Arkansas River (Royal Gorge)
|Parkdale Recreation Site to Centennial Park
|Class III to IV
|300 to ~7,000 cfs. USGS Arkansas River in Parkdale gauge
|37 fpm average (50 fpm from Mi 1 to 5.9)
|Parkdale Recreation Site (fee)
|Centennial Park, Canon City
|11.7 miles, (15 minutes one-way)
|Spring off snowmelt
|Featured in Video A Wet State #159
Colorado Road Trip 2021: Day 1 Morning
This was the plan B for the spring this year. Originally, we planned to go to the French and Italian Alps with Harry Glanz again. However, due to Covid, that still was not a possibility. So instead, we used that block of time for a road trip to Colorado, a trip we had planned and canceled in 2020 in the early days of the pandemic.
The plan was for Diane and Aster to fly out, and for me to drive our car with all out gear. Additionally, my parents would drive out from California to meet us in the middle, with their trailer. They were to be our shuttle drivers and baby sitters while we were on the water. We are very grateful for their accompaniment on this trip as 1) it made it possible but also 2) Aster loved hanging out with them and spending quality time together and 3) we had a lot of cold mornings and their trailer was a great way to get out of the cold and not have any suffer factor on the cold mornings, rainy afternoons, or windy evenings. So, thank you mom and dad!
We met up with my parents on the first day in Canon City, at the whitewater park (AKA Centennial Park) in late morning. We played with Aster at the playground for an hour before then driving up to have my mom drop us off.
This run is a classic, not as much for the whitewater, but for the scenery. There aren't many runs in the world that have this relatively mellow difficulty but put you at the base of a deep, inescapable canyon. To ease the intermediates mind is the railroad tracks that is never more than 15 feet off the river in the narrows. To the more advanced boater, it is a shame that the railroad is there as it takes away from the beauty and of course the people getting the sites for a fee rather than earning it through effort and training. Oh well.
From put in, the rapids gradually pick up. The biggest rapid comes around mile 2.5, before the walls rise to an intimidating level. Below, the action sustains as the walls rise and lock you into the canyon. Once the walls are tight you will have a few more substantial rapids before the river bends right and opens up, freeing you from its grip.
We had 846 cfs, which was a perfectly fine lower flow. But I would love to see the canyon with double the flow as I imagine that is when real fun occurs. For us, the run was basically just class III, maybe a smidge of III+ though that could be just us boat scouting our way down as figuring out the lines yourselves always makes a run seem a little harder. I could see the potential for some of the rapids to be more of a class IV feel which the boils become bigger, holes stickier, and rapids flushier. But that is just my extrapolation.
- Primero, Segundo, Tercera (II+). These first few rapids are generally easy read and run but offer a nice warm up for the fun that awaits below.
- Pumphouse (III). This is the first fun rapid that indicates the difficulty of stuff below. The signal is the old concrete structure on the river right just before it. We ran down the middle, punching some laterals.
- Sunshine (III to IV). The trickiest rapid of the run, you can scout or portage on the right. Raft companies take pictures on the left. We entered on the right which was a folding s-turn and then ran the rest of the rapid down the middle, boofing a small hole. We were able to do this via boat scouting on the right from the lip.
- Grateful Dead (III- to III). A riverwide ledge, we ran down the right side which had a curler coming off the wall. I think you could run anywhere, but you would want to boof. This leads quickly to the next rapid.
- Sledgehammer (III to IV). A double drop that we ran down the left on. At our flow it was just a class III but I could see potential for the holes packing more punch at high flows.
- Narrows (I to II). You round the corner and are greeted with awe inspiring scenery. The rapids are just class I to II until Fishbowl, but the scenery is top notch.
- Fishbowl (III to IV). At the viewing platform for the now defunct vernacular, is a nice rapid that starts as read and run boulder garden but ends in a ledge that packs a punch. We ran far right. It is a tight canyon here, so scouting can't be done legally (I assume it is illegal to use the train tracks, it would certainly be dangerous).
- Wall Slammer (III). Just below, the river hits the right wall and bends left. Stay off the right wall as a hole lurks near the top that can easily be avoided if you stay more to the left.
Lower Narrows (III-). These rapids all have names in typical rafting company fashion. But I do not know them. But the walls stay tight, you get some nice long rapids, and eventually the river bends right.
- Small Dam (II+). A small dam might make you think it is the dangerous dam, but it is not. We banged down the left, other lines including center were available.
- Danger Dam (III). A drowning hazard for the right two thirds of the river now has a boat chute on the left that drops you through an artificial class III two tiered rapid. We went center through both wave hole features. The dam is well marked upstream so it is obvious as to when you are here.
- Stone Dam (II+). On the next right corner is a stone dam that we ran far right on. It is junky further left, but had a nice eroded deeper water channel for us on the right shore.
Take-out: It is right in Canon City, put Centennial Park into your map. Or turn south on 4th avenue off of US-50 and cross the river and turn right into the park.
Put-in: Go back out to Highway 50 and turn left to go upriver. The road quickly pulls away from the river. Follow it for 11.7 miles, crossing the river and arriving at Parkdale Recreation Site which has river access and charges a small fee.
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