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Best of Salida  - Whitewater Rafting on the Arkansas River

Deep in the heart of land-locked Colorado sits the watersports town of Salida and a river known for its world-class rafting, the Arkansas River. The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is 148 miles of riverpark providing a challenging playground for rafters and kayakers.

Ride the Arkansas for the Thrill of Your Life

Colorado is the land of sinfully good white water and the Arkansas is the best of the best when it comes to rafting and kayaking. Flowing 150 miles from the old mining town of Climax in Lake County east through Colorado, the Arkansas provides some of the most awesome whitewater experiences in the country.

The Arkansas River is highly valued for its diverse recreation and is used by more than 500,000 rafters, kayakers, anglers, campers, and wildlife viewers each year. Of all these activities, the most dramatic is rafting its spectacular whitewater. 

Rafting trips vary in difficulty and length, allowing quite a bit of flexibility in planning that special vacation trip. There are hundreds of access sites, but the most popular are located at Granite, Buena Vista, Fisherman’s Bridge, Ruby Mountain, Hecla Junction, Stone Bridge, Big Bend, Salida, Rancor, Vallie Bridge, Lone Pine, Pinnacle Rock, Spikebuck, Parkdale, and Cañon City.

river raftingThe internationally renowned NumbersRapids lie a short distance north of Buena Vista, with views to the west of the Collegiate Peaks. These are world- class kayaking waters. The river continues through narrow Brown's Canyon where it veers away from the highway and runs alongside a railroad. Its remote character and quality rapids make this the most popular segment of the Arkansas River. Further down, 1,000-foot sheer rock walls of the Royal Gorge tower above the river as it flows into Cañon City. Rapids such as Sunshine Falls and Sledgehammer make running this stretch an adventure.

High elevation with a rather steep drop through the lower valley, combined with snowmelt from the surrounding mountains, makes for a memorable ride down the river. During the spring runoff when the river is full of freshly melted snow the temperature of the water is especially cold. Warm days and cool to freezing nights can be expected in the mountains during the summer, and thus the river remains relatively cold. July and August are usually the warmest months. During this time, afternoon thunderstorms are common. Be prepared for both warm and chilly weather, as well as for rain showers. Proper dress when participating in whitewater sports is essential. Wear shoes that can protect your feet should you unexpectedly “go for a swim” and bounce off rocks or need to walk out of a canyon in the event of an accident. Wet suits are mandatory when air and water temperature added together total 100 degrees or less. If this total is less than 80 degrees, a full set of waterproof or wool garments on top of the wet suit should be worn. To best prepare for a rafting experience, boaters should assess their own abilities and equipment in relation to the International Scale of River Difficulty.


International Scale of River Difficulty

If rapids on a river generally fit into one of the following classifications, but the water temperature is below 50 degrees F, or if the trip is an extended trip in a wilderness area, the river should be considered one class more difficult than normal. One thing to keep in mind about the following classification is that river difficulty can change from year-to-year according to fluctuating water levels, downed trees or other river debris, storm effect or other natural hazards such as geologic disturbances.

Class I

Moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.

Class II

Easy rapids with waves up to 3 feet and wide, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering is required.

Class III

Rapids with high, irregular waves often capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow maneuvering. May require scouting from shore.

Class IV

Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scouting from shore is often necessary. Generally not possible for open canoes. Boaters in covered canoes and kayaks should be able to Eskimo roll.

Class V

Extremely difficult, long, and very violent rapids with highly congested routes which nearly always must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult and there is significant hazard to life in event of a mishap. Ability to Eskimo roll is essential for kayaks and canoes.

Class VI

Difficulties of Class V carried to the extreme of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only after close study and with all precautions taken.


The Nature of Whitewater

Tumbling whitewater isn't your normal wet stuff. To begin with, its “life” starts as  snow or ice on a mountain which melts under the spring sun, resulting first in a trickle and eventually in torrents of water, very cold water. And very cold water can be dangerous water should you find yourself immersed in it. The cold saps strength and it impairs thinking, thus boaters and kayakers should plan and prepare for their adventure on the water appropriately.

Arkansas River playholeCold is not the only hazard on the river, however. Swift, rocky waters can be dangerous, even when these waters are wide enough or deep enough to be boatable. That is why the perfect craft for negotiating such fast falling rivers is a kayak.

