Whitewater rafting on the Colorado River is such a unique way to enjoy the Rocky Mountain outdoors. Rafting has the amazing ability to turn a day of vacation into a lasting memory that everyone talks about for years to come. This is especially true in the popular section of the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs. Known as the Lower Colorado, not to be confused with the Grand Canyon further down this iconic river. This section on the western slope of Colorado is popular with both adventure-seekers looking for thrills and groups who want a more fun and relaxing outing.
Rafting through Glenwood Canyon is the perfect family adventure or outing for a group of friends. A rafting trip can be ideal as a team-building exercise or employee getaway for any business looking to reward and enhance its workers. It’s the kind of outing where every participant is completely engaged. You won’t find anyone’s face in their phones while you’re traveling down the Lower Colorado!
To get a first-hand perspective, we sat down with Phoebe Larsson, co-owner of Whitewater Rafting, LLC, in Glenwood Springs. Phoebe knows the waters around Glenwood better than anyone. We sat down with her for a Q&A to discuss a few items, including the current river conditions following a winter that produced a hearty snow pack.
Q: What makes the Lower Colorado River special?
A: “Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado River is the first big canyon on the Colorado. It makes its way from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Sea of Cortez. At 1,200 feet deep, and sporting Class II through Class V sections of rapids, it’s an amazing section of the river.”
Q: How is it different than the other sections of the river?
A: “Getting to raft through the deepest canyon on the Upper Colorado River is pretty cool. Crystal-clear side creeks tumble into the muddy Colorado, forming beautiful ever-changing beaches. Natural hot springs seep from the river’s edge and beg for a quick dip.”
Q: How would you describe the ride?
A: “Fun, splashy, everyone is going to get wet but extremely unlikely anyone will swim. The perfect combination of thrills and safety.”
Q: Is this a good trip for kids? What’s the age minimum?
A: “The minimum age for most trips is age 5. The Shoshone rapids are fun and exciting for smaller kids, yet very safe as our guide has big 10-foot oars to keep the boat on track even if the paddlers aren’t paddling hard. The Short & Mild trip is our little kid trip, safe for anyone down to age 2.”
Q: What’s the easiest part of the Colorado?
A: “Our Short & Mild trip typically does the Colorado River below Glenwood Canyon. Here the river mellows out to a nice Class II. We get small splashes and a nice tour of the river, perfect for small kids and people who want to keep it quiet and enjoyable. The section below Glenwood down to New Castle also offers a nice Class II scenic float with multiple eagle nests and regular wildlife sightings including bears, deer, sheep and the occasional dairy bear.”
Q: What part of the river is the most fun in your opinion?
A: “The guide’s favorite is Man Eater Rapid. It’s the biggest rapid we run and is a huge hit at all flows. Every guide comes back to the boathouse to check out the photos we take at that spot to see who hit it hardest that day. Super fun!”
Q: So, you guys provide photography services?
A: “We have photos waiting for you to see as soon as you get off the river. While a pic of a big hit is what most people anticipate, the real jewels are your friends’ and family’s hilarious faces as they slightly freak out above a big rapid.”
Q: What part do you think is the most challenging section of the river?
A: “We approach every single rapid and part of the trip as the most challenging and always respect the river so what might seem like the most mild section of the river has the potential to cause the most harm. It’s all challenging until everyone is off the river safely.”
Q: What about late season?
A: “In Fall, the water cools and becomes a beautiful clear blue, the leaves change, and the crowds are gone. Still Class III, this time of year is the most beautiful and peaceful.”
Q: Is there a better time of day than other times?
A: “Not really, the river doesn’t fluctuate daily like many smaller rivers. It’s warmer in the afternoon but whatever works with your schedule is the best time to go.”
Q: Are there any special paddling techniques that you use specifically on the Colorado?
A: “The Colorado River is big. Bigger than any other river in Colorado. That means we have the room on the river for our guides to use oars in addition to our guests using paddles. This keeps it extra safe by giving the guide extra control over the raft. We can run more exciting and difficult water with more varied groups because of the geography of the Colorado River.”
Q: Tell us about the surrounding scenery. Is it wide open or tight canyon walls?
A: “Most trips start in the heart of Glenwood Canyon, a 1,200-foot beauty. This is the only large commercially rafted canyon in Colorado and a highlight of the trip unto itself. Halfway through the trip, the Glenwood Canyon opens into the Roaring Fork Valley with long views up to Mount Sopris and down to South Canyon. You might even catch a glimpse of a few bald eagles along the way as the canyon spills out into the confluence of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers.”
Q: How long does it take to get from your business to the put-in?
A: “We’re blessed with a 12-minute upstream shuttle for a three-hour raft trip and our facility serves as the takeout, so no second shuttle. It’s as good as it gets anywhere.”
Q: What type of transportation do you use?
A: “We use sweet old school buses and some passenger vans.”
Q: Are there half days or full days? What more do I get for a full day?
A: “The Full Day is the same as the Half Day in the morning starting at the Shoshone Rapids and running back to our riverside facility through Glenwood Canyon. But at the halfway point, at the boathouse, Full Days enjoy a hot barbecue lunch and then, in the afternoon, have the option of hopping into inflatable kayaks if river levels and temps allow. The second nine miles in inflatable kayaks or duckies are often guests’ favorite part of the day.”
Q: What’s the max number for a group?
A: “We can accommodate groups of up to 170 in a single launch or groups of 400 per day. Each raft can hold up to 10 but we like to keep numbers at 8 per raft unless there are small kids.”
Q: How many riders in a raft?
A: “Rafts hold eight guests and a guide, but we can accommodate groups of 10 in a raft if there are small children or folks who wish to sit in the middle and just enjoy the ride without pedaling.”
“Every raft is guided. Part of your guide’s training is to be able to do the entire trip with all the guests either doing nothing or the opposite of what they were asked. We put all our trainees through the ringer before they are permitted to take our coveted guests out. We even ‘secret shop’ our guide and plant folks who will do the opposite of what the guide calls out to make sure all guides can handle any situation.”