Whitewater Rafting & Kayaking
Here in the Pikes Peak Region we’re fortunate to have some of the top-rated white water in the country right in our own back yard. Whether you’re a rafter or a kayaker, you’ll find an incredible array of river tours stretching from Buena Vista to Cañon City, Colorado. The popularity of this river is due in part to its proximity to Colorado Springs (just a one hour drive to the Royal Gorge section of the river), but also the wide range of skill levels on the various sections of river. Accomplished kayakers, boatmen and paddlers can take on the rapids of the famous Royal Gorge offering up to class IV and class V rapids. Younger paddlers (as young as 4-5 years) and kayakers who are just looking to dip their toe in the sport can opt for a gentle class I to class II section of white water in upper Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
Before You Get Started
The boating sections of the Arkansas River are managed by the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA). Fee information can be found here. For those paddlers choosing to utilize a commercial outfitter for their river adventure, the cost of your trip will include all AHRA use fees.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles for River Corridors
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Learn about river-specific issues, regulations, and permits.
- Use a river guidebook and map to plan your trip.
- Schedule your trip so that you encounter appropriate river flows for your group’s ability.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use; visit in small groups.
- Repackage food to minimize waste.
- Know river skills and carry the necessary equipment to minimize your impact.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include rock, gravel and sand.
- Focus activity where vegetation is absent.
- Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Select a campsite large enough for your group.
- When on day hikes in the river corridor, walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when muddy.
- In pristine areas, disperse use to prevent creation of new campsites and trails.
- Leave campsites clean and natural looking.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it out.
- Use a washable, reusable toilet or other approved method to pack out human waste, toilet paper and tampons. Check local regulations.
- Liquid wastes can be dumped into main current in many high volume (over 500 cfs) rivers. In low volume rivers, scatter liquid waste 200ft from water, away from camp and trails. Check local regulations.
- Urinating directly into the river is often the best option. Check local regulations.
- Use a tarp in the kitchen to catch food and trash, which attract unwanted animals.
- Pack out all small food particles and small pieces of trash.
Leave What You Find
- Appreciate ancient structures, artifacts, rock art and other natural objects, but leave them undisturbed.
- Do not build structures or dig trenches in campsites.
- Avoid introducing non-native species, including live bait, by cleaning equipment between trips.
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Minimize campfire impacts by using stoves.
- Use a fire pan or designated fire ring for open fires and charcoal.
- Elevate fire pan and use a fire blanket to catch embers.
- Use dead and downed wood no larger than an adult’s wrist to keep the fire small.
- Consider bringing your own firewood or charcoal.
- Burn all wood and charcoal to ash. Carry out ash with other garbage.
- Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed wildlife; it damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife by storing food and trash securely.
- Control pets or leave them at home.
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, or when food is scarce.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
- Communicate with other river visitors about your floating and camping plans.
- Leave larger camps for larger groups.
- Avoid camping or eating near major rapids where scouting and portaging take place.
- Non-motorized crafts usually have right-of-way over powerboats; slower boats should keep to the right.
- Let nature’s sounds prevail.
The Leave No Trace Seven Principles are reprinted with the permission of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. For more information, visit www.LNT.org.
The right gear will not only provide a more enjoyable experience but also a safer one. If you choose to utilize a licensed commercial rafting outfitter you can rest assured the raft, personal floatation device (PFD), and helmet are rated for white water. The State of Colorado also requires rafting outfitters to have an experience raft guide on every raft. If you are a private rafter or kayaker or you are new to rafting or kayaking, you have some work ahead of you in preparing to safely navigate the river. We suggest you start with the following information found here.
It is imperative for untrained paddlers to become properly trained before attempting to raft or kayak the Arkansas River. Serious and fatal injuries have occurred as a result of inappropriate crafts and safety gear, and simply taking on white water well beyond the paddler’s ability. Respect the power of the river, and consider the strengths of the youngest and most inexperienced members of your party before embarking on a river trip.
Where to Go
The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) is recognized as one of the nation's most popular locations for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The Arkansas River it the most commercially rafted river in the United States and is noted for its world-class fishery, which provides an excellent opportunity for anglers to test their skills at catching brown and rainbow trout.
Parkdale is the southern terminus of Bighorn Sheep Canyon and the launch point for whitewater trips through the Royal Gorge. There is a boat launch, restrooms, and picnic area at the state parks site there and a fair bit of public water adjacent that fishes well in the spring and fall. Approaching the river from […]
The tiny community of Texas Creek is the last in Bighorn Sheep Canyon and sits at the entrance to the lower canyon. There is a bridge across the river at Texas Creek and a boat ramp and parking on the north side. The bridge road continues downstream for half a mile and one can continue […]
Arkansas River between Howard and Parkdale is known as Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Most of this section is public and clearly marked, but it is still best to be sure you are fishing public water. The entire section runs along highway 50 on the southside of the river and railroad on the northside. This makes walk […]
Local Rafting Blog:
Local Whitewater Clubs:
Local Rafting Organizations:
The easiest way to experience the white water in the Pikes Peak Region is to go with a licensed commercial outfitter. Let their experienced guides take care of the equipment, planning, and technical aspects of the sport so you can focus on enjoying the rapids and beauty the region has to offer. Click on the link for Guides (under Get Started above) to see our local whitewater outfitters.
The content on this page was provided by Echo Canyon Rafting