Kayak is an Eskimo word meaning “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat.” These watercraft were made by native Eskimo, Aleut, and Ainu hunters of subarctic regions to use in hunting walrus and seal in their ice-bound lands. The Eskimo kayaks were astonishingly similar to the boats we use today. Sealskin stretched over a frame of wood or bone with just enough room in its innards to hold one hunter made the perfect boat to take on the rolling seas off Canada or Greenland. Maneuverable, water-tight and fast, the Eskimo's kayak gave him dominion over the off-shore waters and the sea creatures that dwelled there.

On the Arkansas, just about every possible range of difficult water is available, from meek to mighty and scenic to scary; and oftentimes, these extremes can be found within just a few miles from each other. The best rule of thumb to follow is "always scout it before you shoot it." Even the best boaters make it a point to check out unknown stretches of water from the bank before they paddle them.

Water moving in thick, tumbling currents has a topography all its own. Your success as a kayaker will depend on your ability to "read" the water, to understand how rocks, waves, and currents will affect your boat. One big factor is that not all river water flows downstream. Behind every obstacle that protrudes above water (and at the bottom of chutes) lies an eddy, a section of water which has an upstream current. The bigger the obstacle and the faster the current that flows around it, the stronger the upstream current will be. A good eddy allows a kayaker to nip in, nose pointed upriver, and rest while he looks over his should at the next rapid.

Standing waves are another phenomenon of heavy water. Found at the bottom of chutes and above buried obstacles, these are waves that don't go anyplace and maintain a fairly constant height above the surrounding water. Many kayakers enjoy paddling upstream to the reverse side of a standing wave and spend good amounts of time "surfing" the wave.

To adequately prepare for a whitewater trip, review important information offered by American Whitewater – Personal Preparedness and Responsibility.


Guides and Trips

One of the biggest recreation draws of the Upper Arkansas Valley is rafting. And just as there are endless opportunities to raft the river, there seems to be an almost endless number of rafting companies to take you on the river. Many companies offer exciting half-day trips through Brown's Canyon, overnight rafting trips, or multi-day excursions on the river. Certainly some sections of the river are more dangerous and challenging than others, but most of the professional outfitters in the area who make their living guiding groups down the river can negotiate the Arkansas during any season and through any water level. Some rafting companies take walk-ins but it is best to make reservations in advance.

For information about top U.S. rivers go to: All About Rivers.com

river raftingRafting Companies - Arkansas River

ACQUIRED TASTES WHITEWATER RAFTING
Acquired Tastes specializes in high-quality, reasonably priced, half-day, full-day to 3-day trips on the Arkansas River. Our trips include state-of-the-art self-bailing rafts with foot cones, experienced guides, and great lunches.

12918 Hwys 285 & 24
Buena Vista, CO 81211
Toll free: (800) 888-8582
www.atraft.com; info@atraft.com

AMERICAN ADVENTURE EXPEDITIONS
Mild to wild rafting on the Arkansas River. Our highly-trained professional guides provide you with a comfortable and fun outdoor experience. Four convenient locations: Buena Vista, Breckenridge, Salida, Royal Gorge. Ask about our group rates and family programs. Other activities include kayaking, rock climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, and ice climbing.
Toll free: (800) 288-0675
www.americanadventure.com

ARKANSAS RIVER TOURS
Pioneers of paddle rafting in the Royal Gorge region. ¼-day to 3-day trips on the Arkansas River. Family trips in Bighorn Canyon to the extreme Class IV-V wildwater of the Royal Gorge. Convenient riverside location. Wilderness multi-day trips on the Gunnison and Dolores Rivers. Guided float fishing trips. Group discounts. Teen Whitewater Camps.
PO Box 337
Cotopaxi, CO 81223
Toll free: (800) 321-4352
www.arkansasrivertours.com; info@arkansasrivertours.com

BILL DVORAK KAYAK & RAFTING EXPEDITIONS
'Outfitters since 1969'. We have diverse expeditions available from half-day to 12 days on 10 major SW Rivers. Float trips to Class V. We provide self-bailing, paddle or oared rafts, inflatable kayaks, instructional clinics in kayaks, canoes, rafts & swiftwater rescue. 'Combination Trips' include river, mountain biking, horseback, 4WD, fishing. Family/group discounts. Free brochure.

17921 Hwy 285
Nathrop, CO 81236
Toll free: (800) 824-3795; fax: (719) 539-3378
www.dvorakexpeditions.com

CANYON MARINE WHITEWATER EXPEDITIONS
We've made the investment of time and resources to assemble some of the best river guides in the country for one reason--to give you our best river trip possible. Join us for an adventure on the Arkansas or guided fly-fishing on private water. Free brochure/Group Leader Packet.

