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Steamboat’s rafting season is ready to roll

Bucking Rainbow is one of two Steamboat-based rafting companies. This photo of nine Bucking Rainbow guides was taken after a swift water rescue class on Clear Creek earlier this month.
Courtesy photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – With one look at the surging Yampa River, it’s easy to see that it’s go-time for rafting and kayaking.

The paddling season typically runs from mid-May to mid-July with flows dependent on snowpack.

“In this season that we’re in now, it’s started early,” said Bryan Bellamy, manager of Bucking Rainbow, who has helped manage large-scale river outposts in Colorado, Tennessee and West Virginia. “If you guys are ready to go, we’re ready to go.”

Spring and rafting are synonymous; however, visitors and some locals may be unaccustomed to the sport that can be found right in Steamboat Springs’ backyard.

The two primary boating companies in town are Bucking Rainbow, offering guided paddling and rowing trips down five different rivers from scenic float trips to Class IV adventure, and Backdoor Sports, specializing in kayaking and gear as well as a smaller rafting operation with permits down the town stretch of the Yampa River.

The commercial rafting window, which allows boaters to use city put-ins and takeouts usually expires July 6, as dictated by the city’s Parks, Open Spaces and Recreational Services Department.

“You’re not just seeing the same river each day,” said Jeff Dix, a guide who’s worked at Bucking Rainbow for about eight years now. “If you did the North Platte on Thursday and go back on Monday, it’s going to be a different river.”

Bucking Rainbow offers trips on the Upper Colorado River, the North Platte River, the Eagle River, the raging Cross Mountain whitewater and trips on the Elk and Yampa rivers.

“If you don’t have a boat and want to go down these rivers — we’re your option,” Bellamy said. “Not everyone has friends with boats or the ability, especially with all of the technical details within each river. We’re the pros on these rivers.

“When we have conversations with locals, and we say we’re river guides, they associate us with fly fishing,” Bellamy continued. “I don’t think people realize we have all the permits for each commercial section that’s runnable within an hour to an hour and a half of Steamboat.”

Bucking Rainbow employs 15 to 20 experienced and certified guides with an average of eight years of whitewater experience.

Backdoor Sports owner Peter Van De Carr said his operation relies on about five guides who are longtime locals with an average of 30 years guiding experience.

Whether you’re seeking mild, meandering floats or heart-pounding adventure, there’s plenty of options to explore close to home.

The Yampa River

River Class: II-III

“Our river through town is fantastic. It really is a recreational gem, and I’m baffled every year by how few people use it,” Van De Carr said. “When properly outfitted the Yampa River can be an exciting little stretch — especially with a kayak.”

Get out there: To raft the “Town Run” of the Yampa River with Bucking Rainbow there’s two options of half-day trips. The Yampa River section, a paddling trip, runs from Dr. Rich Weiss Park, Fetcher Park or Bucci Ponds to the west of town at the KOA campground. The Yampa Safari, a rowing trip, is a scenic family float trip between Hayden and Craig — only 20 minutes from town —with wildlife viewings including eagles, deer and elk to name a few. 

Bonus: Kayakers run the river year round. There are two main kayak schools — Backdoor Sports, 841 Yampa St., and Mountain Sports Kayak School, 800 S Lincoln Ave.

Local tip: Visit the upgraded campsites located between South Beach and Duffy Mountain river access points on a stretch of river that travels through the Little Yampa Canyon. South Beach access of Yampa River State Park is located approximately 3 miles south of Craig on U.S. Highway 13.

Cross Mountain

River Class: III-V (depending on flow levels)

Get out there: This trip offers an adrenaline fix for athletic adult rafters seeking adventure. This desert canyon river, which is over 1,000 feet deep, runs through the picturesque Cross Mountain Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument and is located two hours west of Steamboat. It is known as a “wild” river with large boulders in the 3.5-mile-long stretch with rapids such as “Osterizer,” “Body Pizza” and “Death Ferry.”

Local tip: Don’t forget about the cliff jumping at the end of the action-packed day. This river is known for being a little warmer at 72 degrees due to winding through 100 miles of ranch land.

Elk River

River Class: II to III

Get out there: One of Bucking Rainbow’s popular trips is known as “The Daily Double.” This high Alpine stretch pours out of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area covering about six miles of continuous whitewater. The put-in is a mere 35-minute drive to North Routt.

Local tip: “There is little public access on this river, and we have access to a private takeout there,” Dix said.

Eagle River

River Class: III-IV

Get out there: Located an hour and a half from Steamboat, this river offers plenty of refreshing face shots sure to build some camaraderie. Especially at high water, the Eagle is moving fast, and paddlers will mostly likely get wet after rapids like the “Dowd Chutes.”

Local tip: The age recommendation for this river is 14 years and older.

North Platte River

River Class: III-IV

Get out there: Located in Northgate Canyon, the North Platte meanders through wilderness areas starting in Colorado and ending at the take-out in Wyoming. This particular stretch is primarily flat water with a few characteristics including the big crux rapid known as “Narrow Falls” and others like “Windy Hole,” “Tootsie Roll” and “Stovepipe.”

Local tip: With only 20 people allowed in this canyon daily, book this full-day trip early.

Upper Colorado River

River Class: II

Get out there: This trip launches from a Bureau of Land Management river put-in location below Gore Canyon about 55 miles south of Steamboat. The scenic stretch extends about 15 miles to State Bridge with mellow water through Class II rapids with names like “Eye of the Needle” and “Yarmony.” This rowing trip is great for families and beginners and offers a chance to see some wildlife and spectacular scenery that meanders past red canyon walls.

Local tip: Rafting trips here are offered into October.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.


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