South Platte - 02. Lake George to Cheesman Reservoir

South Platte, Colorado, US


02. Lake George to Cheesman Reservoir (Cheeseman / Wildcat Canyon)

Usual Difficulty V+ (for normal flows)
Length 7.3 Miles
Avg. Gradient 94 fpm
Max Gradient 240 fpm

Slap Your Mama

Slap Your Mama
Photo of Adam Craig by Lyle Phetteplace

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-06700000 275 - 700 cfs V+ 110d21h55m 111 cfs (too low)

River Description

In Colorado’s South Platte River basin above Cheesman Reservoir, Wildcat canyon offers paddlers pristine, boulder strewn, Class V whitewater.  Along the 7.5 mile stretch of steep and remote river corridor, exciting drops offer 15’ slides, 12’ vertical drops, undercuts, log-jams and sieves.  The remoteness, technical difficulty, mandatory portages and mental fortitude needed to safely run this stretch of whitewater, makes Wildcat Canyon, one of the most adventurous trips for paddlers in Colorado.

The run, which has rarely been enjoyed in the last few years, stretches through U.S. Forest Service lands between Eleven-mile Reservoir and Cheesman Reservoir, both owned by the Denver Water Board. Access to the canyon necessitates paddling through a stretch of private property collectively known as Sportsman’s Paradise. This fishing club straddling the South Platte River has strung fenes along and across the river.
To run Wildcat Canyon, paddlers typically start their runs upstream of Sportsman’s Paradise at the Happy Meadows USFS campground, and float through club property to access USFS lands downstream of Sportsman’s Paradise. Historically, the act of floating through club property to access Wildcat Canyon has resulted in harassment by landowners, physical assault on paddlers and criminal prosecution. In numerous reports, paddlers have described being forced out of their boats in class II whitewater to avoid man-made obstacles intended to block downstream navigability through private lands. For nearly a decade, American Whitewater has held this private control of public access to Wildcat Canyon in the national spotlight. 

In 2002 in an effort to avoid testing the issue of navigability, American Whitewater and Sportsman’s Paradise reached a good faith agreement that took the conflict over access on the upper South Platte out of the national spotlight.  The agreement was reached by Tim Kelley and American Whitewater by offering certain guidelines for paddlers when floating sections of creeks and rivers that are frequently fished, or that pass through private property.  Sportsmen’s Paradise agreed to remove the metal rack hanging from their bridge which created a river wide strainer endangering public safety and forcing trespass. This man-made obstruction to downstream navigation was intended to block paddlers from impacting fishing waters along the club’s two miles of river corridor, and created opportunities to file charges against paddlers by forcing them out of their boats and onto private lands. While Sportsman’s Paradise approved of the guidelines, club members prefer that paddlers not float through their property. The agreement has rarely been tested since 2002.

In late 2007, Sportsman’s Paradise and American Whitewater came together in an effort to refine the 2002 good faith agreement and bring a formal end to the decade long conflict.  Working collaboratively to identify areas of conflict and potential solutions, American Whitewater and representatives of Sportsman’s Paradise have reached an agreement that outlines roles and responsibilities for club members and paddlers to follow, granting safe access to USFS managed lands adjacent to Sportsman’s Paradise.

2008 Access Agreements

In an effort to improve and enhance access to a section of the South Platte River known Wild Cat Canyon, both parties (Sportsman’s Paradise and American Whitewater) have agreed to the following arrangements.

1. Sportsman’s Paradise will allow access through its property on the private road via car or van to the entrance of Wild Cat Canyon with an escort by an approved member or its caretaker.
2. Arrangement for the access must be made 24 hours in advance and no later than 6 p.m.
             (719.748.3212 or
3. The pick up vehicle will be escorted off Sportsman’s property after unloading all gear and boaters.
4. Boaters will try to arrange to arrive in groups in order to minimize inconvenience to Sportsman’s caretaker.
5. All guests and boaters agree to hold harmless from all liability Sportsman’s Paradise
6. The following recommendations are for safety and convenience of both parties--
          A. All boaters arrive between 8 am and 10 am
          B. River flow rate should be at least 275 cfs
7. This agreement is for one year from date of signing--both parties will have input for improvements on the anniversary date.

    Agreement may be terminated by either party with 30 day written notice.
8. American Whitewater will make good faith effort to notify its members of the agreement by website, email and posting information in kayak shops.

