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There are some fantastic areas in the state for whitewater rafting. With rafting hubs and companies located near dozens of Colorado towns, including Buena Vista, Salida, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park, Vail, Fruita, Durango and Fort Collins, it’s never hard to find a good place to get on the water.
The Colorado whitewater rafting season runs from May to September, with the swiftest and highest whitewater occurring in May and June and milder flows later in the season. When planning your trip be aware that the intensity varies by time of year. Depending on the time of year and stretch of river, your trip could be a leisurely ride through placid waters or a thrill-a-minute adventure through the rapids. In May and June, melting mountain snow makes the rivers run faster for more exciting rides. By August and into September, the rivers are much milder. August provides more opportunities for milder, family-friendly rafting.
An excellent resource to help you plan your rafting trip is the CO River Outfitters Association website - http://www.croa.org/site/plan-your-ad... It has descriptions of how rivers are rated (more on that later), safety on the river, and tips to help you plan.
It would be unfair to begin to list rafting companies here because some would be overlooked, some may no longer be in business and the list may contain some that are not state certified and properly trained. For a complete list of those that are state certified, please visit the CO state tourism website at http://www.colorado.com/activities/co... (As of 4/26/2013 there are 67 companies listed on that website. Far too many to list here.) It's very interactive, allowing you to choose by company, region, or city. State certified companies require many days of intensive training for their guides to insure they know their job and keep guests as safe as possible. Another source for details on some access points and a list of some Colorado rafting trips in the state can be found at Colorado Rafting Trips
Class I - Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few obstructions, all obvious and easily missed with little training. Risk to swimmers is slight.
Class II - Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels that are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium-sized waves are easily missed by trained paddlers.
Class III - Rapids with moderate, irregular waves that may be difficult to avoid. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties.
Class IV - Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down.
Class V - Extremely long, obstructed or very violent rapids that expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult.
Class VI - These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only.
You should select your rafting trip on location, your experience and ability. Persons with medical conditions should seek their doctors advice first. A waiver of liability will be required by the company before you can participate. The company may have age/weight restrictions for certain rapids, especially for the higher classes. As previously noted, companies should be licensed by the state of Colorado. This increases the taxes and fees for the operators, but also required them to carry insurance and provide CPR/first-aid training to their boat guides.
Peak runoff is typically mid-June. It's difficult to pick the exact date and water flows. Booking closer to your rafting day will allow you to monitor the water levels better. The water is melted snow, thus it is very cold, especially early in the season. It warms up over the summer. For realtime water flow information by state check out United States River Maps.
Half-day, full-day and multi-day trips are available. Half-day is recommended for those short of time or on a budget. Full-day is the most typical trip, and multi-day camping trips are for people who want a longer trip. Overnight trips can be tailor made to suit the level of difficulty and excitement you're looking for. Some overnight trips inclued camping and some offer comfortable lodging. Full-day trips generally include a lunch break with food provided (sandwiches typically) and sometimes dinner (you should ask what's included before you book).
HINT: QUESTIONS TO ASK: When you call to book a trip, ask how long the company has been in business and what kind of training program the company offers its guides. State certified companies require many days of intensive training for their guides to insure they know their job and keep guests as safe as possible.
Most companies will have wetsuits to rent (it may be included/required). It is not mandatory to use them for some companies, but you should consider them. You should wear a swimsuit and non-cotton shirt. Life vests will be required. A hat and sunglasses with string are recommended too. Do not wear jeans . Lipbalm, sunblock/sunscreen lotion is recommended (be sure it says waterproof) of SPF15 or higher. Bring a change of clothes to change into afterwards. Raingear is recommended as well. Wear river sandals or old tennis shoes (no flip flops).