It Might Take A Little Longer, But Colorado Could See Best Rafting ‘In 25 Years’

June 4, 2019
Photo: Animas River, Whitewater Rafting
Rafters on the Animas river near Durango, Colorado, in 2016.

Usually by mid-August, Colorado’s river flows weaken. Streams dribble and rafting is usually all but over. But maybe not this year. Upcoming snowmelt will likely provide Colorado with an extended rafting season well into September.

Cold weather and heavy snowfall in the high country through the end of May has slowed the regular flow of water off the mountain and into streams and rivers. And for people who spend summers in those rivers, that could be a great thing.

“This will probably be the best rafting in 24, 25 years and that's a good statement to be able to make, certainly after last year where it was a little thin in some places because of the drought conditions,” said Dave Costlow of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. “If you’re going to go rafting, this is probably a good year to go.”

Snowmelt runoff from the mountains will begin this week, Costlow said, causing rivers to rise only gradually unless there is a long period of weather around 90 degrees.

Right now, “we’ve probably got flows more reminiscent of the second week of May in many locations,” Costlow said. “As long as this cool weather continues, it will just extend it out even more.”

He says rafting business operators should benefit from above-average snowpack, including in areas that suffered from drought last summer, such as Durango in southwest Colorado, which now has snowpack well above normal. The longer rafting season stands to benefit mountain town tourism too, he said.

Costlow also said he doesn’t expect the heavy flow to become dangerous.

“Outfitters move runs around based on the flows,” he said. “Every year we have high flows because it’s the nature of rivers. Rapids are rated for classification of beginner, intermediate or advanced. So if an outfitter has a [rafting] trip and they want to keep the rating at the beginner-intermediate level, for instance, they’ll move that run up or down the river to keep it within the rating.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.