Toll free: (800) 539-4447 or (719) 539-4444
canyonmarine.com

CLEAR CREEK RAFTING CO.
Experience Colorado's whitewater! With two great rivers and two convenient locations there's always something for everyone--beginner to advanced. Take a trip on the world famous Arkansas River through the Royal Gorge, Bighorn Sheep Canyon or Brown's Canyon. Or come try an exciting trip on Clear Creek, just 30 minutes west of Denver. Free wetsuit use! Group discounts! Call for details and to make a reservation.
350 Whitewater Rd
PO Box 3178
Idaho Springs, CO 80452-3178
Toll free: (800) 353-9901 or (303) 567-1000; fax: (303) 277-9919
clearcreekrafting.com
info@clearcreekrafting.com

GOOD TIMES RAFTING TOURS
Enjoy an exciting day of fun and breathtaking beauty on the Arkansas, Blue, or Colorado Rivers. Our trips offer something for everyone…from novice to experienced rafters. Full-day and half-day trips available at very competitive rates. Locations in Breckenridge, Frisco, Buena Vista, and Glenwood Springs. We focus on safe family fun! For the trip of a lifetime call Good Times!

PO Box 340
Frisco, CO 80443.
Toll free: (800) 808-0357 or (970) 453-5559   
www.goodtimesrafting.com
info@goodtimesrafting.com

JOURNEY QUEST
Journey Quest (formerly Vessels for Honor Rafting) is a non-profit, Christian wilderness ministry that is ready to provide you with wholesome family fun and adventure! Open May-September, offers half-day, full-day and multi-day whitewater rafting & inflatable kayak excursions on the Arkansas River through Bighorn Sheep Canyon and the Royal Gorge. Also offers guided rock-climbing, backpacking, and multi-day combo adventures which are perfect for youth groups, scout troops, and families! Advance reservations recommended, but walk-in guests are welcome!
Texas Creek Junction (30 miles West of Salida on Hwy 50)
(719) 276-2227
Toll free: (888) 623-7939   
http://journeyquest.org/ 

LAKOTA RIVER GUIDES
Rivers and mountains help us keep life in perspective. Float/family trips to Class V. Vail-based, specializes in Eagle and Colorado River trips including scenic Glenwood Canyon. Terrific family outings. Twin Lakes operation -- near Independence Pass, Hwy 82. Whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River plus camping, hiking and fishing. Cabins, store, restaurant on-site.

Toll free: (800) 274-0636
www.lakotariver.com

PERFORMANCE TOURS
Performance Tours offers everything from relaxing scenic float trips to action packed, adrenaline-pumping whitewater trips on the Arkansas, Blue, and Colorado Rivers. Let our highly-qualified staff host your adventure on world-class rivers through beautiful canyons with spectacular mountain scenery as your backdrop. Call today and join us for a memorable Colorado experience. Excellent safety record. Group discounts. Class I-V trips. Three convenient locations:
Breckenridge, Buena Vista, Royal Gorge.
Toll free: (800) 328-7238
www.performancetours.com

RIVER RUNNERS
Raft the Royal Gorge…Colorado Springs and Denver whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River in Colorado. Rafting since 1972. Offers both half-day and full-day whitewater rafting trips through Bighorn Sheep Canyon that are appropriate for families, kids.
24070 CR 301
Buena Vista, Colorado 81211
Toll free: (877) 723-8987 

Also, 44641 Hwy 50
Canon City, CO 81212
Toll free: (866) 938-7238
www.whitewater.net

ROCKY MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES, INC.
Let us show you the excitement of Rocky Mountain whitewater. We offer beginning to advanced level half-day to multi-day whitewater adventures on the Cache le Poudre, Arkansas, North Platte, Dolores, and Upper Colorado Rivers. Wilderness journeys, trout fishing, and kayaking instruction are also available. Offices in Estes Park, Ft. Collins & Buena Vista.

PO Box 1989
Ft. Collins, CO 80522
Toll free: (800) 858-6808 or (970) 493-4005; fax: (970) 493-3150
shoprma.com
info@ShopRMA.com

ROCKY MOUNTAIN OUTDOOR CENTER
The Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center has been a leader in outdoor adventure since 1982. We offer professional instruction and guided trips in the beautiful Arkansas River Valley.

