Colorado Snowpack & What it Means for Summer Rafting

Summer Season Rafting

We’ve enjoyed a fabulous winter season here in the Vail Valley. Snowmobiling has been a ton of fun with excellent snow conditions. But we’re also excited that spring is around the corner. All this snow means we’re going to have an incredible whitewater rafting season!

First, a big thanks to everyone who has joined us this winter on a snowmobile tour! We’ve enjoyed meeting and riding with each of you. Thanks to you, it has been an epic snowmobile season, exploring our private mountain at Castle Peak.

Snowmobile Tour

As we look forward to spring and the summer rafting season, we can’t help but get excited. After a relatively dry winter last year, the Snowpack in the Colorado high country is deep. And that means great rafting conditions ahead!

Currently, statewide snowpack is at 115% of normal levels. Right here in the Colorado River basin, we’re sitting at 113% of normal. With this much snow in the high country, we can expect an extended season for Gore Creek and the Eagle River. With the weather outlook, we expect both the Eagle and Gore Creek to run in prime conditions through mid-July.

When the Eagle River is at its peak, it’s some of the best whitewater in the country. If the prime season on the Eagle ran longer into the summer, it would rival the Arkansas River in use numbers. But what makes the Eagle River is unique, is the steady downward gradient. The upper section from Minturn to Avon features a consistent elevation drop, essentially creating a 10-mile long wave train.

If you’ve never experienced Gore Creek or the Eagle River, this will be the year to do it!

Colorado Rafting trip

Meanwhile, over in the Arkansas River basin, snowpack is currently at about 124% of normal. After the spring thaw begins, we’re going to see a long, and memorable summer of whitewater rafting on the Ark.

The world-famous Pine Creek and Numbers sections of the Arkansas boast some of the best class IV and V whitewater rafting in the country. Further downstream, Browns Canyon National Monument offers a trip through an incredibly scenic gorge with 10 miles of class III rapids. Add to this a backdrop of 14,000-foot peaks and rocky desert landscapes, and it’s easy to see why the Ark is a popular rafting destination.

The 2019 rafting season in Colorado is shaping up to be a memorable one. If you’re planning a trip to Colorado this year, be sure and reserve dates early for your whitewater adventure.

To learn more, visit our Rafting Page. If you have questions or to book a trip, please call us at 970-476-3700 or contact us online.

Early Summer Rafting and Runoff Explained

By Cole Bangert

Undammed rivers have a unique quality when the weather warms up and the snow melts. We get to watch the delayed reaction on an hourly basis from our office on the bank of the Eagle River.

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. On warm days is 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.

In the Vail Valley, we watch the Eagle River fluctuate on a 12-hour cycle. For example, the river will be at its highest flows at about 2:00 a.m. Just 12 hours prior, that snow was quickly melting during the hottest part the day, around 2:00PM.

As days warm or cool, 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 then we get a cold rain storm, we can predict a drop in river levels the next day.

This often seems backwards to many visitors. Rain should equal higher river levels, right? But here’s what happens: that rain is actually snow up at high elevations. Instead of the snowpack melting and raising the river, the storm actually 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 flows the very next day. The hot weather heats and quickly melts the snowpack. We have seen the river go up by over 30% overnight.

The peak flow is different every year. It is totally dependent on how much snow fell 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 remaining is 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 a result of ground water seeping out of the earth and running down the riverbed.

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

The winter of 2017-2018 was below average for snowpack in the Vail area. But that does not equal sub-par rafting. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. We expect this summer to be one of the best rafting seasons ever!

2018 Rafting Trips and Summer Adventure on the Horizon

Spring is here and we’re already looking forward with anticipation to some awesome 2018 rafting trips and summer adventures right around the corner!

Playing in the snow is a blast, but it’s usually around this time when we start dreaming of playing in the water. Before we know it, we’ll be pushing off for another awesome whitewater season. This summer, we will also be enjoying beautiful horseback rides, side-by-side ATV rides, fly fishing and sporting clays.

The 2018 rafting season in Colorado kicks off in May and we offer rafting trips to suit any group, from family-friendly outings to adrenaline-packed adventures.

First, our Float Series rafting trips are perfect families and groups of all ages. Explore the upper Colorado River and travel through scenic canyons while you enjoy splashing through waves and lazy swimming holes.

