Top 10 Family-friendly Rafting Trips on Colorado’s Rivers
posted by: Amber Johnson
I love rafting but I have not been since my children were born because I assumed they were too young.
I was delighted to discover I was wrong.
Mile High Mamas has teamed up with the Colorado River Outfitters Association to bring you a guide to the Top 10 Family-friendly Rafting Trips on Colorado’s Rivers that includes age guidelines. With more than 20 rivers across eight major basins, Colorado families are discovering the world’s largest water park is right in our own backyard.
In no particular order, the top rafting opportunities for paddle-happy families are the following:
1. Ruby – Horsethief Canyons, Upper Colorado River
Providing breathtaking views of dramatic western Colorado canyons, this tranquil 25-mile stretch just west of Grand Junction is perfect for rafting, inflatable kayaking, wildlife viewing (eg., desert bighorn sheep, bald eagles, blue herons, deer and coyotes), hiking and relaxing. The Class I and II waters are gentle enough for kids, while the views and add-on activities will keep adults excited and engaged. Age 4 and up.
2. San Miguel Confluence to Gateway, Lower Dolores River
This is a little-known stretch of river that highlights the red rock canyon country few folks know exists in southwestern Colorado. The section has a remote feel, a handful of class II and III rapids and quite a bit of flat water. Rafters frequently see river otters and bears along this stretch. Dinosaur tracks, rock art, wild west characters and mining history are all compelling topics knowledgeable guides use to keep folks entertained as they float along. Age 10 and up.
3. Chicago Creek to Kermit’s Restaurant and Bar, Clear Creek
Just 30 minutes from downtown Denver and taking a few hours or less to run, this beginner stretch of Clear Creek provides a great Introduction to whitewater without intimidating rapids while leaving the balance of the day for other activities in the metro area. The six-mile run flows through the historic Idaho Springs mining district on class II and III waters appropriate for participants as young as 6 years of age.
A beautiful stretch of class I, II & III rapids, the Lower Eagle is an awesome introduction to whitewater rafting and an ecological excursion at the same time. The run begins high in the Vail valley among mountain forest terrain and meanders down into the high desert of the lower Western Slope. Ospreys, eagles, beaver, mink, and fox frequent the shores of the Lower Eagle. Age 5 and up.
5. Bighorn Sheep Canyon, Arkansas River
While the Arkansas – the most popular rafting river in the world – is famous for exhilarating whitewater, this canyon offers a smorgasbord of quarter-day, half-day, full-day and multi-day trips between Salida and Pinnacle Rock. The section runs through the San Isabel National Forest, with many wildlife viewing opportunities and mostly class III whitewater that’s suitable for families and first timers. Age 6 and up.
6. Town of Gunnison to Riverway Park, Gunnison River
This 11-mile stretch takes just about two hours to float through its class I & II rapids, making it an excellent choice for families and kids of all ages. Outfitters often see deer along (or in) the river, as well as blue heron, lots of little “dipper” birds perched on rocks, the occasional river otter and other critters. It is very scenic floating along the valley bottom underneath cottonwood trees and past The Palisades, a giant volcanic cliff wall. The trip also goes through the Gunnison Whitewater Park. Age 4 and up.
7. Little Gore Canyon, Upper Colorado River
This is a beautiful stretch of gently flowing river providing unsurpassed scenery with a little whitewater (class I-II). The trip passes by natural hot springs and offers opportunities for a short hike to some prehistoric dinosaur tracks. The Little Gore is near the headwaters of the legendary 1,400-mile long Colorado River and one of the first boatable sections of the river. Alpine scenery, historic points and milder whitewater make it a great family trip. Age 4 and up.
8. Lower Cache la Poudre
The Cache la Poudre River, northwest of Fort Collins, is Colorado’s first and only designated National Wild and Scenic River. This run on the beautiful and pristine lower section of the river offers rapids ranging from intermediate to advanced intermediate in difficulty (class III), making it appropriate and exciting for first-time and experienced rafters alike. Age 7 and up.
9. Lower Animas River
Relax and enjoy a different view of southwestern Colorado as you bounce through fun-filled rapids like “Smelter”, “Sawmill”, “Santa Rita” and “Pinball”. Rafting guides share history of the region and stories of local traditions. Families, reunions, groups, first timers and rafting/inflatable kayak veterans enjoy this trip through Durango and south through the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. Age 4 and up.
Best known as the border river between Mexico and the United States, the Rio Grande begins relatively modestly in the San Juan Mountains near Creede before flowing 1,865 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Not far from the headwaters, outfitters ferry guests down a 12 to 14-mile section of waters that are class II-III for most of the season. The rafting is pleasant enough for children, yet still exciting and scenic for adults and seasoned floaters. The stretch is through pristine high country scenery. Age 4 and up.
The Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) is a non-profit trade association representing over 50 licensed professional whitewater rafting outfitters across the state of Colorado. For more information, please visit www.croa.org.
Have you/would you ever take your kids rafting? What has been your experience with Colorado rafting companies?