When it comes to whitewater rafting or kayaking in the valley, there are so many different options to choose from. Important factors to consider as you whittle down your options are the level of intensity you want and the trip would best suite your group. Water levels also play a part in what trips are available in late May/ June vs. July/ early August. Here’s everything you need to know, as well as some of our personal favorites!

The Different Classes and What they Mean

The most important thing to consider is the level of intensity you’d like. Trip ratings range from Class I – Class V, with I being the most mellow and V being the most extreme. If you’re looking for a family friendly float trip, you’d want to book a Class I or II where there is low activity and minimal paddling involved. If you’re more interested in a moderate adventure with a little more paddling, you’d want to book a Class III. If you’re seeking an adrenaline rush with high activity, intense paddling, and even the potential for swimming involved (as in tossed out of the boat – this is not on purpose), you’re looking for a Class IV or V. As the intensity of the trip ramps up, so do the age requirements and safety recommendations. Some of the more intense trips aren’t available until mid-summer due to unsafe water levels early in the season. If you’re worried about certain age requirements for a trip or are curious to see if it is currently running due to water levels, just give us a call!

Rafting on the Upper Colorado River (Class I-II)

The Upper Colorado River rafting trip is a family-friendly float adventure. If this is your family’s first rafting experience or you have young children, this would be the perfect trip to book. On this stretch of water, you may see wildlife, as well as gorgeous scenery including the red rock canyons, sage brush and juniper trees. Trips are offered morning or afternoon and last about 4 hours round trip with transportation. We recommend Timberline Tours’ Upper Colorado River trip.

Rafting the Shoshone Through Glenwood Canyon (Class III)

One of the most popular trips is Shoshone rapids on the Colorado River. This is a Class III adventure meaning it is an intermediate level of intensity. This trip takes you through stunning Glenwood Canyon and finishes in Glenwood Springs. It is unique in that it can be tailored to different ability and thrill levels depending on the group. Riders have the option to experience 1 mile of Class III rapids at the beginning of the trip or join the group after the rapids when it becomes a Class II float – a good choice for young children who are unable to ride the rapids. Thrill seekers can book the “Double Thriller” trip where the Class III section is run twice – taking different routes through each time or maybe even running the rapids backwards! The “Double Thriller” is only available in the afternoon. Other options are available morning and afternoon, and the morning option including a BBQ lunch before heading back. Depending on which option you choose, you can expect to be gone about a 5.5-6.5 hours round trip. We recommend Timberline Tours’ Shoshone Whitewater Trip.

Rafting the Numbers on the Arkansas River (Class IV)

If you’re seeking an exhilarating ride through the rapids of the Arkansas River, this is the trip for you. Numbers is a Class IV trip usually running a little later in the summer season due to unsafe water levels early on. Outfitters recommend rafters on this trip be fit, competent swimmers, as they may end up outside of the boat through some of the intense rapids. When you’re not paddling – or swimming – through the intense sections, you will see some of the most beautiful scenery as you drift down the through the Arkansas River valley. Numbers only includes a morning tour option, and you can expect it to be around 7.5 hours round trip. We recommend Timberline Tours’ The Numbers trip.

Kayaking the Upper Colorado River

Kayaking is another great option when it comes to getting out on the river! While there are not many tours available, one option that is great for families is a duckie float trip on the Upper C, as it’s known to locals. A duckie is an inflatable kayak that can accommodate singles or doubles. This is a Class II trip, with a morning option, and is about 4 hours round trip. Timberline Tours offers a fully-guided option or you can do your own trip by renting duckies with Colorado River Center.

Other Fun Boating Options

In addition to whitewater rafting and duckie tours, there are stand up paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks available for rent around Vail. One of the most popular spots to do this is Piney Lake – one of the most photographed places in Vail. Piney River Ranch has stand up paddle boards and canoes available to rent. You can explore all around the lake and see the amazing nature surrounding it; if you’re lucky, you may even see a moose! It is a 50-minute drive to Piney River Ranch on a dirt road. No other transportation is available.

Useful Tips…

  • Transportation is included for most guided trips.
  • Proper gear such as helmets, splash jackets, wetsuits (if necessary), booties, life jackets (PFDs) and paddles will be provided.
  • Wear a bathing suit or other fast-drying clothing (no cotton!) and sturdy river shoes like sports sandals that strap on or tennis shoes. Bring a hair tie for longer hair, sunglasses with securable strap, a towel, sunscreen and extra clothing layers.
  • Trips are dependent on water level at the time of booking.