Saint Vrain Creek, North, Colorado, US
|Usual Difficulty||V+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||196 fpm|
|Max Gradient||375 fpm|
|NORTH SAINT VRAIN CREEK ABOVE BUTTONROCK RESERVOIR|
|codwr-BRKRESCO0||150 - 800 cfs||V+||3y215d15h01m||41.7 cfs (too low)|
Upper North Saint Vrain Creek is the the only major canyon in the Front Range that hasnÂt had a highway or railroad blasted up it. ItÂs a long day with 10+ log portages and numerous Class V and V+ rapids. Not for the meek, it has been said that UNSV is a place to take your enemies, not your friends!
There are 3 distinct sections with markedly different personalities above Buttonrock Preserve.
The first section is the Murkwood Zone, manky Class V mixed with lots of wood. Although the rocks are nice and round, the pinball nature of the rapids combined with the wood make this upper section a difficult place for some to enjoy. In fact there is a high rate of paddlers walking out as the car is still very close. Cascade #1(VI-) starts off about 50 yards below the put-in. It's not so much unrunnable as it is ugly, manky, and un-fun-able. I usually portage (river left past the no tresspassing signs) straight from my car to just below the last ugly drop. The run-out of Cascade #1 is actually a lot of fun. About Â½ mile downstream is Cascade #2, which is a pretty sweet boulder choked rapid. Below this the Murkwood Zone continues for about 3 more miles, the gradient gradually petering out. There is a lot of wood in here, and it moves around a lot at high water. Runs before and after the peak will have wood portages in different rapids.
The second section is endless (4 or 5 miles) Class III in dramatic terrain, you will see huge ridges of rock coming down from the top of the canyon to river level. Your instincts tell you that there is going to be a huge rapid where the river and the ridge meet, but there isnÂt.
Finally, the third part is the California Section. The rapids transition from manky broken rock to smooth granite bedrock. You'll know when to get out and scout as the gradient will pick up dramatically. The California Section is characterized by bedrock pool-drop rapids, one Class V right after another, all in a spectacular smooth granite canyon so unlike much of Colorado. There is a jeep trail in this section, greatly helping scouting and portaging. There are two bridges over the creek in this section, just below both of them are big drops that require scouting. The rapid after the first bridge (V+) splits around a giant boulder and into undercuts on both sides, most choose to portage. The jeep trail leaves the river after the second bridge, and the rapid just below (V)is tricky to portage(run the entrance and portage the main drop river left). There is a sieve at the bottom of this steep rapid, dangerous at low water.
After this the California Section proper is done, the difficulty mellows out to Class III/IV, but the beautiful bedrock rapids remain. There are a few more log portages in this section, and one or two Class V- drops mixed in, before you get to The Slot. This is pretty much the last drop of the run, there is a left and right slot, and you really want to get to the left slot. Soon after The Slot you will come to a small lowhead dam, easily runnable. Formerly the paddle across Buttonrock Preserve was illegal, but thanks to the hard work of some local boaters there is a two year test of allowing whitewater paddlers across the reservoir! So be on your best behavior! Do not linger on the reservoir, paddle directly across, portage the dam and put in below as quickly as possible. Make your presence as minimal as possible!
For pics of UNSV and many other Colorado classics check out my Webshots photo album.
To get there: From Lyons head up Hwy 36 towards Estes Park. Look for small County Road 80 on the left and head up that until you get to the gate for the Buttonrock Preserve. Park at the far end of the lot away from the gate and leave a car that doesn't scream "paddler", this will help keep the rangers from looking for you. Head back down to Lyons and up Hwy 7 past the junction with Hwy 72. A few miles past Allenspark you will dip into the North Saint Vrain Valley, put-in at the bridge where Hwy 7 crosses the creek. Actually you should start your run by discretly portaging past the no-tresspassing signs on river left until you are below Cascade #1.
See Colorado Rivers and Creeks II, by Banks and Eckardt (The Bible), for info on this and most of the other kewl runs of Colorado.
Lat/longitude coords are approximate, from TopoZone.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Peak To Peak Hwy||IV|
|7.2||Eye of the Needle||5.0|
|9.2||Low Head Dam||III+|
|9.5||Ralph Price Reservoir||I|
|11.2||Button Rock Dam||I|
Action Alert: Comment on Colorado Roadless Rule
July 8, 2011