Arkansas - 10. Parkdale Launch to Canon City

Arkansas, Colorado, US


10. Parkdale Launch to Canon City (Royal Gorge)

Usual Difficulty III-IV (varies with level)
Length 10.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 46 fpm

Escape from Sunshine

Escape from Sunshine
Photo of John Kobak by Unknown KHCC taken 06/2000

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
codwr-ARKWELCO0 150 - 7000 cfs III 01h39m 256 cfs (running)
Very Low to low-moderate flows.
usgs-07094500 300 - 7000 cfs III 113d14h09m 240 cfs (too low)

River Description

Run Length:  10.5 miles  
Gradient:          46 FPM

Put-in: Parkdale Launch Site, Ten miles west of Canon City on Colorado US HWY 50. There is a sign for Parkdale Recreation Area. This is an AHRA put-in.
A Colorado Parks Pass will cover you. Otherwise, pay the AHRA $7/car.

Take-out: 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. Good boat ramp in the park and plenty of parking. Keep the scene clean and represent the paddling community in a respectable manner here and everywhere.

Reach Description: The Parkdale run on the Arkansas river descends into a deep gorge and creates a paddlers sanctuary.
Train tracks run along river left for the entire run. Jagged rocks from railroad construction exist in the major rapids and steel 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. The degraded structure is a hazard.
Three miles of flatwater to paddle out. 
From the Primero to Ed's Rock there are six miles of rapids. Depending on the flow, the run can hold several half mile long wave trains. The Royal Gorge is over one thousand feet deep and a hundred and fifty feet wide at one point.


Mile 2.0: Primero, Segundo, Tercera and Pumphouse:  These rapids are in quick succession and offer a nice introduction to the run. They are II+ at low flows and rise to big water II at the highest flows. If you are finding the rapids to challeging, there are two options for an exit, The first is to hike the couple of miles back to the put-in. The second is to hike up the trail that you can see on river left and walk back to US 50. The run gets harder soon and the only exit on the run is the Funicular train at the Fish Bowl. It is currently closed. I'm only aware that it has been used one time in an extreme emergency. You are going downriver as you are in a gorge.

Mile 2.5: Hollywood Hole: A nice play hole for flat spins at most flows. Nice play hole at high flows. Sunshine rapid is just around the corner.

Mile 2.7: Sunshine Rapid: Class III ( < 2000cfs), Class IV ( at 2000+ cfs): A very large boulder marks the entrance river right. Some consider Sunshine a Class III at moderate flows. 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.

Mile 2.8: Grateful Dead: A fast Class III at the highest flows. Leads directly into Sledgehammer.

Mile 2.9: 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 4000 cfs. Sections include Rushmore and Clark's Hole (stay left at the bottom at most flows).

Mile 4.0: The Narrows: At high flows this is the second hardest section on the river. The water has no where to go but up and forms complex long ten foot high wave/ holes. Try and stay center. At low flows it's easy, still stay center.

Mile 4.6: The Fishbowl: 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 wave wheels for the tourists.

Mile 4.7: WallSlammer Rapid:
Stay 20 feet off the right wall it never exceeds Class III.

Mile 5.2: Boat Eater:  Run right. This hole consumes the left side of the river. It forms around 1200 cfs and just gets bigger and bigger...

Mile 5.5: Soda Rock (Picnic Rock, Corner Pocket):  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 spot. Picnic Rock is quite visible from upstream. The canyon walls while still over 800 feet high have moved away from the river. Picnic Rock sticks out on river right. Soda Rock goes underwater at about 3500 cfs.

* At 4000 cfs do not eddy out to the right. You will have to portage down a bit to re-enter the river.

Mile 5.7: Unnamed Waves:  At higher flows these are the largest waves on the entire length of the Arkansas River at ten feet. 

Mile 5.8: Lion's Head play hole:  Just past the concrete abutment is a play hole at modest to high levels.

Mile 6.5: Ed's Rock:  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. Touch the rock as you pass by. Ed is a founding member of “Gorge Club” which forms when the river hits 3000 cfs. 

The first rule of Gorge Club is: Nobody swims in Gorge Club. The second rule of Gorge Club is: Nobody swims in Gorge Club.

Mile 9.3: The Canon City Wave:  Hazard ! LOW HEAD DAM

Stay Left!!   Low Head Dam on right!

At high flows there is an upper and lower hole that can provide a fun end to a day on the Gorge. Over 4000 cfs the top hole is terminal. Paddle left like your life depends on it.

Mile 10.2: Centennial Park Take-out:  Take-out River Right where there is plenty of parking and a bathroom. Whitewater Park being built.

Royal Gorge is a committing Class IV run.
Many consider 3500 cfs to be the most challenging.
"At this level the Gorge simply pisses excellence". - Joe Keck
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 their FB Page.

Lat/longitude coords are approximate, from TopoZone.

See also Pinecreek (Class IV/V),
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

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-07-09 20:49:07


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
3.0Wall SlammerN/A

Rapid Descriptions

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 26 2016 (848 days ago)
Justlive (157352)
This is NOT class III. If you are not a solid IV boater you have no business in this river. Anyone
who tells you this is III you should tell them about a nice play wave called Toilet Bowl in Gore
Canyon (that is no more a guaranteed swim than a class III boater in the gorge at moderate flows)
Even at 350 cfs this is still IV -...and the last hole in Sunshine remains IV+. A swim here would
never be volunteered. At 1500 cfs the whole river is IV+. It becomes a funnel of fast water and in
the Narrows especially. if you swim you will find yourself dragging your finger nails along the
rock wall or concrete in an attempt to stop for a quarter mile. If you want a comparison the Royal
at 350 cfs is very similar to the Zume Flume section of Browns Canyon. At 1500 in the Royal you
better be comfortable surfing and rolling in the middle of Zume Flume. If you like Dowd Chute
around 1000 cfs you will be right at home in the Royal. As long as you can handle it for 5 miles.
Yes, I intend to scare you and protect you. Do not make this run your first 4+
July 16 2016 (920 days ago)
DavidET (158404)
What a great section of the Arkansas! 'Committing class IV run' above should be emphasized. I think
Sunshine and Sledgehammer rapids are under estimated in the description here. It seems misleading
IMHO to suggest Sunshine is class III below 2000 cfs. I ran the Royal Gorge section for the second
time on 3-July-2016, with the Parkdale gauge reporting right at 2000 cfs. My first Royal Gorge run
was during the first week of July 2014 at ~1700 cfs. At both cfs levels, I would rate Sunshine as a
IV+ rapid, comparable to Pillow Rock and Iron Ring on the Upper Gauley. I consider even the left
side of Sledgehammer to be solid, big water class IV at these flows. I understand the class III
rating for the remainder of the gorge, but paddlers should be aware that in the 1700-2000 cfs range
there are continuous 4-5+ ft standing waves, with very few eddys, for approximately 3 miles
starting in the Narrows. Swims here could easily be on the order of a mile or more. Don't forget to
look up!

Associated Projects

  • Colorado SWSI (CO)
    Colorado's Statewide Water Supply Initiative may very well determine the fate of Colorado's whitewater rivers by dictating how much water can be removed from rivers to serve a growing population.