The agreement outlined above, seeks to protect the interests of fishermen, paddlers, and landowners locally, while not surrendering a person’s right to float or boat on Colorado streams across private lands without the owner’s permission. The agreement establishes an alternative to floating across Sportsman’s Paradise by securing permission for paddlers to cross Sportsman’s Paradise property via vehicle, and accessing public lands to the north of club property.

AW would like to recognize Landis Arnold, Jonathan Kahn, Tim Kelley, Joe Keck, Nathan Fey, and Jay Kenney for their various efforts to represent paddlers in the negotiations and for evaluating a workable access alternative to Wildcat Canyon. 

Posted on by Tim Kelley, AW Board Member:

Sportsmen's Paradise (SP) has informed American Whitewater (AW) that SP will lift the "trash rack" that created a river wide strainer. AW in response has taken the Wildcat Canyon aka "Cheesman Canyon" access out of the national spotlight and will continue to encourage paddlers to follow the guidelines listed below in connection with paddling sections of creeks and rivers that are frequently fished or that pass through private property.

Sportsmen's Paradise still asserts that the public doesn't have the right to float through private property, and that individuals that do float through SP are committing civil trespassing. SP prefers that boaters not paddle the section of the South Platte that passes through SP property (preferring instead that paddlers take the 2 mile portage around SP); however, they will not seek to harass or interfere with a boater's downstream passage. SP has made clear they could pursue civil trespassing charges against a paddler or group of paddlers just like the landowner on the Lake Fork is doing. AW lawyers disagree with this opinion and assert that the public has the right to paddle through private land.

Sportsmen's Paradise will seek prosecution of those committing criminal trespassing; (paddlers touching the riverbed or banks) which they assert constitutes SP property. SP has marked its property line across the river with numerous "no trespassing" signs hanging from a cable. There is no doubt when you are paddling through SP, so stay in your boat. The Park CO DA has confirmed that touching the diversion dam and streambed just below the dam is not criminal trespassing. The dam is located less than 100 yards below the "no trespassing" signs and just upstream of the bridge from which the trash rack hangs. A fence across the downstream property line marks the end of SP land and is about a mile above the first rapid -"Club Dues" (You can paddle under the fence safely on river left.) The section of river that runs through SP is approximately two miles.

River access in Colorado remains American Whitewater's number one Access priority. In that light, we have an opportunity to show landowners how responsible paddlers are and how low our impact is. We can only accomplish this through our actions and language. We need to remember that while it's not fair (or legal) for SP to close the river, it's not cool for boaters to mess up SP members' or anyone else's "fishing holes".

AW asks paddlers to us the following guidelines when paddling past any fisherman:

1. Stay in the main flow. Feeding fish congregate on eddy lines and seams. A kayak passing downstream usually won't "put down" feeding fish, but catch that eddy, or squirt that seam and you may spook those fish for an hour or more. Just because nobody's fishing that drift right now, doesn't mean they aren't planning on fishing that area soon. Fishermen generally work upstream.

2. Paddle Quietly. Fish are disturbed by noise and surface activity. Voices carry well over water. Kayaking is the most exhilarating of sports, but fishing is by its nature a solitary and contemplative activity. Save your socializing until after you pass through SP and save your paddling yahoos for "Slap your Mama."

3. Be Observant. Fly fishermen wear clothing that deliberately blends with surrounding bank vegetation, and are frequently difficult to spot until you are right on top of them. Furthermore, a fisherman is generally watching the drift of his or her fly and not looking upstream for approaching kayakers. Be sure not to startle a fisherman. One of SP's real concerns is the safety of older fishermen that could be startled by a boat that catches a fisherman by surprise. While this is highly unlikely, look at the situation and do your best to help prevent this. Act as if a fisherman is around every bend.

4. Don't approach casting fishermen. This should be obvious, but if you want to say hi or do a little PR for boaters, smile and nod. In the fisherman's language you have spoken volumes. If the fisherman wants to talk he will initiate the conversation.

5. Move thru. There are plenty of eddies and little play spots below SP allowing sufficient time to warm up before the big drops. Paddle through at a good pace, but calmly and quietly keeping in mind the above considerations. Definitely don't get out of your boat; it's criminal trespassing.

