Arkansas River (Browns Canyon)
|Stretch:||Fisherman's Access to Stone Bridge (or Hecla Junction)|
|Flows:||300 to +5,000 cfs. USGS Arkansas River in Nathrop gauge|
|Gradient:||34 fpm average from mile 4.8 to 9.5, 27 fpm before and after|
|Put-in:||Fisherman's Access or Chalk Creek|
|Take-out:||Stone Bridge or Hecla Junction|
|Shuttle:||12.4 miles, (15 minutes one-way) (if you use Hecla Junction, it will add 10 minutes and 2.5 miles of good dirt road)|
|Season:||Spring off snowmelt|
|Featured in Wilderness Aware Rafting's video|
Colorado Road Trip 2021: Day 2 Morning
Browns Canyon is the final classic section of whitewater on the Arkansas River for us. 3 years ago (and later this trip again) we did Pine Creek and Numbers, the day prior we did Royal Gorge. So it was nice to see the final classic piece on the mainstem of the river.
The river flows through Browns Canyon National Monument, so you know it will be pretty. The gorge walls while not rising overly tall, are gorgeously rugged with bulbous outcroppings lining the river and walls. On the downside however is 1) the railroad line along the river and 2) the plentiful rafts. Luckily though, I believe the rail line is no longer active and the rafts were not out in force our day. Perhaps it was because it was still May, or perhaps we put on early enough (9 am) to beat the rush. Whatever it was, it resulted in a less crowded experience then the canyon has the reputation of having. Apparently, during peak season, mid day on a weekend, you will be sandwiched between an endless line of rafts. Sounds less ideal in my mind.
For me, I thought this river was busier than Royal Gorge. While perhaps not as hard, it wasn't a huge step down. But more generally, there were just more rapids, more strokes, more squirrely water in this canyon than Royal Gorge. I think if I was going to do either one, if I wanted paddle strokes I would look to this canyon. If you just want a more rare scenery experience, Royal Gorge would edge out Browns… but that is not to say Browns isn't nice.
We had 750 cfs which was on the lower side for sure. Rapids were mostly technical and rocky. Though in a few spots the river enters large boulder fields which form boils and seams and I can imagine at twice the flow these sections give the novice boater a solid challenge.
Colorado Road Trip 2021: Day 3
After boating Browns Canyon we drove over to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We knew that the park's campground was full, so we drove up to Zapata Falls Campground which is first come first serve. We found a beautiful spot that was on the edge of the hill side overlooking the valley, right in the wind with no trees to block it. We celebrated Aster's second birthday that night and were grateful when the wind died down so we could enjoy the scenery. The next morning we found my dad's truck had a flat tire which we had to change before heading down to the park. The park itself was more crowded than expected for midweek. The sand dunes themselves were impressive of course, but the scenery surrounding them was equally so. Additionally, the creek was running which Aster saw as the highlight of the day as she and I played in the 1” deep water for more than an hour. After we had our fill of fun, we left the park and began driving generally towards Durango. Camping along the South Fork of the Rio Grande at Big Meadow Campground.
- The river starts off mellow and meanders at 28 fpm
- Chalk Creek enters on the right. For kayakers, this small, shallow creek can be used as an alternate access point putting in below US-285. This 1 mile long creek drops 92 fpm and is class III- to III. If it has water, for kayakers, it is worth doing. For rafts, it is too small.
- Canyon Doors (III). Screen Door is the lead in class II to the Front Door which is a river wide ledge hole. It packs enough punch to flip you but is also easy enough to punch.
- Pinball (III-). The water is super boily, even at low flows, as it moves through large instream boulders. I can't really give it a full 3 as there weren't moves as much as just watching your edge control.
Boogie (II to II+).
- Zoomflume (III+). The largest rapid of the run. You can run down the left over a series of ledges, moving right to stay off the left junky shore, punching the hole at the bottom in the middle.
- Big Drop (III). The river constricts after a right hand bend and enters a long rapid with several steps to it. I may be totally off base here, correct me locals if I am wrong and my memory isn't working properly, but this is just above Stair Case. It is a ledge drop that we ran down the center.
- Stair Case (III). A long multi step section of rapids that we ran center and left. There are 7 steps. I do not remember the play by play as we were raft dodging here and it was all read and run. But it was a super fun section!
- Widow Maker (III). A nice congested rapid that after the entrance had an obvious move around a sieve looking rock on the left. Below it got more straight forward.
- Hecla Junction Access: At low flows this offers an excellent option to take-out before continuing down river. While there are two good size rapids down there, there is not much else. We took out here.
- Siedel's Suck (IV). A double drop run center moving right.
- Twin Falls (III to IV). Two large waves.
Stone Bridge Take-out: From Salida, head north on CO-291 for 6.3 miles. Cross the river and turn right onto county rd 191. Follow this to the river.
Hecla Junction Take-out: From Salida head north on CO-291 for 7.1 miles to US-285. Turn right and follow for 1.6 miles. Look for the signs for Hecla Junction, turn right onto the county road 194 dirt road and follow it for 2.6 miles to the river.
Chalk Creek Put-in: From the CO-291 / US-285 junction, head north away from Salida. Follow this for 8.6 miles. Just before you cross the creek (if you see Chalk Creek Campground on your right you went a smidge too far) turn left onto Chalk Creek Drive and then an immediate right on Rd 286 which drops down to the water.
Fisherman Access-Put-in: From the CO-291 / US-285 junction, head north away from Salida. Follow this for 10.7 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 301, cross the river, and turn right into the access area.
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...