Arkansas River is among the most rafted rivers in the country. And for good reason! Trips depart daily at various sections of the river, between Leadville and Canon City.
All levels will find suitable rides, from a gentle family float, to Class IV and V whitewater. Whitewater rafting in Colorado has never been more popular or more exciting. And you can do it nearly anywhere in the Rocky Mountains.
4 Rafting trips in Buena Vista, Salida and Cañon City
Due to its close proximity to the Front Range, the Arkansas River is probably the most popular waterway to raft in Colorado. It starts high up in Leadville, heading south past Buena Vista, Salida and then east to Cañon City and the Great Plaines.
Along the Arkansas River’s long journey from the snow peaked mountains of Leadville, southeast to the Colorado plains past Pueblo, there are many remarkable spots to launch your raft. Many are located within the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, a state park with various developed areas north to south. The most rafted stretches of river include from Buena Vista to Salida to Canon City. Here are the four most popular sections of the Arkansas River to raft:
1. The Numbers
Advanced near Buena Vista – This section offers many channels, drops, heart pounding action and rocky whitewater rafting. It’s one of the most difficult sections that you can commercially raft in Colorado, as it has a high alpine setting that sends you through a day’s length of adventure and difficult paddling.
It contains many Class IV and V rapids, so it’s not for beginning rafters. You can do a whole day or a half day, from three hours to six.
2. Browns Canyon
Beginner/Intermediate near Buena Vista – Rafting down a remote canyon, Browns Canyon National Monument offers you a great family trip that is not as difficult as The Numbers but still offers plenty of fun and memories. It’s considered one of the best sections to whitewater raft in the world, having a perfect balance of calamity and exciting, non-stop rapids.
Some of the best rapids are provided here, such as Zoom Flume, Big Drop, and the Toilet Bowl. It’s great for first-timers and you can find trips from three hours to six hours.
3. Bighorn Sheep Canyon
Beginner/Intermediate near Cañon City – If nature and wildlife is what you’re looking for, Bighorn Sheep Canyon is for you. Rafting through Colorado’s San Isabel National Forest, there’s a good chance of seeing Bighorn Sheep on this stretch.
Keep your eyes peeled on the mountainside, in-between rapids like Shark’s Tooth, Double Dip, and Kamikaze. Anybody can partake on this journey that lasts from three to six hours in length.
4. Royal Gorge
Advanced near Cañon City – Raft through a canyon with granite walls over 1,000 feet, floating through waves so large that you get soaked from head to toe. The Royal Gorge is rated one of the top 10 whitewater rafting trips in the country, thanks to its large walls, exciting rapids and the world’s highest suspension bridge at over 1,100 feet high.
You will go through rapids such as Sunshine Falls, Boat Eater, and Wall Slammer. Both half and full day trips are available.
About the Author:
American Adventure Expedition has been rafting the Arkansas for over 20 years. They have two riverside outposts, one in Buena Vista and the other at Royal Gorge. Check out their website today.
Arkansas River Rafting Trips
Most can be either a half or full day. The headwaters begins in Leadville, with most folks rafting the Browns Canyon section south from Buena Vista. The Royal Gorge is big in Canon City.
- The Numbers – Class III to V whitewater beginning at 9,000 feet with views of the Continental Divide near Buena Vista.
- Browns Canyon – An exciting, family-friendly whitewater near Buena Vista. The river passes by the 14,000 foot Collegiate Peaks.
- Bighorn Sheep Canyon – A mix of mild to moderate whitewater, located between Salida and Canon City.
- Royal Gorge Region – Offers some of the most continuous whitewater in Colorado, with some Class IV to V. It’s all capped off riding underneath the world’s highest suspension bridge.
- Many trips can be combined into a 1/2 day rafting with zipping, riding a train, or ATVing. Echo Canyon River Expeditions even offers a mule ride and bridge visit package.
Arkansas River Rafting Guides
- American Adventure Expeditions
- Arkansas Valley Adventures
- Clear Creek Rafting Company
- Echo Canyon River Expeditions
- Lost Paddle Rafting
- Mile-Hi Rafting
- Raft Masters
- River Runners
- Royal Gorge Rafting
- Whitewater Adventure Outfitters
- Wilderness Aware Rafting
Watch our video on rafting Browns Canyon, from a spring rafting on the Arkansas. June 13th trip down the Arkansas River at Browns Canyon, flowing at 4000 CFS:
Class: I-V (depend on section)