How often do we tell ourselves, what a better place the world would be if we all kayaked. Let's show Sportsmen's Paradise and all other river users how true this is. Help remind your friends also. If you do choose to paddle through SP, then please do so between 0900-1100. This is our effort to again reduce paddler impact on fishing. Any later than 1100 could result in a group finishing in the dark if you're not familiar with the run or have a problem.

Our actions and language will cement or nullify this solution. I have met dozens of SP members over the last year and find almost all to be very reasonable. There are a few however, that may try to provoke you or your group, please turn the other cheek and report the problem to AW, CWWA or me directly at

I've spent hundreds of hours on this and lost lots of paddling days to this issue, not to mention being ticketed and going to court (charges dismissed). I would ask only two things in return: follow the guidelines above and join AW. If you're already a member, get a dead-beat friend to cough up his dues! Remember if you're charged with trespassing, civil or criminal, AW will assist in trying to find you a pro bono lawyer if you're an AW member and have acted in a reasonable manner in accordance with state laws. (Thanks Pete for being there for me!)

I would like to thank Jay Kenney, Charlie Ebel, Gordon Banks, Dave Eckhardt, Landis Arnold, Andrew Shoemaker, and Pete Thomas for all the advice over the last 14 months on this issue.

One final thought: Cheesman Canyon is a CL V+ run with a CL VI- rapid. You can walk the big drops, but many of the CL III/IV slots have tree strainers and sieves w/ CL VI consequences. This run is far less forgiving than most runs in the state. It is remote and very difficult to evacuate an injured person out of. Be safe, be humble, and do not attempt this run before you are ready - it will be there for years to come.

Tim Kelley
AW Board Member and Safety Chairman

Additional information provided by Tim Kelley:

The level today was 330 cfs and was a good med-low level. Don't rush down this run. It is solid CL V w/ lots of sieves. In addition to the 9 major rapids and their obvious dangers, the Class III/IV(-) section between Burmese Puji Stick and Under Priviledged is filled w/ blind slots and sieves, so pick your way down carefully. As the bible states, don't fall asleep and let Under Privileged and Dos Chaos sneak up on you. If you are considering running Dos Chaos you have to scout from both sides to find the route through this maze which requires catching an eddy in the middle of the Chaos on river right to finish scouting this very continuous log- and sieve-filled beauty. You are pretty much committed at this point because the portage on river right, if possible, looks like it belongs in the Black Canyon.

One other note: CRC doesn't mention the two mandatory portages below Slide for Life. They are very obvious river-wide rock sieves. You can portage both on river left at the same time in just a few minutes.
This is truly an awesome run, and well worth the two-mile stroll down the path through the pines.
The take out road near Corral Creek is 8.7 mi down FR 211 and is a "good" 4x4 road with a few moon craters. It's about 3 miles to the river and you can drive along the river to any takeout site that suits your fancy.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-02-21 19:35:27


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Sportsman's ParadiseIIPutin Hazard
3.0Club Dues5.0Hazard
3.3Let's Make a Deal5.0Hazard
3.5Penis Buster Parfait5.2Hazard
3.8Slap Your Mamma5.0Hazard Waterfall
4.0Tiger Den5.0Hazard
4.3Burmese Punji Stick5.0Hazard
5.3Dos Chaos5.3Hazard
5.5Slide for Life5.0Hazard

Rapid Descriptions

Sportsman's Paradise (Class II)
Sportsmen’s Paradise will seek prosecution of those committing criminal trespassing, “paddlers touching the riverbed or banks,” which they assert constitutes SP property. SP has marked its property line across the river with numerous “no trespassing” signs hanging from a cable. There is no doubt when you are paddling through SP, so stay in your boat. The Park CO DA has confirmed that touching the diversion dam and streambed just below the dam is not criminal trespassing. The dam is located less than 100 yards below the “no trespassing” signs and just upstream of the bridge from which the trash rack hangs. A fence across the downstream property line marks the end of SP land and is about a mile above the first rapid “Club Dues.” (You can paddle under the fence safely on river left.) The section of river that runs through SP is approximately two miles.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.

No Comments

Associated Projects

  • Colorado River Access (CO)
    The decades old debate over public use of waterways in Colorado continues, and AW is working to protect the rights of all paddlers to enjoy Colorado's Rivers.