Colorado has a lot of beautiful scenery from the mountains, scenic backcountry, lakes, and rivers. You can explore everything Colorado has to offer in multiple ways. From hiking up mountains, taking a long drive on our backcountry roads, fishing in the many lakes, or rafting down the best rivers in Colorado. If water is your preference of taking in Colorado’s beauty, here is a list of the 10 Most Scenic Rivers.
1. Animas River
Located in Durango, CO the Animas River is 126 miles long and a tributary of the San Juan River. It is surrounded by the San Juan Mountains and follows along the Durango and Silverton railroad through a canyon going all the way to New Mexico. Some wildlife that inhabit the Animas are bald eagles throughout the winter months. Popular times to visit this river will be in the summer for white water rafting and fishing. Fishing here is known to produce as the Animas is considered a Gold Medal waterway, meaning local fish hatcheries have consistently raised and released healthy fish in large quantities. For the most part, visiting this river means you’ll enjoy amazing views, beautiful wildlife and tons of fun on the water.
2. Arkansas River
The 6th longest river in the US at 1,469 miles long, the Arkansas River starts in the Rocky Mountains by Leadville, CO. It flows through Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas until reaching the great Mississippi river. The Arkansas River is also home to a National Monument called Brown’s Canyon that serves some of the most exciting sections to raft on the Arkansas like the Numbers and Browns Canyon Sizzler. It is over 20,000 acres of canyons, rivers, and forest. Browns Canyon goes through beautiful destinations like Buena Vista and Salida located in southern Colorado. This is also one of the most popular white water rafting areas in the United States with their peak season during June through August.
3. Cache La Poudre River
Located near Fort Collins, CO and the Rocky Mountain National Park. 76 miles of this river is designated as “Wild and Scenic”. Of those 76 miles, 30 miles are classified as scenic and the other 46 are for recreational uses. Since this is the closest river to the Rocky Mountain National Park, tourists love to make a rafting trip on the river part of their Colorado experience. Rapids here can range from Class I to Class IV meaning fun for the little ones and those who are looking for the thrill of a lifetime. This river also has an abundance of trout that make it a very popular fly fishing attraction, engaging people from all over to come fish.
4. Colorado River
Starting in its namesake state, the head of the Colorado River can be found in the Rocky Mountains. The most iconic of Colorado rivers, it’s 1,450 miles long and flows through seven different states. It is one of the best known rivers in the west, which goes through multiple iconic landscapes and 11 national parks, including the Grand Canyon. Finally, the Colorado River ends its journey at the Gulf of California only after supplying water for over 40 million people in America. The Colorado River remains popular all year long because of the many attractions surrounding it. Guided trout fishing, white water rafting, and stand up paddle boarding are only some of the many activities found here. Wildlife make this a scenic destination as well with many different types of birds like Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures and other mammals like Beaver.
5. Yampa River
A 250 mile long river that is one of the only free-flowing rivers with little to no dams. It passes through Steamboat Springs, CO a popular ski resort town. The Yampa is home to a lot of native fish which have disappeared from other dammed rivers in Colorado like the Colorado Pikeminnow and Razorback sucker. White water rafting and fishing are popular activities for this scenic river. While unregulated now, this river was almost damned at the mouth in the 1950’s. Thanks to conservationists who fought the dams construction, this river runs almost completely free with breath taking floats and thrilling class IV-V rafting in Cross Mountain Gorge. Exploring this wild river, untouched for hundreds of years, is like taking a step back in time to when the early explorers reached these parts.
6. Eagle River
Only 60 miles long located near Vail, CO., Eagle River is a smaller but still beautiful stretch of water to see. It is a more quaint option with great fly fishing for those who want to venture deep into the Rockies for wild trout. The Eagle river is open to visit all year long with rafting in the mid summer and hikes surrounding the Vail area during the entire summer. Kayaking is another major attraction, although it is highly recommended that you survey the waters before attempting to kayak down stream. You should also bring someone more experienced with this river who can tell you all about sections to avoid and how to safely get through them. The general appeal of the Eagle River is the feeling of being more in touch with the natures wild and distant areas.
7. Clear Creek River
A tributary of the South Platte River, that flows 66 miles long near the popular tourist city Denver, CO. This river is known for having some of the most intense mining during the Colorado Gold Rush in 1859. Its close proximity to Denver and the fact that it runs through the popular mountain destination, Idaho Springs, makes it a hot spot for tourists and Denver locals to go white water rafting. With mostly class IV and V rafting sections, this is an easy way to get an adrenaline fix without driving too far from the Front Range. You’ll also find amazing views of Clear Creek from above by joining a cliffside zipline trip or mountaintop via ferrata course.
8. Dolores River
At a length of about 241 miles long, this river runs through both Colorado and Utah. In southwest Colorado, the Dolores river is located near the San Juan National Forest. Surrounded by deserts and forests and canyon the Dolores has an old western feel to it. Snowmelt is its main contributor so water levels are largely dependent on snowfall and warm temperatures. The best time to visit this river would be early summer if you want to take advantage of the high waters. You won’t be the only one chasing the high waters here as many white water rafting enthusiasts enjoy making this part of their summer fun. The ideal CFS for rafting is around 1,700 which is typical from mid-April to mid-June.
9. South Platte River
A big part of the Midwest US, the South Platte River runs through Colorado and Nebraska. Formed around Fairplay, CO this river is known to many fly-fishing experts. Water flows from the Continental Divide collect at the start of the river that is surrounded by high grasslands making it a great spot for fishing year-round. Even throughout the winter South Platte is popular among many fisherman for some quality fish. Although not much rafting is done on this narrow river, you can still find plenty of reasons to visit this world-renowned gold medal waterway. Most are attracted to these waters because of its easy access from downtown Denver where areas like Confluence Park host families from the inner city.
10. Gunnison River
Located in Gunnison, CO it’s one of major tributaries of the Colorado River spanning 164 miles long. This river has reservoirs that are part of the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. Black Canyon is one of the largest, narrowest, and deepest gorges in the world. Most of this river is pretty intense to navigate and is for experienced rafters only. Gunnison River is Colorado’s second largest river with a lot more to offer aside from rafting. It has plenty of wildlife from elk to bighorn sheep and great fly fishing. This is perhaps one of the most intense and awe-inspiring rivers in Colorado with deep canyons, beautiful rock formations and fast rapids.