Planning your Colorado rafting trip in a high-water year

Posted on February 27, 2019

Colorado whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River.

The Arkansas River Basin snowpack is above average.

Every few years we get an above average snowpack in Colorado, which results in high flows on creeks and rivers during the spring and summer. This is looking to be one of those epic whitewater years.

Colorado’s river basins are all in great shape with a statewide snowpack of 114% of normal. The Arkansas River Basin, which is the most popular for whitewater rafting, is at 125% of normal (198% of last year). This is good news if you plan to raft the Arkansas River in Colorado this spring, summer, or fall.

There are six more weeks of potential snowpack accumulation, so the total is not final. The way things are looking though, it is likely to be a stellar whitewater rafting season in Colorado. It is for this reason we have put together some general guidelines for planning your Colorado rafting trip in a high-water year.

Please note: These are general guidelines for the Arkansas River. Call 800-723-8987 for current conditions.

River Runners Spring Sale

  • 20% Off Full Day Rafting Tours – PROMO CODE: Spring20
  • 10% Off All Other Tours – PROMO CODE: Spring10
  • Raft April through September
  • Offer expires April 1, 2019
  • Questions? Call 800-723-8987

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Pre-runoff: April – mid-May

River Runners will start rafting the Arkansas River on Saturday, April 7. This is before the snow starts to melt, so flows will likely be lower. There will be opportunities for challenging low-flow whitewater and solitude on the river. A limited schedule of half-day trips will be available on the Family Float, Browns Canyon, Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and the Royal Gorge sections.

Pro tips

Start of the runoff: mid-May through Memorial Day Weekend

As the weather warms up and overnight lows creep above freezing in the high country, snow will begin to melt and have a noticeable impact on flows in creeks and main-stem rivers. This can vary by a week or so but usually starts to happen around mid-May. This is a good time to get out on Browns Canyon before peak or hit up the Numbers or the Royal Gorge before high water closures kick in.

Pro tips

  • The regular season starts May 18
  • Splashy conditions
  • Age limits are expected to be as posted

High water and peak runoff: June

High water will likely be in full effect by the first week of June with peak runoff occurring around mid-June or a little later in some high-water years. This is when you find the biggest waves and most exciting whitewater. The Numbers and Royal Gorge sections may close for a few weeks during this time. If you book one of these trips during a closure, we will take you on another advanced whitewater run sure to impress even the biggest adrenaline junkies.

Pro tips

  • Age restrictions may be raised during this time
  • Milk Run section for kids as young as six years old
  • Certain trips will be re-routed for safety
  • Call 800-723-8987 for current conditions
  • Looking for excitement? BOOK DURING THIS TIME

Moderate flows: July – August 15

Even in high water years the flows usually drop to moderate levels in July. While they may be above average, things tend to return to more normal operations during this time. The bottom line, July is a great time to raft the Arkansas River – especially in high water years. While it may not be necessary, the Voluntary Flow Management Program (VFMP) should keep flows from dropping below 700 cubic feet per second (CFS) until after August 15. It is best to book your rafting trip before this date if possible.

Pro tips

  • Splashy conditions
  • Age limits are expected to be as posted
  • Best time for families and timid rafters

Low water: August 16 – September

The shoulder season will likely see sub 700 CFS, but will still offer a great experience from Browns Canyon through the Royal Gorge. The Numbers will be day-to-day but may continue running into late August.

Pro tips

  • Shoulder season
  • Best whitewater in the Royal Gorge
  • Warm weather
  • No crowds, except Labor Day weekend