Narrowing down the best whitewater rafting runs in Colorado is a subjective endeavor and really based on what type of river trip you're looking to have.
That said, our paddling experts who have rafted most, if not all, of the Colorado classics have come up with a list of 4 rafting sections which are definitely worth a lap!
Best After-Work Paddle: The Numbers
Numbers features action-packed class III and IV whitewater over a 7-mile section of the Arkansas River near Buena Vista, CO. Great for those with an R-2 partner, this lap is short, sweet, and not far from town.
Setting shuttle is a breeze (in pre-COVID times, paddlers could usually hitch a ride back up to the top). You can be shoving off in your raft about a half hour after clocking out, making this our favorite after-work lap.
Pro Tip: If you feel like extending your lap, you can run “Fractions” after and float down to town, reducing shuttle vehicles needed!
Best Daily Run: Royal Gorge
The Royal Gorge tops our list for best daily because of its beauty and world-class whitewater. Breathtakingly gorgeous red rock canyon walls constrict the Arkansas River into a series of continuous class III and IV rapids for 10 miles, making for an unforgettable rowdy day of the river that will keep you coming back.
Conveniently located within an hour or two of most major front range locations, the Royal Gorge sees quite a few visitors each season, and there are many commercial companies that run this section.
Best Permitted Multi-Day Run: Yampa Canyon
The last 48 miles of the Yampa River plunge into the far eastern edge of the Uinta Mountains, carving an awe-inspiring canyon with towering sandstone walls, and it takes the cake for our favorite permitted run in Colorado.
Yampa Canyon has some of the best river camps of any permitted section and also features a few great side hikes that visit Fremont Native American cultural.
The Yampa River is free-flowing, therefore this trip only has a short two-month season. If you have the opportunity to join a Yampa Canyon trip, we highly recommend this wild section of river.
Best Unpermitted Multiday Run: Colorado Headwaters (Upper C)
The Colorado Headwaters from Pumphouse Recreation Area to Dotesero, CO is an increasingly popular section for fishing, day-floating, and multi-day overnight floats.
It is one of the last sections of its kind that does not have a restrictive permit of any kind, and is a gem for Coloradoans who just want to get out and float without having to apply for a spot ahead of time.
It’s a great section for any size overnight, whether you are a small one-boat family trip, or a 25 person gaggle of rafts and small crafts. Campsites are available only on a first-come first-served basis, and there are many put-ins and take-outs so you have a lot of options for your trip plan, whether you are headed out for one night or five!
Upper Delores…. when the bean farmers don’t steel all the water.