The best time to go whitewater rafting in Colorado is when the rivers have optimal water levels. Peak season is late spring and early summer months, typically from May to July. However, water levels and weather conditions can vary from year to year. It’s essential to check with local rafting outfitters and monitor fluctuating river conditions before your trip, and some rivers may offer rafting throughout the summer and even into the early fall.

How Exhausting is Whitewater Rafting?

Whitewater rafting can vary in terms of physical exertion and exhaustion, depending on several factors, including the equipment used, participant fitness levels, group dynamics, length of trip, and river/weather conditions. One of the biggest factors includes where and when you raft, specifically the classes of rapids (and obstacles) encountered.

  • Class I-II (Easy to Novice): Generally gentle rapids requiring minimal paddling effort and low energy. Suitable for beginners and not very exhausting.
  • Class III (Intermediate): More challenging rapids with moderate waves and obstacles, requiring more coordinated paddling and physical effort. Moderately tiring.
  • Class IV-V (Advanced to Expert): These rapids have large waves, strong currents, and significant obstacles, demanding intense and sustained paddling, which can be very exhausting.
  • Class VI (Extreme): These are the most difficult and dangerous rapids, requiring exceptional skill and physical endurance, often resulting in extreme exhaustion.

The fitness levels and experience of your team will influence the overall efficiency of your whitewater rafting adventure. Rafting is a full-body workout that engages multiple muscle groups and fitness components. Don’t be fooled by your seated position, even without doing much padding, staying in the boat during rapids requires effort. A strong team may navigate rapids and obstacles more efficiently than an untrained one, and the healthier and stronger you are, the better you’ll manage the experience.

The length of your trip and the time spent in the elements will also impact your exhaustion levels. On any given river, trip duration is influenced by many natural factors, including class of rapids, river length and flow, experience level of group, and additional activities planned. Trips are generally broken into 3 categories.

  • Half-Day Trips:
    • Duration: 2 to 4 hours
    • Distance: Several miles
    • These trips are ideal for beginners or those with limited time. They often include a briefing, safety instructions, and multiple breaks.
  • Full-Day Trips:
    • Duration: 6 to 8 hours
    • Distance: 10-20 miles
    • Full-day trips offer an immersive experience with more rapids and scenic views. They often include a lunch break along the river.
  • Multi-Day Trips:
    • Duration: 2-5 Days
    • Distance: 10-20 miles/day
    • These trips offer an extended outdoor experience often including camping along the river, multiple meals, and navigating different sections of the river each day.

Whether you are looking for a short, exhilarating adventure or a longer, immersive journey into the wild, there are options available to suit your needs.

How Cold is Whitewater Rafting in Colorado and What Should I Wear?

Actual water temperatures will vary by season, weather and region. In spring, snowmelt from the surrounding mountains leads to higher water levels and colder temperatures while summer sees a rise in water temperatures as snow melt decreases and air temperatures increase. Fall temperatures start to decline as the season progresses (early fall can still offer relatively warmer water). Here are average water temperatures that you can expect.

  • Upper Colorado River (Near Gore Canyon & Pumphouse):
    • Spring (March to May): 45°F to 50°F / 7°C to 10°C
    • Summer (June to August): 55°F to 65°F / 13°C to 18°C
    • Fall (September to November): 50°F to 60°F / 10°C to 16°C
  • Clear Creek River:
    • Spring: 40°F to 50°F (4°C to 10°C)
    • Summer: 50°F to 60°F (10°C to 16°C)
    • Fall: 45°F to 55°F (7°C to 13°C)
  • Cache la Poudre & Arkansas River:
    • Spring: 40°F to 50°F (4°C to 10°C)
    • Summer: 50°F to 65°F (10°C to 18°C)
    • Fall: 45°F to 55°F (7°C to 13°C)

When whitewater rafting in Colorado, it’s important to dress appropriately for both comfort and safety. The right clothing can help you stay warm in cold water, protect you from the sun, and ensure you can move freely, including in the event you fall off the boat. Outfitters and guides will provide paddles, helmets and personal flotation devices and many offer wetsuit and splash jacket rentals as well.

Recommended Rafting Gear:

  • All Seasons: Footwear (water shoes/sandals), rash guard or synthetic shirt, polarized sunglasses with strap, waterproof sunscreen.
  • Spring: Water is cold, so consider wetsuits, neoprene gloves and socks.
  • Summer: Lightweight, quick-drying clothing and ample sun protection are key, optionally a thin wetsuit or splash jacket in colder sections.
  • Fall: Layering is important as temps can vary. Consider wetsuits, splash jackets, and additional thermal protection as needed.

It’s best to avoid cotton clothing as it retains water and can make you cold and uncomfortable. Bulky clothing and accessories can hinder your movement or snag on things, and personal items like cell phones and wallets should be in a waterproof bag/case and securely attached to you or the raft.

We offer a wide variety of whitewater rafting experiences suitable for different ages and abilities. Whether you seek a leisurely float, a family focused trip or an adrenaline-packed journey, we have the perfect trip for you. We cover the logistics to ensure you have a safe and satisfying experience. Give us a call or contact us to learn more about our programs.

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