City Guide / Denver

A Local’s Guide to the Best Whitewater Rafting Near Denver

By Felicia Brower | Oct 7, 2022
A group whitewater rafting near Denver, Colorado.

Are you living in the Mile High City and are looking for some outdoor adventure? There are a ton of whitewater rafting trips near Denver, Colorado, that will have you feeling the rush of the rapids and admiring the typically unseen parts of Colorado’s backcountry. You’ll visit areas that are unreachable by road, spot wildlife up close as they come directly to the river to drink, and have the chance to challenge yourself (if you want!) as you navigate your way down the Centennial State’s world-class rapids.

Colorado is home to some incredible rivers, and whether you’re looking for a leisurely float or for a more intense whitewater experience, there are several whitewater rafting locations near Denver to choose from, including Clear Creek, the Cache La Poudre River, Eleven Mile Canyon, the Colorado River, and the Arkansas River.

While there are many places to bring or rent your own rafts, there are also local outfitters who will take you on an exciting commercial trip with a knowledgeable and experienced guide. To help you decide which trip is right for you, we’ve put together a list of 10 outfitters that offer guided half-day, full-day, or overnight trips, including:

  • Raft Masters
  • Clear Creek Rafting Company
  • Rocky Mountain Wildwater Rafting
  • Independent Rafting
  • Downstream Adventures
  • Mile Hi Rafting
  • Liquid Descent
  • AVA
  • Geo Rafting
  • The Adventure Company

Let’s get started!

The best half-day whitewater rafting trips near Denver

A man rowing inflatable packraft on whitewater of mountain river

1. Raft Masters

Venture down Class II to Class III rapids on the Arkansas River with Cañon City’s Raft Masters as they take you on a trip through Bighorn Sheep Canyon. After you make the trip two hours south of Denver, their guides will take you on a nine-mile journey through well-known rapids like Five Points and Cowgirl Up.

2. Clear Creek Rafting Company

Clear Creek Rafting Company has locations in Idaho Springs and Cañon City (40 minutes west and two hours south of Denver, respectively) and offers the unique opportunity to take an evening trip through Clear Creek canyon. It’s a rafting trip made for Beginner (Class II-III) or Intermediate (Class III-IV) rafters and includes free digital photos of you navigating the rapids.

3. Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting

Rafters of all experience levels can enjoy river runs 40 minutes west of Denver with Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting in Idaho Springs. Their Clear Creek whitewater trip options include one for beginners that takes rafters through 10 rapids, an intermediate trip with consistent rapids, and a trip for experts with continuous technical challenges.

4. Independent Rafting

Salida-based Independent Rafting‘s beginner Class II Arkansas River Trip takes rafters on a half-day scenic float trip through Colorado’s gorgeous mountain landscapes three hours southwest of the Mile High City. Guides will take you down calmer sections of the river and give you a taste of the fun, smaller rapids without the intensity of some of the higher-class trips.

The best full-day whitewater rafting trips near Denver

Group of happy people with guide whitewater rafting and rowing on river

1. Downstream Adventures

If you’re looking for an energizing full day on nearby Clear Creek, head 50 minutes west and go out with Downstream Adventures based in Empire. On their advanced Class IV-V Clear Creek rafting trip, you’ll be challenged as you venture down an invigorating 22-mile run with friendly, expert guides.

2. Mile Hi Rafting

40 minutes west, Idaho Springs-based Mile Hi Rafting takes rafters on Class II and Class III rapids down Bighorn Sheep Canyon on the Arkansas River. Enjoy a midday break with their “half time” lunch before heading off to the Class IV rapids down the Royal Gorge.

3. Liquid Descent

Gore Canyon is a well-known run southwest of Kremmling (two hours northwest of Denver), and Liquid Descent will take experienced rafters on a Class V run of these heart-pounding rapids. Be ready for obstacles, massive drops, and tricky challenges. The outfitter requires everyone to be in good physical condition, be able to swim, and be able to get back into the raft if it overturns.

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The best multi-day whitewater rafting trips near Denver

Rafting. Close-up view of oars with splashing water

1. AVA

When you’re ready to try an overnight expedition, visit AVA‘s Class II multi-day trip on the Upper Colorado River. Take in incredible scenery—from secret waterfalls to historic cabins to the jagged walls of a steep 100-foot canyon—and spot Colorado wildlife on the banks of the river.

At the end of the day, you’ll set up camp and have time to enjoy fossil hunting, hiking, or relaxing beside the river before dinner. AVA has outposts in Breckenridge (1.5 hours west), Idaho Springs (40 minutes west), Buena Vista (2.5 hours southwest), and Kremmling (two hours northwest) and launching posts in several other towns.

2. Geo Tours

Geo Tours trips range from Class I to Class III and take rafters through picturesque canyons and valleys of the upper Colorado River. Located a quick 25 minutes southwest of Denver, the Morrison-based outfitter offers one-day, overnight, two-day, three-day, and four-day rafting expeditions for all ages.

3. The Adventure Company

For a completely customized multi-day trip, head 2.5 hours southwest and check out The Adventure Company in Buena Vista. Whether you want higher-class nail-biters or more relaxing river floats, they can take you on trips ranging from two to four days for groups of any size.

Tips for whitewater rafting near Denver

Colorado’s whitewater season typically runs from mid-May to September, with a high-water peak in June. If you’re looking for a calmer trip, go in May, July, August, or September when water levels are typically low to normal. If you want a challenge, mid-June is the perfect time to go. The levels depend on the weather and rivers can change classes day-to-day. Booking a trip with professional guides will minimize risks and ensure that you have a fun time.

There are different classes of water that designate the skill required to safely enjoy the rafting trip. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • CLASS I: River water at this level has no rapids, greatly reducing the risk. These tend to be relaxing, family-friendly float trips.
  • CLASS II: Water at this level has obstructions that can easily be avoided. It’s a mix of river floating with a few instances of rough water. If you’re a first-timer and nervous about it, this is a good level to start at.
  • CLASS III: Water at this class has consistent rapids and is harder to navigate. If you’re a thrill-seeker new to whitewater rafting, this is a good level to start at.
  • CLASS IV: Water at this level is much more turbulent than at the lower classes, and there will be many more obstacles to avoid and navigate around. Experience is required at this level.
  • CLASS V: Water at this class is reserved for those who are very experienced whitewater rafters. You should have all of the necessary equipment, be able to complete self-rescue moves, and feel comfortable navigating dangerous water.
  • CLASS VI: Water at this level comes with a risk of extreme injury or death and should not be attempted unless you are a highly experienced, expert-level rafter. The water is dangerous and unpredictable, and mistakes could mean the difference between life and death.

If you’re unsure of which level you should be at, contact your outfitter before the trip to ask for more information and recommendations.

Thinking about moving the Denver?

No matter how you want to make your way down the river, you can make the most of your time in Denver with one of Landing’s fully furnished apartments. Their flexible lease terms make it easy to pick a place with easy highway access for your next Colorado adventure and enjoy everything that this area has to offer. Learn more about what a Landing membership can do for you today!

Felicia Brower

Felicia Brower is a Denver-based freelance travel and lifestyle writer who loves to write about exploring the city and the great outdoors of Colorado. She loves the weird, wild, and wonderful and when she's not busy working, you can find her hiking, wandering around Denver, or planning her next adventure. (Let her know your suggestions!) Her work has been previously published in Atlas Obscura, AARP, Ohio Magazine, and Natural Awakenings. Connect with her on Twitter at @feliciaistyping.