Paddling the Arkansas,Rowing Cataract

July 25, 2019 657 18

If you’re not out there running the rivers this season, what are you even doing with your life? The mucho grande snowpack from one of the snowiest ever seasons in the Rocky Mountains means this year’s whitewater rafting is stupidly splendid! Every watershed in the west has an average of 125% to 135% normal snowpack, which translates to a f*** ton more water in the rivers we run.

If you prefer to paddle:The Arkansas River

Though the mouth of the Arkansas River is in Napoleon, Arkansas and is a major tributary of the Mississippi River, when people talk about running “the Arkansas” they are generally referring to a trip that starts somewhere in the Colorado Rockies near the Continental Divide.

The strangest thing about this river is that it flows west to east from Colorado through Kansas and Oklahoma on its way to Arkansas, and it just feels like it’s supposed to go the other way. Anyway, the Arkansas River boasts more than 100 miles of whitewater from Class I (basically bathwater) to IV+(come-to-Jesus) rapids, which makes it one of the most popular rivers to run out west.

Echo Canyon River Expeditions

I paddled with the folks at Echo Canyon River Expeditions, based in Cañon City, who offer package discounts for lodging and other outdoor activities paired with rafting. They also have tour bundles for other nearby attractions, like the Royal Gorge Bridge and Theme Park and the historic Royal Gorge Railroad. Yay train rides! You don’t have to be Ross Geller to enjoy the Dinosaur Experience next to the main building at Echo Canyon. It’s as close to a Jurassic Park visit as I can imagine, but you know, without the impending doom.

Paddling the Royal Gorge

Rafting the Royal Gorge section of the Arkansas River is a singular adventure. In my boat, all seven of us (guide included) simultaneously clung onto our paddles and the raft while trying very hard not to “be a swimmer.” As we pushed our paddles through the fierce water, the raft lurched and punched through an aptly named rapid “Boat Eater,” which was flanked by humongous foreboding boulders and tricky drops. This is just one of the many exciting rapids on this stretch of the Arkansas.

Despite being in the middle of trying to champion this Class IV rapid, I was able to find a moment to appreciate the Royal Gorge Bridge situated conveniently above this particular rapid set against the backdrop of towering sandstone walls. It would have been a shame to miss this rare view of the world’s highest suspension bridge as we paddled our way through the raging waters, even if it meant I’d go for an accidental plunge.

After braving my way through the Arkansas, I went to the annual Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival in Cañon City to watch others perform feats of whitewater mastery and celebrate with boats, bands, and beers. This year’s Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival is June 21–23, 2019.

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