Colorado is home to some of the most popular whitewater rafting in the world. With over 150 named rivers, one of which being the mighty Colorado that carved the Grand Canyon, and rapids that range from family-friendly to dangerous, it’s no wonder the Centennial State has gained so much attention among avid rafters and vacationers alike.
If you’re thinking about going whitewater rafting in Colorado, check out the most popular rivers, best guided rafting companies, important points about safety and general trip planning information below.
Best whitewater rafting in Colorado
The following rivers and areas of the state will give you a good jumping-off point for figuring out where exactly you want to go rafting in Colorado. Ranging from short, exciting trips the whole family can enjoy to extreme, full-day journeys, you’re sure to find a river and trip that suits you.
Performance Tours – The Arkansas River provides some of the best get-your-heart-pumping whitewater rafting in the state. The Numbers section is a particularly popular one among avid rafters. Although Performance Tours doesn’t state that you need previous whitewater experience for their half-day tour of this area, it would probably be wise as you will be paddling hard over class IV and V rapids continuously. This trip is recommended for people age 16+ and starts at $85 per person.
Royal Gorge Rafting – With half- and full-day options available, Royal Gorge Rafting offers tours of the world-famous Royal Gorge along the Arkansas. Thrill-seekers will navigate rapids ranging from class III to V as they whiz by steep canyon walls and under the tallest suspension bridge in the world. The minimum age for this trip is 13 to 16+ (depending on water conditions) and starts at $89 per person.
Performance Tours – For another exciting tour through Performance Outfitters, check out the Browns Canyon National Monument Three-Quarter-Day trip. Before departing on your adventure, you’ll enjoy a provided lunch before hitting the class III rapids. This trip is acceptable for ages 7+ ($110 each) and first-time adults ($115 each).
Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting – Although the Blue River has a short season for rafting, this Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting trip is just minutes from town. The Blue River offers intermediate rafting and incredible views of the Gore Range along the way, making it a great family-friendly trip on the water. Prices start at $66 per person (ages 5+).
The Adventure Company – For a more personalized experience rafting the popular Numbers section of the Arkansas River, check out the options The Adventure Company offers. Choose from a half, three-quarter or full day on the water, as well as a small group (one to five people), medium group (six to nine people) or large group (10+ people). Prices start at $86 for half-day trips and 14 is the minimum age suggested to navigate these class IV rapids. First-timers in good health and veteran rafters are both welcome.
American Adventure Expeditions – Another great outfitter for Browns Canyon trips based in the Buena Vista area is American Adventure Expeditions. Whether you choose the half-day or full-day option, you’ll enjoy intermediate rapids mixed with calm stretches, where you can take in the awesome views of the Rocky Mountains. Half-day trips start at $79 per person for ages 7+. This trip is perfect for first-time rafters and families.
Colorado Adventure Center – No matter what level of difficulty you’re looking for on Clear Creek, Colorado Adventure Center has it. For hardcore adventure-seekers, try out a half-day trip down the most extreme, technical stretch of the river. Be ready to get wet on this fast, wild ride through class IV and V rapids. This tour is recommended for ages 16+ with prior whitewater experience, strong swimming abilities and good physical health. Prices begin at $79 per person.
Adventures in Whitewater – For a more relaxed adventure on Clear Creek, check out the Beginner’s Bonanza Tour through Adventures in Whitewater. The class III rapids are great fun for the whole family along this calmer six-mile stretch of river. Enjoy an in-person look at the gold rush days as you raft past as well. This three-hour tour is $49 per person and kids age 6 and up can enjoy the ride.
Adventures in Whitewater – Departing from Kremmling, CO, Adventures in Whitewater’s half-day (four-hour) float trip is perfect for the entire family. You’ll tackle class II and III rapids that are exciting and fun, but not overly difficult and technical. According to their website, children weighing a minimum of 30 pounds can join in on the fun, with their tickets starting at $54 and adults at $59.
