While visitors stream to Colorado’s ski slopes in the winter, in the summer they come for outdoor mountain activities such as whitewater rafting trips. The Arkansas River is perhaps the most popular rafting destination in Colorado. And, rafting in Royal Gorge is a particularly unique experience.
Header photo courtesy Echo Canyon River Expeditions.
As spring approaches I am looking forward to getting back out on the river. Rafting season in Colorado typically runs from around April to September. The rapids tend to be faster earlier in the summer with the snowmelt and slow as the season progresses. It isn’t too early to think about making plans.
Royal Gorge is one of our favorite day trips from Colorado Springs. But make it a weekend and enjoy all it has to offer by including Arkansas River rafting.
2021 Summer Season of Rafting in Royal Gorge
“I am happy to report that the mountain snowpack is in good shape,” said Andy Neinas, owner of Echo Canyon River Expeditions, Colorado’s largest rafting outfitter. “After a stretch of dry weather things are rounding into form.”
Statistics confirm his “research.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Arkansas River Basin Snowpack sits at 98 percent of normal as of February 26, 2021. With the state’s snowiest months still ahead, whitewater rafting season is on track.
The snowpack statistically reaches its peak April 11. The subsequent melt sends water flowing down the state’s drainages for the next several months. Much of that water ends up in the Arkansas River, the nation’s top whitewater rafting destination.
Rafting season with Echo Canyon typically begins in April and ends in September. Whitewater conditions change significantly during the long season. Spring snowmelt results in fast river flows. Early in the season experienced paddlers seeking challenging waters will find it on the Arkansas. As the initial, fast snowmelt slows, the flows become gentler. This makes rafting the Arkansas a great choice for rafters seeking a more relaxed adventure.
Neinas and other rafting outfitters are preparing for a busy 2021. 2020 saw a slow start followed by a rush of guests who discovered that whitewater rafting was a terrific activity during the pandemic.
“Between being an inherently conducive outdoor adventure and the protocols we outfitters followed, rafting was strong once the season got going,” said Neinas. “Small groups, space to spread out, fresh air and clear water make a great combination.”
Rafting in Royal Gorge
Experienced rafters looking for an adrenaline rush can choose the Royal Gorge Rafting Trips. Take on challenging Class III up to Class V, with this trip. It makes its way through the 1,000-feet deep Royal Gorge of the Arkansas.
On the Royal Gorge trip you’ll raft through white water a thousand feet beneath the Royal Gorge Bridge. Taste extreme Colorado white water rafting as you explode over class III to V rapids. These rapids include Sunshine Falls, Sledgehammer, and Boat Eater. See astounding geology, witness local wildlife, and feel the history of the Arkansas River and the Colorado Mountain West. Suggested minimum age is 14.
Rates are $95 per person and $475 for private rafts for 10-mile, half-day trips and $159 for 20-mile, full-day trips. Full-day trips include gourmet boxed lunch served at a scenic private site overlooking the river.
Last year Echo introduced an option for groups of up to five people to reserve their own “private” raft for a flat fee. Rafters interested in this arrangement should call 1-800-690-3246 in advance to reserve.
Other Raft Trips
The Bighorn Sheep Canyon trip is recommended for families with children six and up as well as intermediate rafters. The trip combines mild whitewater with calm stretches featuring wildlife watching in a spectacular natural setting. Rates per person are $79 and $395 for private rafts for half-day trips and $139 per person for full-day trips. Full-day trips include a gourmet boxed lunch.
The Gentle Family Float is a half-day, five-mile excursion that also takes place in the Bighorn Sheep Canyon. This trip is suitable for multiple generations, including kids as young as four and grandparents. Easy Class II and gentle Class III rapids are mixed with plenty of floating time. Rates are $79 per person and $395 for private rafts.
Echo Canyon provides all rafters with a personal flotation device and helmet. They also offer rentals of water shoes, wetsuits and splash jackets.
Where to Stay and Eat in Royal Gorge
Located across the street from Echo Canyon River Expeditions are the Royal Gorge Cabins. This property is a complex of one- and two-bedroom luxury cabins. All come with fully equipped kitchens, living areas and private outdoors spaces. They also offer queen and double-queen Glamping Tents with private patios and fire rings.
The 8 Mile Bar and Grill is currently open on weekends. It offers a 16-tap bar with Colorado brews and popular favorites. And, the menu offers salads, burgers, sandwiches and entrees. More than half of the restaurant’s seating is outside, and large bay doors allow for plenty of fresh air.
Whitewater Bar & Grill is another great option. This restaurant serves up casual food for you (and your pup!). Plus they offer expansive outdoor seating, sand volleyball, axe throwing and a little park.