Did you know there are eight major river basins whose headwaters are in Colorado? The state is rich in natural gifts, from dense forests to rushing whitewater to towering cliff faces. Colorado is an outdoor playground. If you’re looking for the best kayaking in Colorado, you don’t have to look far.
Best kayaking in Colorado
Colorado Springs is about a one-hour and 45-minute drive from Central Denver. If you’re planning a few days in the area and want to rent a kayak from the Denver metro area, there are lots of companies to choose from. Find some adventure on the North or South Catamount Reservoirs, or Eleven Mile Reservoir near Colorado Springs.
About two hours southwest of Colorado Springs by car, you’ll find the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. This is one of the most exciting and popular whitewater areas in Colorado, with rapids that are accessible for beginner to expert paddlers in most conditions. This is a popular spot, especially on summer weekends, so plan accordingly if you can.
Denver has a great selection of paddlesports outfitters in the city, so you can gear up and hit the road to one of Colorado’s many great kayaking destinations.
Just outside of Denver you’ll find the South Platte River—this is a very urban section of whitewater, making it as accessible as it is beautiful. With Confluence Kayaks close by to get all your rental gear from, you can’t go wrong with a day trip here.
Just over two and a half hours’ driving time out of Denver is Granite. Granite has some excellent whitewater kayaking on the Arkansas River, ranging from class I to IV rapids. American Whitewater says this stretch of the Arkansas is “widely considered the best class IV run in the state of Colorado.”
Options are the name of the game if you’re looking for kayaking in Aspen. You have the mighty Colorado River, Roaring Fork River and the Arkansas River to choose from.
There are lots of options for differing skill levels here. If you are an adventurous beginner, consider a guided inflatable kayak trip on Roaring Forks. Inflatable kayaks, or “duckies,” are a great option for beginners and paddlers looking to build confidence.
Inflatable kayaks are popular in this area, and you’ll find most rental companies offer both tours and day rentals for inflatable kayaks.
Guided trips & lessons
Head out on the Animas River in Durango for some unforgettable kayaking in Colorado. Rentals in this area are more likely to be inflatable kayaks, as are the boats used by guide companies. If you’re looking for a whitewater kayak, you’ll have to rent outside of Durango.
Several tour companies in Durango offer the option of taking an inflatable kayak alongside the full size rafts, so you can get a whitewater kayaking experience while others in your group ride the rapids in a raft.
Guided trips and lessons
If you’re more in the intermediate class of paddler, check out Boulder Creek in the late spring. When runoff is high, this isn’t a beginner-friendly time, but if you’re a more seasoned whitewater paddler, hit the river here. Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder also boasts a 20-slalom-gate course where you can work on technique and get some river time in.
There are several rivers to choose from for a whitewater kayaking day near Boulder. Clear Creek, Cache La Poudre and Boulder Creek will set you up for some of the best kayaking in Colorado.
There are several tour companies in the area that specialize in package tours, canoeing and rafting experiences.
Guided trips and lessons
Lakes to kayak in Colorado
Near Denver and looking for a pristine Colorado lake kayaking experience? Evergreen Lake won’t disappoint. With a gorgeous log lakehouse, boat rentals, golfing, restaurants and endless scenery to relax your senses, this is an ideal spot for a getaway that isn’t a long drive from Denver.
You can rent kayaks directly from Evergreen Lake House.
Navajo Reservoir spans the Colorado-New Mexico border and is an incredibly beautiful place to kayak in Colorado. Calm, blue water meets land that leans toward desert but hasn’t yet lost the evergreen trees of the mountains to the north. The reservoir is 35 miles long and offers kayakers plenty of room to play.
This is a great spot to set up a base camp for adventures in Southern Colorado. Slightly less than an hour’s drive from Durango, Navajo State Park offers campgrounds that are open year-round. If you’re an angler, you can expect to catch crappie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, trout, bluegill and catfish in the reservoir.
Colorado kayak camping trips
Colorado has great kayak camping opportunities, and you should absolutely consider this option if your timeline allows. A few routes to consider would be:
Take a trip down the Arkansas River and stay at one of the many campgrounds operated by the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. Don’t want to book at an established campground? Dispersed camping is also an option. You can read more about how to find a place to camp and the rules to follow here.
Colorado kayak laws
In Colorado, manually propelled boats do not need to be registered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. That said, all canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and non-motorized rafts must be marked with the owner’s name and current address.
You also need to make sure to have one Coast Guard-approved PFD for each person on board at all times. If your canoe, kayak or paddleboard is 16 feet long or more, you must also carry one Type IV throwable flotation device.
All vessels are required to display navigation lights between sunset and sunrise, as well as during times of restricted visibility.
All vessels less than 40 feet in length, except hand-propelled vessels when on whitewater, must have on board a sound-producing device for signaling.