Timberline Tours – For another fun, family-friendly raft trip on the Colorado, head to the popular Vail area with Timberline Tours. This 4.5-hour float includes class II rapids and plenty of great scenery along the way. Prices for children (6 and under) start at $55 each and $105 per adult (13 and older).
Raft Masters – Looking for a multi-night rafting trip? Plenty can be found from numerous outfitters around the state, including Raft Masters. Their two-day, family-friendly trip will take you through an easy class II and III section of the Arkansas River known as the Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Your guides will even set up camp for you and make your dinner! Children must weigh at least 50 pounds and prices for both children and adults are $399 per person. This trip begins in Canon City, about an hour and 15 minutes southwest of Colorado Springs.
Echo Canyon Rafting – For something a little more adrenaline-inducing for intermediate to experienced whitewater rafters, check out the Royal Gorge tour through Echo Canyon Rafting. One of the most popular whitewater rafting locations in the state, the vertigo-inducing cliff walls and class III and IV rapids on this section of the Arkansas River are sure to thrill anyone. This trip is recommended for ages 14+ (dependent on water conditions) and starts at $89 for half-day and $149 for full-day.
Geo Tours – For a manageable, but fun, trip on nearby Clear Creek, look into the Mountain Lion tour through Denver’s Geo Tours. First-time paddlers will get their feet (and everything else!) wet with class III rapids, navigating Castle Falls, Dizzy Lizzy Rapid and even one called Twister Rapid. Children 50 pounds and above are accepted and half-day prices begin at $49 per child and $55 per adult.
Denver Adventures – For a super adventurous trip on Clear Creek through the Rocky Mountains, head out with Denver Adventures. Dive right into the class IV rapids on this relentless trip through the mountains. This tour is for experienced rafters only and available only during times of optimal water levels, so be sure to check in before you plan or book your trip. Call 303-984-6151 for prices.
Rapid Transit Rafting – What could be better than a whitewater rafting trip? Getting to take a peek at the sights of Rocky Mountain National Park on the way to your launch site! Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides offers a full-day experience on the Colorado River’s class II and III rapids. Pass by some old miner’s cabins, look for bald eagles, and stop for lunch along your route. This is a great trip for families and prices start at $120 per person.
Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides – For a more intense trip, head out on Clear Creek for a half-day trip with Colorado Wilderness Rides & Guides. You’ll navigate class II, III and IV rapids, with the majority being the latter two. This tour is available to people aged 15+ and open to ambitious first-timers and experienced rafters alike. Call 720-897-1210 for prices.
Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting – If you’re looking for a calmer trip on Clear Creek, check out the beginner trip from Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting. The class II and III rapids are thrilling and fun enough to keep everyone entertained without being too scary as you float past an old gold mine and mill, and look for bighorn sheep along the way. This trip is available to kids and adults age 5 and over. Prices begin at $49 per child and $58 per adult.
AVA – For an all-day adventure on some of Colorado’s best whitewater, look into the Phoenix Full-Day trip from Ava. Travel down 20 miles of non-stop Clear Creek class IV and V rapids (don’t worry, you’ll get a break for lunch near Idaho Springs). This trip is open to people aged 15+, but it is noted that you should be in good physical condition due to the length and strenuousness of the paddle.
Defiance Rafting – Looking for a beginner-friendly, but adrenaline-inducing Colorado whitewater rafting trip through another popular rafting area in the state? Join Defiance Rafting on their Glenwood Canyon half-day tour, navigating class III and IV rapids. This trip is open to guests 50 pounds and above. Children start at $49 and adults (13+) are $59. Price includes snacks and drinks.
Whitewater Rafting LLC – For an even more intense whitewater experience, raft the Shoshone Rapids with Whitewater Rafting LLC. This tour only lasts about two hours, but you will be paddling your heart out the entire time… twice over! Once you get through Shoshone, Tombstone, The Maneater and more, you’ll shuttle back and go a second time on an even more challenging route. Rapids range from class III to IV, depending on the season, and the tour is available for ages 5+, though it is recommended for fit individuals due to the constant paddling and having to help carry the raft a short ways. Prices start at $45 per child and $50 per adult.
