The Best Colorado Rafting Day Trips for Families
Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my picks!
Arkansas River - Browns Canyon
Salida or Buena Vista
President Obama designated Brown's Canyon as a National Monument in 2015. Full of class II-III+ rapids, this section of the river is as fun as it is beautiful. You’ll raft past granite outcroppings in the subalpine grasslands and breathe the crisp mountain air when you’re out of breath because it's above 7,000 feet of elevation. At most water levels this trip is great for families with younger children. If the water is too high, there are nearby river sections with calmer rapids for kids.
What to do after your trip: Climb around at Buena Vista’s free Bouldering Park.
If you are looking for an express trip that packs a punch with both scenery and rapids, the Blue river is for you. The whitewater section is 6 miles long but takes, on average 1.5 hours of river time. You’ll raft through the beautiful scenery of the jagged Gore Mountain Range. You’ll have to try and catch the Blue river in late May to early July. This section of the river has a short runnable time frame that varies depending on snow-pack and weather patterns.
What to do after your trip: Ride the Gold Runner Alpine Coaster at Breckenridge Mountain Resort
Clear Creek clocks in at less than an hour’s drive from Denver (traffic depending of course), and is the closest rafting option from the big city. Clear Creek has many different whitewater sections, ranging in difficulty from class II-V. So your family can choose how much adventure they want. Since the river is roadside, the shuttle to the river is nice and short, with many companies offering options to drive up and do it again when the water is fast.
What to do after your trip: Tour the Historic Argo Gold Mill and Tunnel in Idaho Springs
Arkansas River - Bighorn Sheep Canyon
The Bighorn Sheep Canyon on the Arkansas river is a wonderful trip for families with younger kids. There are different sections in the canyon that you can do, some with rapids as mellow as class I-II. Plenty of flat water to jump into the river to cool off. If you want to step it up, the Pinnacle Rock Put-in to the Parkdale Take-out offers the wildest ride on the Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Do your research about the water level before you go through. The infamous rapid Three Rocks becomes a class IV+ at high water and is not recommended for kids.
What to do after your trip: Get burgers and milkshakes on Main Street in Cañon City at The Owl (est. 1943)
Arkansas River - Royal Gorge
The Royal Gorge is the furthest downstream of all the Arkansas River Rafting sections and is a must-do for adventurous families with teenagers. The trip is ten miles long and jam-packed with class III–IV rapids. You’ll float through the entire Royal Gorge with its 1,000-foot sheer walls. You’ll even pass under the Royal Gorge suspension bridge 955 feet above you, so don’t forget to look up!
What to do after your trip: Wave at the rafts below the bridge at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.
Cache La Poudre River
Near Fort Collins
The Cache La Poudre (pronounced “Poo-der”) is Colorado’s only federally designated Wild and Scenic river. Unlike most whitewater rivers, the Poudre has nearly continuous class II-III rapids with little float time between rapids. If you are looking to raft with little ones or anyone who is more timid, the lower section has mellower rapids, while still providing thrills. This is a convenient trip for families vacationing in Denver, as the starting point is a short hour to hour and a half drive away.
What to do after your trip: Take a hike at Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado River - Glenwood Canyon - Shoshone Half Day
If you find yourself over in the western slope of Colorado, Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River is a great adventure. The two-mile stretch of Class II-IV whitewater packs a punch. It is roadside with quick shuttle access. Many companies offer packages where you can take a "double dip" and go back up for another lap of the whitewater section after your first. At higher water levels in the spring, smaller rafters might have to sit out the first 30 minutes of bigger rapids and hop in the boat after.
What to do after your trip: Take a soak at one of Glenwood Springs many Hot Spring Resorts