Arkansas, Colorado, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-IV (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||46 fpm|
|ARKANSAS RIVER NEAR WELLSVILLE|
|codwr-ARKWELCO0||150 - 7000 cfs||III-IV||03h36m||928 cfs (running)|
|ARKANSAS RIVER AT PARKDALE, CO.|
|usgs-07094500||150 - 7000 cfs||III-IV||04h08m||891 cfs (running)|
Imagine a whitewater run only an hours drive from the second largest city in all of Colorado. A wilderness run with quality class IV rapids. A river that descends deep in to a pristine gorge untouched by the hand of man. Its thousand foot depths a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the front range. You enter the Royal Gorge muddied and stressed from modern life only to emerge clean and reborn.
Fortunately, some of this is actually true. Untouched the Royal Gorge is not. A train track runs along river left for the entire run. Jagged rocks from railroad construction exist in the major rapids and in one spot what looks like vertical rails stick out out of the river in the narrows at all but the highest flows. On the river right bank are the remains of a pipe that carried water into Canon City downstream by gravity. The degraded structure occasionally drops a rusty iron ring into the river large enough go around an unsuspecting boat. If that wasn't bad enough in 1929 the worlds highest suspension bridge at 1,055 feet above the water was built over the river. And worst of all IT DOESN'T GO ANYWHERE. There's nothing on the other side that warrants a bridge. Did I mention the hundreds of rafts you'll see on a busy weekend? Has somebody whined to you that there's three miles of flatwater at the end?
Paddle it anyway.
From the top of Primero to Ed's Rock there are six miles of continuous rapids. Depending on the flow the run can be a relaxing after work float to a heart pounding run with several half mile long wave trains. The Gorge is over one thousand feet deep and a hundred and fifty feet wide at one point. It is truly a deep dark canyon.
Parkdale: Located ten miles west of Canon City Colorado on US 50. There is a very obvious sign. This is an AHRA put-in. A Colorado Parks Pass will suffice or $5 per car. Plenty of space.
Centennial Park Canon City, Colorado. From US 50 in town turn south towards the river over the 4th St Bridge. Once on river right continue a block and turn right on Griffin St.. In another half block turn right into Centennial Park. There is a good boat ramp in the park and plenty of parking. The parking is free.
After putting in at the Parkdale access point there are two miles of flatwater that act as a warm-up.
These come in quick succession and offer a nice introduction to the run. They are II+ at low flows and rise to big water III at the highest flows. These can be run almost anywhere. If they seem difficult it's time to get off the river and trespass up the train track. The run gets much harder very soon.
A nice play hole for flat spins at most flows. Not for the faint of heart at high flows. Sunshine is just around the corner.
This and SledgeHammer downstream are the crux of the run. A very large boulder marks the entrance river right. A class III at moderate flows it's a full on IV+ over 3K. There is an elegant S-move at the top at all flows. At high flows you need to be dead center at the bottom (trust me). It is easily portaged and scouted on the right.
A fast Class III at the highest flows. Leads directly into Sledgehammer.
The second crux of the run. Class III to IV+. If you want to run it easy start hard left and stay there. At high flows only the strongest will want to run the center though it washes out above 4K. Sections include Rushmore and Clark's Hole (stay left at the bottom at most flows).
Hey, it's narrow, so at high flows the water has no where to go but up. Class II+ to IV. There are some scary man made things on the left. Stay center at all flows. Over 3500 CFS the waves approach 10 feet. Any questions? You are deep in “The Gorge” at this point. The canyon walls are over eight hundred feet high. There is no way out of the flow until the Fishbowl.
A good break spot. There is a viewing area for people that descended the Funicular train from the rim. The Gorge is now a thousand feet deep. Throw a few ends for the tourists.
If you stay twenty feet off the right canyon wall it never exceeds class III. A run right up against the “Wall” can be fun with pour-overs and waves that try and slam you into the cliff. It hits IV+ at the higher flows.
This monster hole consumes the left side of the river. Stay right. As flows increase it becomes Bus Eater. There appears to be a line hard left. I've never seen anyone try it. No rating, stay out of it.
There is a rock in the center of the river(Soda Rock). Paddle around the right and stop at the beach. It's a nice picnic spot. icnic Rock is quite visible from upstream. The canyon walls while still over eight hundred feet high have moved away from the river a bit. pivnic Rock sticks out on river right about thirty feet high. There is a decent play spot next to the rock on the right. As you look Soda Rock in the center of the river think of how the river is over 4k when that baby is underwater.
At high flows these are the largest waves on the entire length of the Arkansas River at ten feet. At low flows they don't even exist.
Just past the concrete abutment is a nice play hole at modest to high levels. It's located river right.
About a tenth of a mile past the water pipe that the river passes under is Ed's Rock, located in the center of the river. Named for Ed Hansen, the most prolific paddler of the gorge in the 21st century. Touch the rock as you pass by. Ed is also a founding member (along with me and others) of “Gorge Club” which forms when the river hits 3000 Cubic Feet per Second. The first rule of Gorge Club is: You can't swim in Gorge Club. The second rule of Gorge Club is: You can't swim in Gorge Club.
Low Head Damn on right (STAY LEFT!!!!). At high flows there is an upper and lower hole that can provide a fun end to a day on the Gorge.
Take-out river right plenty of parking and a bathroom for changing. There is a Whitewater Park being built for this park.
Comments: While at its peak flows the Royal Gorge is a committing full on class IV run I don't think it's a Class V run.
Many consider 3500 cfs to be the most challenging high water flow. To quote Joe Keck, "At this level the Gorge simply pisses excellence".
Since the river descends into a deep gorge it has a harder "feel" than it actually paddles.
Interested in finding someone to show you the run? The Pikes Peak Whitewater Club has members doing several runs a week during peak flows. Check out the forum. PPWC has no “official” runs on the Gorge. Also Mountain Buzz can be a useful source for paddling partners.
Lat/longitude coords are approximate, from TopoZone.
See also Pinecreek (Class
The Numbers (Class IV),
Fractions/ Frogrock/ Milkrun (Class III),
Buena Vista (Class III),
Browns Canyon (Class III),
Salida (Class III),
Rincon (Class III),
Pinnacle Rock (Class III),
Royal Gorge (Class III/IV).
Winter Gauge- Wellsville
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|