Cover Story

COVER STORY: Front Range rivers provide unique, exciting whitewater rafting experiences

Clear-creek-41By Jeffrey V. Smith
Colorado is one of the best places in America to experience a whitewater rafting adventure. More major rivers start here than in any other, and the most popular whitewater river in the country is in the state. Most begin their runs in astoundingly scenic locations, cutting through alpine forests and carving stunning canyons. With an abundance of professional companies and numerous expert guides offering a wide variety of river rafting trips ranging from challenging, adrenaline-pumping whitewater to more relaxing family-friendly floats, Colorado has it all.

The best part of whitewater rafting is almost anyone can do it. While accidents can happen, the sport is considered safe and fun for people of nearly all ages and abilities. It is important to know a river trip’s intensity changes by time of year. A trip later in the season could be a leisurely ride through mild waters or, if in May or June, a thrilling adventure through the rapids. Most outfitters offer a variety of trips—from more family-friendly options that make wonderful experiences for children and first-timers to more extreme adventures for the seasoned veteran—which can be selected based on your experience level, fitness and desires for the trip.

In Colorado, rafting is an easy activity to build an entire vacation around or add to a larger itinerary. Many outfitters offer packages that combine rafting with other fun activities from train rides, Zip lines, mine tours and ATV adventures to horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, hiking and mountain biking.

Also, when working with an outfitter, experiencing a whitewater adventure doesn’t take much gear. Swim suits, river sandals or shoes, sunscreen, sunglasses with retaining cord and a dry change of clothes is all that’s needed. A waterproof camera to capture amazing scenery seen from a unique perspective may also be desired, but most all companies provide a professionally-shot photograph from the trip.

Outfitters will provide the gear needed for a fun, safe experience. This always includes a life jacket, helmet and paddle. Optional gear like wetsuits, splash jackets and booties for the feet are usually available for a small fee. Transportation between their offices and the river is also provided.

The Front Range region of Colorado offers two major whitewater rafting rivers, both unique in their own ways and easy to reach, with companies offering trips lasting a few hours or all day.

Located in a historic, mining valley along I-70 just minutes west of Denver, Clear Creek is a steep, narrow, technical river that is both challenging and fun. It attracts boaters visiting the Front Range, and those traveling through on their way to the high country. Once on the river, the interstate goes entirely unnoticed as paddlers drop through the steep and narrow bed. Clear Creek has a gradient that averages 67 feet per mile, which gives it more rapids in each section than most of the other rivers in Colorado. Wildlife such as river otter, big horn sheep and the occasional bear can also be observed along the way. Excursions offer Class I-V rapids from May through July and sometimes into August.

“Clear Creek is the steepest commercially rafted river in Colorado, translating to more rapids per mile and more fun and excitement,” Suzen Raymond, part-owner of Mile-Hi Rafting, said. She points out the river is not only close to most Front Range locations, “raft trips on Clear Creek continue to be affordable.”

The Cache La Poudre River is northwest of Fort Collins and within 90 minutes of Denver and Estes Park. Named by French fur trappers, it has everything from mild to wild including deep canyons and clear waters. Not only does the Cache La Poudre offer great runs, but rafting here is unique since it is Colorado’s first and only federally designated National Wild and Scenic River. Rafters can observe world-class scenery and bighorn sheep, deer, eagles and other wildlife while enjoying Class II- IV stretches of whitewater. Several whitewater raft companies operate out of Estes Park, although river access is out of the area.

Once the decision is made on where to go, choosing a qualified, licensed outfitter offering trips that suit the appropriate skill level is the next step. State-certified companies have all the expertise needed to lead their guest safely down the river and are accustomed to guiding trips for seasoned rafters and those who have never been on the water before.

Don’t be fooled, like any adventure sport, whitewater rafting involves some inherent risks and can be a dangerous sport—a Texas woman on a commercial rafting trip died on Clear Creek just this May. In Colorado rafting outfitters are regulated by Colorado State Parks. The Colorado River Outfitter License is a certification of outfitters, their rafts, equipment used, safety regulations, Guide specifications, sanitation practices, and documentation of each trip on the river. Colorado State Parks do impromptu inspections of rafts, first aid supplies, guides and office procedures periodically during rafting season.

If coming from other parts of the country or world, be sure to account for Colorado’s high elevation, dry weather and ample sunshine. Stay hydrated, ease into strenuous activities and, again, be sure to pack sunscreen and hat.

Even though the winter season snows didn’t stack up as in some years, spring snow and precipitation have created great whitewater conditions. “With the spring snows and rain, we are looking at a great water year,” Raymond said. “We are already rafting this season and look forward to a longer season than normal.”

On June 12, whitewater rafting enthusiast from all over the world gather on Clear Creek for a new event. Professionals, advanced and amateur rafters will join Mile Hi Rafting at the 2015 Annual Citizen’s Clear Creek Raft Race to test their skills on the steep, narrow Clear Creek. Teams are made up of 5 or 6 members per boat at $30 each. All raft trips include use of wetsuit, splash jacket, helmet, and a personal flotation device. A professional rafting guide is included with each raft. The fee also includes burgers and fries from Mile Hi’s new Chuck Wagon. Spectating are free. The race begins at 6 p.m. and all teams and their families are welcome at the Clear Creek Challenge After Party at Tommyknocker Brewery. Contact the rafting company to enter.

A1 Wildwater
2801 N Shields St., Fort Collins 80524 • 970-224-3379

AVA Idaho Springs
431 Chicago Creek Road, Idaho Springs, CO • 800-370-0581

Browns Canyon Rafting
33295 U.S. 6, Idaho Springs, CO • 719-275-2890

Clear Creek Rafting Co.
350 Whitewater Road, Idaho Springs, CO • 303-567-1000

Colorado Adventure Center
2697 Stanley Road, Idaho Springs, CO • 800-808-0357

Downstream Adventures
107 County Road 308, Dumont, CO • 844-291-4218

GeoTours Whitewater Raft Trips
229 Hwy. 8, Morrison, CO • 800-660-7238

KODI Rafting
999 County Road 308, Dumont, CO • 970-668-1548

Liquid Descent
1896 Stanley Road, Idaho Springs, CO • 970-372.2870

Mad Adventures
1421 E Park Ave., Kremmling, CO • 800-451-4844

Mile-Hi Rafting
3627 Alvarado Road, Dumont, CO • 303-567-0717

Performance Tours, Inc.
115 Gregg Dr., 81211 Buena Vista, CO • 800-328-7238

Raft Masters
2804 Colorado Blvd., Idaho Springs, CO • 719-275-6645

Rocky Mountain Adventures
1117 N Hwy 287, Fort Collins, CO • 800-858.6808

Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting
1313 Idaho St., Idaho Springs, CO • 303-900-4802 or 855-2-Go-Raft

A1 Wildwater
2801 N Shields St., Fort Collins 80524 • 970-224-3379

A Wanderlust Adventure
4120 W County Road 54 G, Laporte, CO • 800-745-7238

Estes Park Adventures/Rapid Transit Rafting
161 Virginia Drive, Estes Park, CO • 800-367-8523

Mountain Whitewater Descents
1329 U.S. 287, Fort Collins, CO • 888-855-8874

Rocky Mountain Adventures
1117 N. Hwy. 287, Fort Collins, CO • 800-858.6808

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