Next, our Adventures Series includes Class III whitewater trips with the excitement of rapids, plus some killer Colorado scenery. There are a wide variety of trips in the Adventure Series and we can easily customize these floats. They include stretches of the Colorado River, Gore Creek, the lower Eagle River and the world-renown Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas River.

Finally, we offer some incredible Adrenaline Series trips for Colorado’s best nonstop whitewater action. The most famous stretches of river in Colorado are the Numbers and Pine Creek Sections of the Arkansas River. But don’t overlook the Eagle River. The Eagle is home to some awesome whitewater and we believe it’s one of the most underrated in Colorado.

In addition to these many rafting adventures, we’re looking forward to another summer of fun at our base of operations on a historic ranch near Vail. Here at our base, we’ve got 6,000 acres to explore on horseback and ATV. In this private setting, we have the mountain to ourselves where we’re free to explore Colorado’s alpine country. From here we enjoy views of seven different mountain ranges and overlooks of the jaw-dropping Eagle River Canyon.


For more information on our 2018 rafting trips and other summer adventures, please check out the rest of the website at SageOutdoorAdventures.com. You can also contact us online or give us a call at 970-476-3700.

Thanks for a Great Summer Season – See You on the Snow!

Sage Outdoor Adventures is officially closed for the summer season. We’d like to give a shout out to all of our summer guests – thank you for joining us on a Colorado outdoor adventure this year! We enjoyed meeting each one of you and we look forward to seeing you again.

The summer of 2017 was a memorable one. With huge snowpack coming into the spring, we enjoyed some incredible rafting trips.  From right here in the Vail valley on Gore Creek and the Eagle River, down to the Colorado River and even the Arkansas, water conditions were ideal this year.

All that spring moisture also meant that we had a beautiful wildflower season on the ranch near Vail. Our horseback riders and side-by-side ATV riders had the opportunity to enjoy huge fields of wildflowers and green conditions throughout most of the summer. There’s no bad time to explore the ranch on horseback or ATV. But when there are flowers popping everywhere, it’s sure hard to beat.

As the summer season is now closed, we are anxiously looking forward to snowfall! We will open our winter snowmobiling operation just in time for Thanksgiving. If you’re planning a holiday trip to Vail or Beaver Creek, be sure to give us a call. Snowmobile rides are a ton of fun for the entire family. This historic ranch is larger than Vail ski area! And the views of the valley are absolutely incredible. So take a few hours away from the bustle of the ski areas and enjoy a peaceful, backcountry ride through this winter wonderland.

For more information on our snowmobile trips, please check out our snowmobiling page. For details or to reserve your trip, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 970-476-3700 or contact us online.

See you on the snow soon!

The Spring Melt is Underway

Another late blast of snow across the Rockies last week dumped more than a foot of wet spring snow in some locations. This week, temperatures are back up into the 70s in many places across Colorado. The smaller creeks are filling up and water is starting to rise. The spring melt is underway!

Even this late in the year, the state’s snowpack currently stands at about 105% of normal. Runoff is just beginning and there’s still a ton of snow up high. Depending on how rapidly summer temperatures arrive, runoff this year could last weeks longer than normal. At its peak, this season will bring some epic whitewater rafting conditions!

In fact, much of the Arkansas River and the Colorado River are already at the low end of their runnable levels. It won’t be long before we’re entering prime rafting season! This will be a rafting season not to be missed. Give us a call at 970-476-3700 to reserve your spot. Or check out our rafting trips.

While the rafting community is celebrating an outstanding year of whitewater conditions, fly fishing enthusiasts might be less enthralled with the prospect of an extended high-water season. However, many veteran anglers will tell you that runoff is not the time of year to sit on the sidelines.

Among many in the fly fishing world, runoff gets a bad rap. Water is high, often muddy and many of your favorite holes might be unrecognizable. But that doesn’t mean the fishing isn’t great. I just means you have to fish it differently.

In some ways, runoff provides advantages that help offset the challenges. During high water, fish concentrate in predictable locations. They tend to get pushed out toward the banks and into any slack water where they can find reprieve. You may not be able to wade during runoff, but you probably don’t need to. With fish in these more reachable locations, they can be easily targeted from shore. Check out our fly fishing page for more information.

No matter what you find yourself doing this spring, whether you’ve got a paddle or a fly rod in your hand, have fun and enjoy all that Colorado has to offer! If you have questions about trips with Sage Outdoor Adventures, call us at 970-476-3700 or send us a message.