Among the state of Colorado’s 29 rafting sections, the Arkansas River offers the longest stretch of whitewater, the longest boating season into September, and hosts more than 40 percent of the state’s visitors who go rafting, making it the country’s most popular whitewater rafting destination.
According to the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, variety is what draws people to the Arkansas River. Beginning as a trickle high in the Colorado Rockies, the whitewater drives southeast through Colorado, offering Class II-V sections as it drops 4,650 feet over 100 miles before leaving the Rockies and making its journey towards the Mississippi.
Thrill seekers can enjoy sections such as the Royal Gorge and the Numbers, which offer some of the country’s most technical challenges, but mild float trips are also available for the less daring. The iconic Class III-IV run in Browns Canyon National Monument — popular for its granite spire walls that plunge to the river’s banks — is available to kids ages 7 and up.
Bob Hamel, executive director of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, says “there are so many options on miles of river, from family float trips to advanced whitewater paddling, and inflatable kayaking to stand-up paddle board lessons.” A high snow pack set 2017 up to be a banner year for rafting. “A slightly higher than average snowpack means an excellent rafting season,” said Mark Hammer, owner of The Adventure Company in Buena Vista, Colorado. “We are [anticipating] good water levels with minimum high-water closures. It’s really a perfect situation.”
The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area follows the river’s length, providing visitors dozens of entry points near Buena Vista, Salida, and Cañon City. Nearly a quarter of a million visitors went rafting on 44,000 commercially guided trips last year, according to park managers. The Arkansas River Valley also attracts kayakers and private boaters from around the world.