Riding the river: Rafting and kayaking season begins in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Riding the river: Rafting and kayaking season begins in Routt County

The Bauman family floats down the Yampa River during a Bucking Rainbow Outfitters rafting trip. Rafting season is upon us in Steamboat Springs with Bucking Rainbow, Backdoor Sports and Mountain Sports Kayak School opening up the season for floating the river.
Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

The end of the winter season calls for the start of river activities in the Yampa Valley. Rafting, kayaking, paddleboarding and more have become available in town, with more opportunities soon on the way. 

Due to a high volume of melting snow, Yampa River water levels are likely to remain higher for longer this season than in years past.

Bucking Rainbow Outfitters owner John Duty anticipates a rafting season that could reach the beginning of August, something he can only remember happening twice before in 30-plus years of business.

“We’re typically done running white water by the middle of July, whereas this year we could be running our white-water rivers that are snowmelt-oriented clear into early August,” Duty said.

Traditionally, the water will peak early on in the spring, and by the time tourist season comes along in June, the rivers will begin to decline. 

Both Duty and Mountain Sports Kayak School owner Marty Smith anticipate times this year where river activities will become impossible through town because of limited clearance below bridges. 

“The rivers we run like the Yampa through town or the Elk River up north will experience a period of time where we cannot get under some of the bridges,” Duty said. “That will be a limiting factor at some point in the season.”

Mountain Sports Kayak School, which offers kayaking rentals and guided tours, has begun its season with group trips, but anticipates a spike in demand to come soon. The shop will officially open May 15, with the business continuing to run on a mobile basis until then. 

Kayaker Tia Rexford plays in the quickly rising waters of the Yampa River Thursday afternoon, April 21, 2022.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Smith is excited to add inflatable kayaks to the shop’s repertoire this season, which he says has been made possible because of the water levels in the river. He encourages people to try it out early this spring.

“If the air temperature is warm, it is pretty enjoyable because you have wetsuits on and dry tops on, so the only thing getting wet are your hands,” Smith said.

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Currently, lake trips are the only offering that’s unavailable at the Kayak School because parts of nearby lakes are still frozen. Guided trips in Pearl Lake may not begin until June. 

Bucking Rainbow Outfitters offers rafting trips on the Yampa and Elk rivers locally, as well as the Colorado, Eagle and North Platte rivers. While new staff begin training in mid-May, Duty said those who want to go on the river beforehand can still do so through Bucking Rainbow.

Rafting on the Yampa River can be done by a beginner and trips with Bucking Rainbow take between 1 and 1.5 hours.

Another option for river activities is Backdoor Sports. While tubing season may not begin until the end of June, Backdoor rents rafts, kayaks, paddleboards and more. They also offer guided trips. 

Rentals and guided trips can be scheduled through each business’ website or by phone.

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