Arkansas River

The Arkansas River is one of the nation's ten most popular recreational boating rivers. Highly valued for its diverse recreation, this 100-mile stretch is used by more than 400,000 rafters, kayakers, fishermen, campers, and wildlife viewers each year. Trips vary in difficulty and length, allowing flexibility.

The internationally renowned "numbers" rapids lie a short distance below Leadville, surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks. These are world-class kayaking waters. The river continues through narrow Brown's Canyon. At Brown's Canyon, the river flows away from the highway and is adjacent to a BLM Wilderness Study Area. Although paralleled by the railroad, its remote character and quality rapids make this the most popular segment.

With space at a premium, from Salida to Parkdale, the sinuous river threads its way across pools, riffles, and huge boulders, creating excellent whitewater and trout fisheries. U.S. Highway 50 parallels much of the lower river, providing fishing and boating access, family picnicking, viewing opportunities, and great spots to photograph friends rafting on the river. Fishing on the Arkansas is highly valued and quite pleasurable as one is surrounded by beautiful landscape while enjoying the day's catch.

The 1,500-foot sheer rock walls of Royal Gorge ascend above the last segment as it flows into Canon City. Rapids such as Sunshine and Sledgehammer make running this stretch an adventure.

More on the Arkansas River

Access: There are major put-in and take-out sites near Leadville, Buena Vista, Salida, Vallie Bridge, Parkdale, Canon City, and Pueblo Reservoir.

Difficulty: Overall Class III, Several Class IV & V rapids

Average Gradient: 38 ft./mi.

Trip Length: Between 1/4- or 1/2-day and full-day trips. A few trips are overnight.

Season: Mid-May to Labor Day

USGS Maps: Leadville S., Granite, South Peak, Buena Vista, Poncha Springs, Cameron Mtn., Howard, Cotopaxi, Royal Gorge, Pueblo Reservoir

Other Notes: User conflicts between boaters and rafters are a major concern. The river will be managed for designed carrying capacities. This may result in the imposition of temporary or permanent use restrictions. Several access sites along the river are on private land requiring permission for access.

BLM Resource Area Office:
Royal Gorge Resource Area
P.O. Box 2200
Canon City, CO 81215-2200

River Trips
Whitewater Adventure Outfitters - Raft Colorado's Arkansas River. Family and first-timer trips through Big Horn Sheep Canyon or Class V whitewater through the Royal Gorge. Half-, full- and multi-day runs.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 17 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »