Yampa River Festival celebrates free-flowing Western waterway

John Camponeschi
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
The raft rodeo entertains the crowd at Charlie's Hole during the 42nd annual Yampa River Festival in June 2022.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Amid attention surrounding its high flows, the Yampa River will be the focus of celebration up and down its banks throughout downtown Steamboat Springs this weekend.

The river is unique in the fact that it is among the few rivers in the American West that does not have a major dam or diversion along its course.

The Yampa River Festival, which has occurred for the last 43 years, will commence on Thursday with a State of the Yampa address in the Allbright Auditorium at Colorado Mountain College and end Sunday with a kayak slalom event at Rich Weiss Park. The main events will occur Saturday at Charlie’s Hole, or C-hole, behind the library at 1289 Lincoln Ave. and at Fetcher Park.

The event falls during what has been proclaimed “Yampa River Month” by supporters of the waterway and the surrounding ecosystems. As part of this week’s First Friday Artwalk, many of the art galleries throughout the city also are featuring pieces inspired by the magnificence and power of the river.

Friends of the Yampa is the primary nonprofit organization behind the planning and staging of the Yampa River Festival. The board-run organization operates within the entire river valley throughout Routt and Moffat counties. 

Katie Berning, outreach and office coordinator for Friends of the Yampa, spoke of the collaborative work that is the product of the group’s mission to try to protect the river and its tributaries through stewardship, education and partnership.

“We are a program that works to listen to all the stakeholders of the Yampa River and promote their needs while also holding the needs of the Yampa the highest,” she said.

A kayaker surfs Charlie’s Hole during the 2019 Yampa River Festival in downtown Steamboat Springs.
Katie Berning/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Since its creation in 1981, Friends of the Yampa has sought to bring river-users together to protect and celebrate the waterway. Originally a recreation-based organization, it has since evolved into a wide-scoped advocacy group that protects the entire watershed. Berning outlined the progression of the organization in saying, “We have been working to shift from being a recreation friends group to really looking to conservation.”

She also said the festival itself is designed to “get river lovers together to celebrate with a lot of enthusiasm.”

This year’s events include remembrances and celebrations of those who have committed their lives to the protection of the Yampa. The annual kayaking race has been renamed the Adam Mayo Memorial Fish Creek Race in honor of Adam Mayo, an advocate and former board member of Friends of the Yampa who died in December 2022 while paddling Mexico’s class V Upper Rio Jalacingo near Veracruz, Mexico. Also, this year’s raft race will be held to commemorate the life and work of Drew Hyde as well.

Steamboat Springs attorney Adam Mayo surfs a wave while kayaking. Mayo was an expert kayaker and advocate for the Yampa River.
Matt Helm/ courtesy photo
Drew Hyde is shown on the river with his dog, Griffin. Hyde died in an avalanche in March 2022.
Courtesy photo

While the increased flows along the river and its tributaries are welcome to many, it has put safety surrounding this year’s event into a high focus. The temperature of the water, as well as the high flows and debris, are concerns. As a result, Friends of the Yampa is going to have increased on-shore safety as well as closely monitoring flow gauges along the river.  

High flows can impact ability to navigate hazards in the river as well as getting under bridges. Due to the high state of the water, “safety” is the theme of this year’s festival.

Berning said that the festival would not be possible without the City of Steamboat Springs, as well as the many individuals, groups and sponsors that contribute time, energy and funding to the event. One of the main sponsors of the event is Backdoor Sports, which also is hosting a gear swap on Friday from noon until 6 p.m.

“Whether you are a boater or an agricultural producer, a healthy Yampa benefits you,” Berning concluded. “We benefit from our communities by having people volunteer, come to us with issues and talking with us while spreading the word about the organization and the importance of the river to us all.”

Friends of the Yampa is still seeking community volunteers to work at the River Festival. Interested individuals should go to the organization’s website to sign up.

More about the festival including an event schedule is available through the Friends of the Yampa at For a full listing of events for Yampa River Month, head to

Yampa River Festival

Below is a schedule of events for the Yampa River Festival. Due to high water, some events could be canceled or adjusted. For a full listing of events for Yampa River Month head to


5: 30 p.m. — State of the River at CMC Steamboat, Allbright Auditorium


Noon-6 p.m. — Gear Swap at Backdoor Sports

6 p.m. — Adam Mayo Memorial Fish Creek Race


10:30 a.m. — Pack Raft Race at Charlie’s Hole

11a.m.-1 p.m. — SUP/Kayak Demos at Fetcher Pond

10 a.m. — Open Class Downriver Kayak Race

Noon — SUP Downriver Race

1 p.m. — Drew Hyde Raft Race

2 p.m. — Raft Rodeo at Charlie’s Hole

2:30 p.m. — SUP Cross

3:30 p.m. — Kayak Cross (heats of 3)

4 p.m. — Crazy River Dog

4:30 p.m. — Tube Rodeo at Charlie’s Hole

5:30 p.m. — Kayak Rodeo at Charlie’s Hole

6:30 p.m. — Awards


10-1 p.m. — Kayak Slalom at Rich Weiss Park

Hundreds of onlookers gather to witness the 42nd annual Yampa River Festival.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

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