14825 Hwy 285
Salida, CO 81201
Toll free: (800) 255-5784 or (719) 539-4680
rmoc.com
customerservice@rmoc.com

WHITEWATER PHOTOGRAPHY
317 E Main Street
Buena Vista, CO
 Toll free: (888) RAFT PIC or (719) 395-4749
www.whitewaterphotography.com

WILDERNESS AWARE RAFTING
Offering personalized adventures with the extra touch of quality that earned us the Colorado Tourism Company of the Year award. Specializing in self-contained wilderness multi-day trips of 2-10 days on the Colorado, Arkansas, Gunnison Gorge, North Platte, and Dolores Rivers. Daily half- to full-day launches on the exciting Arkansas. Paddle on oar-powered rafts, inflatable kayaks. Wildwater, family whitewater, guided float fishing. Group rates. Free color brochure.
12600 Hwys 285 & 24
Buena Vista, CO 81211
Toll free: (800) 462-7238 or (719) 395-2112; fax: (719) 395-6716
www.inaraft.com

4-CORNERS RAFTING
With us, safety with fun is job one on America's most popular river, the Arkansas. Modern self-bailing rafts with foot cups guaranteed. Outstanding guides--personable and well-educated. Families and groups are our specialties. Scenic whitewater floats and float fishing. Liberal cancellation policy. Operating high-quality, reasonably priced trips since 1976.
113 N Railroad Street
Buena Vista, CO 81211
Toll free: (866) 745-7238
www.fourcornersrafting.com
info@fourcornersrafting.com


Rafting Gear

Kayaking demands the appropriate safety gear. First and foremost is a personal floatation device (lifejacket) Colorado law requires that a type I, II, III, or IV personal floatation device be worn at all times by persons on the river. Current legislation states that no boater may be on the water without a U.S. Coast Guard-approved buoyancy device readily accessible for kayakers (that means on you!). Wet suits are a wise choice as well, especially early in the season when the rivers are coldest. Made of neoprene, they are snug, fairly comfortable and serve only one purpose: to prevent hypothermia if you have to swim. They are available in many styles, but the most popular model for kayaking is the "farmer-john," a suit that encloses your arms, torso, crotch, and upper thighs in heat-trapping neoprene. One other important item to include when planning a whitewater excursion is a helmet

Hypothermia is similar to the deep-freeze anesthesia used in surgery and means that your body temperature has dropped below normal and to an unsafe level (just like the "exposure" that skiers and outdoorsmen must guard against). When hypothermic, your body loses its ability to produce heat rapidly enough to offset the conditions causing bodily heat loss. To make matters worse, hypothermia leads to a markedly decreased ability to think clearly, creating a downward spiral of ever-worsening confusion and debilitation.

The following are good sources for rafting, kayaking and canoeing gear in the Upper Arkansas Valley.

Colorado Kayak Supply
327 E Main
Buena Vista, Co 81211
(888) 265-2925; (719) 395-2422
www.coloradokayak.com

Inflatable Restoration & Repair
3244 E Hwy 50
Salida, CO
(719) 539-9751
www.raftrepairnow.com
mtnkaos@amigo.net 


The Thrill is Gone?

After a thrilling time on the Arkansas River whitewater, you just may be up for more adventure…

Instead of shooting across the rapids, why not try shooting across a canyon on a zipline cable? Salida Colorado has the distinction of being the site of the state of Colorado’s first zip line tour, Captain Zipline Adventure Tours. When Captain Zipline opened for business in 2005, not only was it Colorado’s first zip line tour, but it was also the third such tour of its kind in the entire USA! Now the Captain has even more activities in the Lost Canyon—an aerial course with interconnected ‘elements’ such as swinging bridges, trapezes, balance beams…and just about any ‘Jungle Gym’ combination you can think of; and Via Ferrata courses (“iron road”) that allow tethered guests to climb the face of a mountain.

Tours can be booked online at www.captainzipline.comand should be booked in advance to guarantee your space. Depending on your chosen rafting tour time, you may have enough time in your day to book the Salida zip line tour or other Aerial Park Adventure for the same day. If not, then you just gave yourself one more exhilarating day in the Rocky Mountains!   

After your Salida Aerial Park tour, you may now be ready for some relaxation. So why not top it off with a dip in a hot springs pool? In town, there is the Salida Hot Springs Pool. If you want the experience of immersing your body in soothingly warm waters while looking up at a swath of stars in the endless sky, then Mt. Princeton Hot Springs or Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista should be at the top of your list.

It all comes together in the Rocky Mountains of Salida, Colorado—dip, zip…and then dip!

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All content ©1998-2016 Salida.com and Monty Holmes-monty@salida.com. Content written by Rita Washko (RMW Enterprises), technical and science writer.