WET AND WILD | Upper Colorado packs a world-class rafting experience

By Christine Poyser
Sky-Hi News
Grand County visitors enjoy a guided rafting trip down the Upper Colorado with MAD Adventures, one of the local outfitters who offers whitewater adventures in Grand County.
Courtesy MAD Adventures Rafting / Tyler Cline

One of Grand County’s western-most towns, Kremmling has a rich ranching heritage. Bordered by the Colorado River on one side and vast rolling hills on the other, the town is also a summertime mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.

While ATV riders can explore miles of trails to the north of Kremmling, rafters of all ages and experience levels head south to the Colorado River.


Be prepared to get wet. Guides encourage guests to wear:

  • Bathing suits
  • Quick-drying clothing (avoid jeans)
  • Shoes that will stay on your feet if you end up in the water (not flip flops)
  • Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen

The Upper Colorado River headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, and flows out of Lake Granby through the Grand County towns of Granby, Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling before turning south into Gore Canyon.

The river valley offers stunning views and opportunities to see some of Colorado’s most famous wildlife – bears, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and river otters are just some of the critters that call the area home.

Fly fishers can access the river at several points along Colorado Hwy 40 between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling. To get up close and personal with the Upper Colorado and its natural beauty, visitors can also take to the whitewater.

Six rafting outfitters maintain permanent residences in Kremmling — MAD Adventures, Adventures in Whitewater and Liquid Descent all have main street storefronts, and Breckenridge Whitewater, KODI and AVA maintain offices in the area.

The Upper Colorado features class II and III whitewater, and is perfect for families and most levels of rafters. On half-day trips, rafting guests will experience Wake Up, Needle’s Eye and Surf City rapids, and can soak in the volcanically heated mineral pool at the Radium Hot Springs. Daring guests can make the 25-foot cliff jump into the river from Jump Rock.

For more experienced rafters, the Gore Canyon offers class IV and V rapids. The Gore is currently only run commercially by outfitters Liquid Descent and Adventures in Whitewater.

For experienced rafters, Gore Canyon offers serious whitewater opportunities. Warning: This is not a run for inexperienced kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts.
Justin Scheible / Adventures In Whitewater /

“You must have Class IV experience or higher,” said Justin Scheible, co-owner of Adventures in Whitewater, of booking a Gore Canyon trip. “It’s one of the best stretches of river on the entire planet, and we’re proud to run it. We just want to have the right people out there.”

As for the pandemic, visitors concerned about health and safety related to COVID-19 needn’t worry.

“We’re following state guidelines as far as gathering sizes,” Scheible said. “Our goal is to keep groups that come in together as separate from other groups as possible. That means we might cut our boat capacities to avoid mixing groups.

“We’re also limiting capacity in our vans and busses. Smaller boat loads, smaller van loads. It’s important to us that people come out and have a good time.

“Safety’s what we do every day, so this is just another rung in the safety ladder,” Schieble added.

In addition to rafting day trips, there’s ample opportunity for visitors to camp along the banks of the river – most notably in the recreation areas off of Grand County Road 1 (also known as Trough Road and Colorado River Headwaters Byway). The Pumphouse, Radium, State Bridge and Two Bridges recreation areas offer overnight campsites for $10 per site ($6 at Radium) and $30 for group sites.

In “normal” (non-pandemic) years, some outfitters offer overnight rafting trips for a fully immersive mountain experience. Many outfitters suspended overnight trips at the beginning of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, so be sure to call ahead or visit the outfitter’s website before planning your Grand County getaway around a guided overnight rafting trip.

Visitors to the Upper Colorado River valley with their own raft, boat, kayak or paddle board are welcome to put in at the recreation area boat ramps. The recreation areas charge $5 per vehicle for day-use passes, which can be purchased on site.

Most outfitters rent gear, including wetsuits and booties. While it may be unsettling to don a rented wetsuit or a shared life vest in the current coronavirus environment, Scheible said that all gear is cleaned and sanitized after each use using a restaurant-style three- tub system and special disinfectants.

And while the canyon surrounding the Upper Colorado offers stunning Rocky Mountain views, think twice about taking your cell phone to use as a camera. You’ll be assisting your guide with paddling, and rapids are to be expected, which will result in the raft — and its passengers — being jostled.

Rafting at Adventures in Whitewater and other outdoor recreation opportunities can offer one great way to boost people’s mental health, physical fitness and overall quality of life the quarantine blues.
Justin Scheible / Adventures In Whitewater /

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