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Great whitewater awaits late-season rafters on Arkansas River
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
After weeks of water surging down the Arkansas River at levels not seen for a couple decades, flows have calmed along the 152 miles of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) and rafting conditions are the best they’ve been all season.

“Flows are fantastic for this time of the year,” said Rob White, AHRA park manager. “And we expect to see great whitewater conditions throughout August and well past the Labor Day weekend.”

River flow rates, measured in cubic feet per second, or cfs, are trending at or above 1,500 cfs in Salida and anywhere from 1,200 cfs to 1,800 cfs at key checkpoints along the river including Browns Canyon, Wellsville, Parkdale and the Royal Gorge. Those levels are well above historic averages entering August.

“Right now, whitewater boating in the Numbers, Browns Canyon and the Royal Gorge has never been better,” White said. “These water levels are perfect for enjoying a whitewater trip with an AHRA commercial outfitter.”

Andy Neinas, owner Echo Canyon River Expeditions which offers raft trips up and down the river, said he can’t recall sustained flows this late in the season in any of his 33 years on the Arkansas.

“Water levels are in the sweet spot right now,” Neinas said. “The river is spectacular now. It’s sunny and warm and that makes the water feel so cool and refreshing. We have whitewater that’s perfect for families and challenging for the adventure-class of boaters.

“And we’re going to have great water well into September. It’s incredible how much snow is still up in the mountains.”

Grant Brown, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s boating safety program manager, said it is a relief to finally be talking about river rafting again after a string of river fatalities statewide with the majority resulting from private boaters.

“The news this season to date has been about high water conditions,” Brown said. “But now rivers flows have returned to their normal levels and that should make for an exciting and extended floating season.”

That’s also the message from Bob Hamel, director for Arkansas River Outfitters Association.

“We’re way past the high flows of runoff,” Hamel said. “But the sustained flows are providing exciting rafting and splashy waves conducive to families while still offering challenges to advanced rafters.

“We’re expecting a strong finish to the season and that’s good news for residents of Colorado. August and September will be a great time to go rafting for locals as the out-of-staters leave. We should finish the season very strong.”

Last year, the 50-plus outfitters along the Arkansas River counted about 225,000 rafting customers who challenged the Arkansas River through the AHRA.

Safety is always a priority when recreating within the AHRA. If you are not familiar with the Arkansas River or current conditions, please contact the AHRA Visitor Center in Salida at 719-539-7289.