A guide to rafting near Aspen/Snowmass
February 11, 2004
The snows of winter have turned liquid and are providing summer fun on area rivers. Spring runoff guarantees a summer of excellent rafting on the Roaring Fork, Colorado and Arkansas Rivers.
Rafting companies offer trips of varying lengths and all of them are a blast. River runners can take guided tours of the Roaring Fork River, which parallels Highway 82 from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, the Colorado River, which sweeps through Glenwood Canyon on its long journey to the Sea of Cortez and the Arkansas River, borne out of the highest peaks in the state near Leadville.
No matter which river you choose to run, the hypnotic roar of the water provides an underlying symphony for the constantly changing backdrop of forests, mountain ranges, ranchlands and cliffs that the rafts float by.
Rapids are classified in classes 1 through 6. The first is flat water and 6 is so unruly that it is unrunable. Local rafting companies typically run rivers sprinkled with everything from Class 2 to Class 4.
Trips on the Upper Roaring Fork River begin in Woody Creek and zip through Snowmass Canyon and Wingo Junction. Probably the most exciting set of rapids in this section is called “Toothache,” which is visible from the highway.
Another popular section of the Upper Fork is Slaughterhouse, which begins off Cemetery Lane in Aspen. At peak season, which is June and early July, the rapids can be Class 5. The Slaughterhouse section even offers a waterfall.
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As summer progresses, the Lower Roaring Fork River and the thrilling Shoshone rapids on the Colorado River become the most popular trips. The Lower Fork is runable all season and the logical choice for novice rafters and families.
The Lower Roaring Fork route meanders beyond pastures and oblivious bovine, snakes under bridges and through sizable waves in the Cemetery rapids before meeting up with the mighty Colorado River. The trip ends at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs.
The Colorado River offers two distinctive sections for rafters — South Canyon — a mellow, family-oriented ride and the Shoshone, a short twisting thrilling journey through some pretty big waves.
But if you want to really experience big water, then the Arkansas River remains the top choice for river runners who want a wild ride. Fed by the waters of the Sawatch Range, the Arkansas River boasts rapids with names like “Pinball,” “Siedel’s Suckhole,” and the “Zoom Flume,” that will definitely get your attention.
The gentle-sounding Pine Creek section of the Arkansas was misnamed. At the peak runoff, the Pine Creek rapids whirl like a washer’s spin cycle. Only strong swimmers are allowed to make the journey.
Just downstream from the Pine Creek is the Numbers, a wild countdown to holes, chutes and falls. Farther down on the Arkansas between Buena Vista and Salida, are the stair steps of Brown’s Canyon — the most popular section for rafting and requires a whole day dedicated to river running.
The rafting outfitters in the area truly offer a variety of experiences. Passengers should expect to get a little wet during their ride. Every once in a while, someone may even go overboard so that’s why lifejackets are required at all times and minimum age limits are enforced.
Rafting outfitters will provide you with gear to make your trip more enjoyable, and most companies provide either lunch or refreshments during the trip. Most companies also offer group and corporate trips, and they run the rivers from May to October.