Rafting preparation is more than just choosing a rafting company and packing the right gear. Rafting experiences vary to some degree depending on the time of summer that you go. Water levels and rapids speeds are not steady all year round. By rafting during a time in the season when rapids are as crazy as your family or group likes them, you’ll have more options for fun expeditions. Follow these tips to plan your whitewater rafting trip at the best time of year to suit your group’s needs.
How It Works
Much of the water you see flowing down the rivers in Colorado comes from melted snow in the mountains. Nearly 75% of water supplies in western states comes from snowmelt. During the winter and spring, precipitation in the high country is stored in ice fields in the mountains. In late spring and early summer, these snow reserves melt and release water into the streams and rivers.
Because the river water comes from precipitation in the mountains, how much snow the high country receives in the winter determines how much water fills the rivers. More snow means higher water levels and more whitewater while less snow means calmer tides.
The rivers are also impacted by the length of the snow season. Some years, it stops snowing by the end of March. This sometimes means that the rafting season can start a bit sooner. In other years, like this year, Colorado has heavy winters that go through late June. This can occasionally delay rafting season by a couple of weeks, but it also may extend the season through August if there is enough snow. Overall, the amount of snowpack Colorado sees each year has a significant impact on rafting season and conditions.
The Typical Season
In a normal year, the Colorado rafting season follows a predictable pattern. Early summer starts with fast rapids and plenty of white water. Then, rivers calm down towards the second half of the season.
Early June: During the first half of June, and sometimes even late May, river water levels are high. This time of season offers higher class rapids that are more advanced and provide more of an adrenaline boost. If you’re an advanced rafter or if you’re planning for an outing for a thrill-seeking adult crowd, this is the ideal time of year to go.
Late June and Early July: This part of the season is best for families and beginners. There are still plenty of splashes, but rafting trips are more easy-going since the tides have lowered since the early season. Plus, the mountain air and the water are both much warmer during the middle of the summer, making for a more comfortable trip.
August: Water levels are at their lowest by the end of summer, and some rivers might not have enough water for river sports. However, nearby water reservoirs release enough water to keep tourist season afloat.
Rafting Options Throughout the Season
Deciding when to plan your trip will also depend on the length of your trip. While you’ll have more options to suit your skill level during certain times of the summer, there are plenty of day trip options at various levels throughout the season. Experienced rafting guides have scouted the rivers throughout the season and know how easy or difficult they will be ahead of time. So if you want Class II rapids, you don’t necessarily have to wait until July. The same applies to more adventurous trips. Rafting companies offer routes with Class III and Class IV rapids in late July if you missed out on the early bird special. If you’re going for a day trip, then you’ll be able to find a range of trip options regardless of the time of the season.
Many outdoor enthusiasts like to make the most of their trip up to the mountains with multi-day rafting expeditions as well. Whether you spend one night or a few nights camping between rafting excursions, multi-day trips are a great way to get the hang of rafting and enjoy the outdoors for longer than a couple of hours on the river. While a short trip can be fun at any time of summer, planning for an ideal time of the season is especially important for multi-day trips that involve extra mileage along the river. Routes are made up of multiple sections of the river with varying classes. So if you want a thrilling adventure, for example, you’ll want to plan an expedition for early summer so that there will be fewer Class II rapids on your route. Plan at a time of year where the tides are to your liking to get the most enjoyment out of your trip.
Whitewater rafting expeditions in Colorado are thrilling all summer long. Rafting guides stay familiar with the rapids of each route, so they can let you know what to expect as you’re planning your trip. However, options to fit your skill level are sometimes more abundant at certain times of the season, providing you with more options for varying skill levels and different length trips. Whether you’re looking to hit the water for a couple of hours or a couple of days, you’ll be happy that you planned your expedition accordingly.