Discover Colorado’s 8 Best and Most Epic Rivers for Whitewater Rafting

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: November 14, 2023
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Whitewater rafting is an adrenaline-pumping activity that’s great for adventurers. It’s also an excellent way to bond with friends and family, as you must work as a team. And it’s a fantastic upper-body workout! If you’re in Colorado, you have many options for some of the most epic whitewater rivers in the country.

Overview of Colorado’s 8 Most Epic Rivers for Whitewater Rafting

Whether you’re a beginner or you’re looking for the fiercest river in the state, these picks are for you! Check out this list of the eight best Colorado rivers for whitewater rafting and discover their class levels and best routes. 

1. Colorado River

Grand Canyon National Park - Rafting

Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon.

©Jim Mallouk/

While the Colorado River is famous for its trek through the Grand Canyon, its headwaters are in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. In Colorado, this river features everything from class I and II rapids for beginners up to class IV and V for advanced and expert levels. Gore Canyon is a class V rapid with deep cliffs, steep gradients, and large drops. This remote 10-mile stretch is the most epic whitewater rafting area on the Colorado River in the state.  

2. Arkansas River

Architecture, Arkansas River, Building Exterior, Built Structure, Business

Arkansas River is one of the most well-known whitewater rivers in Colorado.


This major tributary of the Mississippi River flows through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The Arkansas River is one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the West and the most well-known in Colorado. Through Colorado, this river features class rapids between II and V. The Royal Gorge is an advanced trip with stunning scenery through narrow canyon walls with steep drops and huge waves. If you’re looking for a more family-friendly spot, check out Brown Canyon between Salida and Nathrop.  

3. Yampa River

Farmland Near Maybell in Colorado

Most of Yampa River, especially in the early stretches, is peaceful and lazy.


The Yampa River rises in the Rocky Mountains and winds through Northwestern Colorado for 250 miles. It is a tributary of the Green River and one of the few free-flowing rivers in the region. This river features several sections ranging in difficulty, from class II to class IV. Most of Yampa River, especially in the early stretches, is peaceful and lazy, perfect for the whole family. But the Warm Springs area is a little more advanced, with holes and a flipper wave.   

4. Clear Creek

Clear Creek features beginner, intermediate, and advanced rapids

© Lynn Brown

Located in North-Central Colorado, Clear Creek is a tributary of the South Platte River, which flows through Clear Creek Canyon and a long gorge. Technically, Clear Creek is a stream, despite its name. And you can experience beginner-level two rapids all the way up to class five. This unique river is the steepest in the state that is commercially rafted, meaning it features some hardcore areas for experienced rafters only. 

5. Animas River

The lower portion of this river is great for families and beginner levels.


Part of the Colorado River system, the Animas River is 126 miles long in the Western United States. It is a tributary of the San Juan River, which rises from the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. The Animas River offers a variety of classes in different locations. The lower portion is great for families and beginner levels. And you can find it near Downtown Durango. The upper portion is near Purgatory, where you will find classes IV and V.  

6. Cache La Poudre River

Poudre River Colorado

This whitewater is much less crowded than others.

©Wusel007, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

The Poudre River is a wild and scenic river in Northern Colorado. It’s located in the northern part of Rocky Mountain National Park in Larimer County, where it emerges from the foothills near Fort Collins. This fast-moving river has continuous Class II and III rapids, but some areas can get up to Class V. Only a few outfitters are allowed to guide trips, so this whitewater is much less crowded than others. Most guided trips meet west of Fort Collins, where you can choose your difficulty.  

7. Dolores River

Dolores River Colorado

Dolores River is very scenic!

©PGHolbrook, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

This Colorado River tributary is 241 miles long and drains an arid region west of the San Juan Mountains. Dolores River runs through Utah and Colorado, where it ranges in difficulty between class II and IV. This Southwest Colorado rafting trip is very scenic, as you float through canyons for 175 miles.  

8. San Juan River

Historic steam engine train travels from Durango to Silverton through the San Juan Mountains along the Animas River in Colorado, USA.

San Juan River features excellent rapids near Pagosa Springs.

©Nick Fox/

Originating in the San Juan Mountains in southwest portion of the state, the San Juan River is a major tributary of the Colorado River. This 400-mile river passes through Pagosa Springs Whitewater Park, where enthusiasts of all skill levels can go on guided tours. Most of the rapids are class II or III. However, getting further above the springs offers class III and IV opportunities. 

Summary of Colorado’s Best and Most Epic Rivers For Whitewater Rafting

RankBest Colorado Rivers For Whitewater RaftingRapids Class
#1Colorado RiverI-V
#2Arkansas RiverII-V
#3Yampa RiverII-IV
#4Clear CreekII-V
#5Animas RiverII-V
#6Cache La Poudre RiverII-V
#7Dolores RiverII-IV
#8San Juan RiverII-IV

The photo featured at the top of this post is © PGHolbrook, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License / Original

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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