Browns Canyon Rafting

What to Expect on a Colorado Whitewater River Rafting Trip

Are you going rafting in Colorado for the first time? For some of you the idea of a whitewater river trip may conjure up images from disturbing Hollywood movies like Deliverance, but you can put your fear of dueling banjos to rest. The information below will give you an idea of what it’s really like whitewater rafting with family and friends in Colorado.

No Dueling Banjos Here

One of the many great things about Colorado river rafting is the wide range of options available. If you’re timid about running rapids or you have young children between the ages of three and five, a scenic class II float may be the trip for you. More adventurous families with kids between the ages of six and 13 will have more fun on a class III rafting trip. If you’re at least 14 and want more excitement, you’ll enjoy rafting class IV-V rapids.

Browns Canyon Rafting
First time river rafting in Colorado? Start with a scenic class II float trip.

Next decide how long you want to be on the river. This can range from one hour to five days or even more in some cases. The most popular rafting trips on the Arkansas River in Colorado are half-day (three hours), full-day (six hours) and overnight (32 hours).

Regardless of the length and difficulty you choose, the best way to have a good river rafting experience is to go with a trusted whitewater rafting company. The Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) and the Arkansas River Outfitters Association (AROA) are good resources when researching rafting companies in Colorado. Other considerations are location and what rivers they run.

Once you’ve chosen the difficulty, length, location and company, it’s time to book your rafting trip. The Colorado whitewater rafting season runs from April through Labor Day. Your date may be predetermined by your vacation schedule, but if not, consider that peak runoff (high water) is usually late-May through June, while peak tourist season (and warmer weather) is late-June through August. It’s best to book in advance, whichever date you choose.

On the day of your rafting trip you’ll be asked to arrive 45 minutes prior to your scheduled departure to check in and sign waivers. Recommended attire is a swimsuit, sandals with straps around the heel, sun glasses and synthetic clothing (no cotton). You should also bring sun block and a water bottle. Wetsuits, splash tops and neoprene booties are available for rent.

Colorado River Outfitters Association Safety Video

Next you will be fitted for a personal flotation device (pfd) and helmet. The trip leader will give a safety talk and introduce you to your guide.

Finally, it’s time to get on the water. In most cases this requires a bus or van ride to the put-in (although some rafting companies have locations on the river). Once at the put-in your guide will go over paddle commands and how to sit in the raft and then you’re off.

Most sections start with some casual floating before you encounter any rapids. This allows you to enjoy scenery and get used to paddling. After some time on the water you will come to the first rapid. Your guide will call commands like “all forward”, “all back”, “right back”, “left back”, and “stop”. Depending on the water level and difficulty of the trip, waves may come crashing down over your head.

Shuttles are provided by the rafting company.
Shuttles to and from the river are provided by the rafting company.

Some sections are drop-pool, which have a rapid followed by a flat pool. More advanced sections have continuous rapids that can last a mile or longer. Regardless you should be ready to paddle and have fun.

Full-day trips stop for a riverside lunch prepared by the guides. You may also have the opportunity to swim and jump off rocks into the river. Upon the trips conclusion you will be picked up by a shuttle vehicle and taken back to the rafting company.

If you’re still nervous about whitewater rafting in Colorado, remember that you can start with a mellow float and work up from there. You can also request a senior guide and an oar boat (if you don’t want to paddle).

For more information about whitewater rafting in Colorado you can call River Runners at 800-723-8987.