nights of the week.
Nearby Towns (Following River West to East ):
Season: May – August