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The Best Time for Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

Undammed rivers have a unique flow when the weather warms up and the snow melts, which can often be confusing to visitors. But since we watch the river on an hourly basis from our office on the bank of the Eagle River, we’ve become experts at predicting the best time for whitewater rafting in Colorado.

How Winter Snow Impacts Summer Rafting

Snow accumulates throughout the winter at elevations between 8,000 and 14,000 feet. In the spring, the lowest snow melts first. Waterways become murky, and levels are boosted, but not to floatable levels. On cold days, the water level goes down, and on warm days it rises, but this fluctuation is minor since the amount of snow melting at lower elevations is not very substantial early in the spring.

As spring progresses, the deeper snowpack at higher elevations begins to warm and melt. This is the time period when you will see the rivers start to have dramatic changes. The water will be muddy, cold, and fast: a clear sign that it’s time for summer whitewater rafting to start.

Summer Weather & River Water Levels

For example, while Rafting in the Vail Valley, the Eagle River fluctuates on a 12-hour cycle. For example, the river will have its highest flow at about 2:00 a.m. Just 12 hours prior, that snow was quickly melting during the hottest part of the day, around 2:00 PM.

As days warm up or cool down, we can almost always predict what the river levels will do the next day. For example, if the river has been steadily rising for five days, and we get a cold rainstorm, we can predict a drop in river levels the next day.

This often seems backward to many visitors. Rain should equal higher river levels, right? But here’s what happens: that rain becomes snow up at high elevations. Instead of the snowpack melting and raising the river, the storm re-freezes the snow, and the water levels will drop the next day.

So, what happens when the weather is the opposite? When we get an absolute scorcher of a day, we expect to see a massive jump in water flow the very next day. The hot weather heats and quickly melts the snowpack. We have seen the river rise by over 30% overnight, creating incredibly powerful whitewater.

Peak Summer Rafting Conditions

The peak flow is different every year, meaning whitewater rafting conditions are different yearly. It is dependent on how much snow falls over the winter. After the peak, the water will slowly diminish in volume. The river will drop in level much slower and more gradually than when it rises with snowmelt on its way up to the peak.

As we get into July, the only snowpack remains on the highest peaks. At this time of year, our fluctuations mellow out. Summer temperatures are more stable and warm, so a consistent melt rate occurs. Eventually, all the snow melts, and the water you see in the river is groundwater seeping out of the earth and running down the riverbed.

Moderate snow levels and moderate river levels are ideal for our summer rafting guests. River access can be tricky when the rivers are “cranking” with tons of snowmelt. Flood levels can even close some stretches of the river. The low height of bridges or the severity of rapids can make some areas impassable.

Luckily, with decades of rafting experience under our belts, we have a good sense of the best times for whitewater rafting in Colorado based on your experience level and goals. As for where to whitewater raft in Colorado and what trips to embark on, navigate to our rafting page for more information on our rafting tours, or contact us today for a chat about current river conditions!


Nick Junker

General Manager

I’m dedicated to leveraging my skills and experiences to make a positive impact in the professional realm.

With a background in Sales and Outdoor Recreation, I’ve navigated through various roles where I’ve honed my expertise in Risk Management, Business Development and Financial Analysis. From Account Executive to General Manager, I’ve cultivated a deep understanding of client and employee relations, Human Resources, Project Management and overall business operations from generating sales to budgeting expenses and managing over 30 employees.

My mission is to create a great culture in any organization I am apart of, through creating efficient industry specific systems within the business that satisfies both employees and investors. Whether it’s through implementing new business systems or managing employee expectations, I’m committed to meeting the goals of the organization.

Known for my strong leadership and organizational skills, I excel in delegating tasks to keep projects and goals on task and on budget. I’m passionate about systems, always seeking innovative solutions to making the business run smoother and more efficiently. I believe in the power of collaboration and enjoy working with diverse individuals to build a strong team thats driven to accomplish the organizations goals.

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