Although at this time there do not appear to be any outfitters offering guided trips on the White River in the northwestern part of Colorado, this guide from Colorado Mesa University is an excellent resource in planning your own whitewater rafting trip. It includes obstacles to look out for, shuttling options, maps and more. Rapids on the South Fork of the river range from class III to IV, so you should be an experienced rafter in good physical condition, a strong swimmer, and capable of self-rescue before attempting your trip.
What to wear whitewater rafting in Colorado
Although some outfitters suggest bathing suits as being acceptable attire on whitewater rafting trips, it may be a better idea to rent a neoprene wetsuit and booties as the water temperatures range between 48 and 65°F and you WILL get wet. Here are some other items to wear/bring with you on your adventure.
- Sunglasses (with a band to prevent losing them)
- Warm/dry clothes to change into afterward
- Water shoes or sandals with straps (again, to prevent losing them during your trip) or tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet
- Quick-drying shorts and t-shirt (no cotton clothing)
Many tour companies will offer paddling jackets for rent or include them in the price of your tour. If you’re looking to buy your own paddling attire, check out our Paddling Buyer’s Guide.
When is whitewater rafting season in Colorado?
The answer to the question of when to go whitewater rafting in Colorado depends on what kind of trip you are looking for. In general, the rafting season runs from May through September. Springtime is perhaps a better time for those with previous whitewater rafting experience to visit as the snowmelt on the mountains makes for higher water levels and increased flow in rivers.
The water levels become much more manageable in the summer, making it a better time for beginners or families with children to go. The season typically wraps up around Labor Day but, depending on water levels, can last into October. This River Runners article offers more detailed information on typical water conditions by month. Be sure to check with your outfitter of choice before planning your trip.
How much is whitewater rafting in Colorado?
The above-mentioned tours offer a wide array of options, giving you a good idea of what to expect to pay for a rafting trip. In general, tours run between $50 and $150 per person. Prices are dependent on a number of factors, including the length of trip, difficulty, age of the participant and location. Keep in mind these prices may or may not include things such as snacks and paddle jackets, which may cost extra.
How dangerous is whitewater rafting in Colorado?
With above-average incidents of whitewater rafting deaths in the early season of 2019, there has been some speculation about the safety of the activity in general and the precautions Colorado outfitters are taking on their guided tours. However, the majority of the deaths last year were individuals going out on their own; only a handful happened on outfitted trips. Likely, these incidents were caused by the wet winter and spring Colorado experienced, increasing the water levels of the rivers more than usual.
If you’re more of a numbers person, here are some general whitewater statistics to consider. Between six and 10 deaths occur for each 2.5 million user days on guided tours according to American Whitewater. This is one death for every 250,000 to 400,000 person visits. Interestingly, 30% of these are due to heart conditions and heart attacks, which is why it is always emphasized that you be in good health when choosing to participate in a whitewater rafting trip.
Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing the whitewater trip that is right (and safe) for you and your group:
- If you are inexperienced and/or have children in your group, choose a trip with lower-class rapids (III and under)
- Always check water conditions with your outfitter of choice before your trip to make sure they will be safe for everyone in your party
- Choose a reputable company with experienced guides that have lots of knowledge of and experience on the river you are rafting. Look for a company whose guides are certified in CPR and First Aid. Guides should provide safety briefings before you embark on the water.
- PFDs should be provided by all tour companies, with most offering helmets as well
- A good outfitter will raise the age limits based on water levels and conditions. They will also be able to help you ascertain which river, section, trip offering, etc. is right for you or your group. (i.e. lower-class rapids for families with young kids). It is also wise to look into a company’s safety record, years in business, safety certifications, and guide training procedures when possible. Licensing and safety inspections are conducted yearly by state forest rangers.
Whether you’re looking for a “splashy fun” whitewater adventure to experience with the family or a challenging, relentless run down one of Colorado’s most popular rivers, you’re sure to find the whitewater trip of a lifetime in the Centennial State!