Difficulty III+(IV) at this flow (IV normally)
Length 10.5 Miles
Flow Range 300 - 7000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 24 minutes ago 784 [CFS] 👍 ℹ️ ⚠️
Reach Info Last Updated 06/25/2019 6:25 pm

River Description

Run Length:  10.5 miles  
Gradient:       46 FPM

Parkdale Recreational Launch Site, (
Twelve miles west of Cañon City on Colorado US HWY 50.)

There is a sign for Parkdale Recreation Area. The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area is administered by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
This is an AHRA put-in. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife Pass will cover you. Or, pay the AHRA a Daily Parks Pass for $8/car and Individual Daily Pass for $4. New increases took effect in January 2019!

Centennial Park, Cañon 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 Royal Gorge 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 Cañon City downstream. The degraded structure is a hazard in a few places.

From the Primero to Ed's Rock there are six miles of rapids. Depending on the flows 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. Three miles of flatwater to paddle out. (Don't say the word "wind"!)


Mile 2.0: Primero, Segundo, Tercera and Pumphouse:  
These rapids are in quick succession and offer a nice introduction to the run. They are Class 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 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-IV (< 2000cfs), Class IV (at 2000+ cfs), Class IV-V- (> 3,000 cfs):
A very large boulder marks the entrance river right. Consider Sunshine a Class III at moderate flows. There is an elegant S-move at the top at all flows. The rapid is scouted on the right; kayaks can portage on the right as well. 

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 nowhere 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: Wall Slammer 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:  

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.

Consider hiring a guide for your raft trip and always use a Safety Kayaker!

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



Rapid Descriptions

Wall Slammer

Class - N/A Mile - 3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


default user thumbnail
Paxton jones
3 years ago

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+

default user thumbnail
Dave T
4 years ago

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!

default user thumbnail
9 years ago

For up to date information on The Arkansas River's Royal Gorge feel free to contact Lost Paddle Rafting in Canon City at 719-275-0884 or http://www.lostpaddlerafting.com

default user thumbnail
11 years ago

The royal gorge is a good nearly year round paddle fun even at very low "unrunnable or dry" levels (i.e. 200). It gets creeky but the character of the canyon changes, beaches emerge and the crowds disappear. And I highly doubt there is any ice as is currently reported (yesterday high/low was 67/42)

Gage Descriptions

While Parkdale and the Gorge are manageable at all flows, the Gorge is more challenging and more committing at all flows. If you are uncomfortable on Parkdale (at any flow), you should not be paddling the Gorge at the same flow. Above 4000 cfs wood and debris become an issue.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2020-06-05 High Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
2017-04-30 High Fatality Cold Water Read More
2016-05-22 n/a Fatality Cold Water Read More
2014-06-14 n/a Fatality Other Read More
2014-06-10 High Fatality High Water Read More
2008-05-25 Medium Fatality Cold Water Read More
2007-05-19 Medium Fatality Cold Water Read More
2006-06-08 High Fatality Other Read More
1999-06-23 High Fatality Other Read More
1995-09-12 Low Fatality Failed Rescue Read More
1995-07-31 High Fatality High Water Read More
1994-09-11 Low Fatality Other Read More
1986-07-07 Medium Fatality Poor Group / Scene Management Read More



article main photo

Colorado Parks & Wildlife to Require Hunting or Fishing License at River Access

Kestrel Kunz

In an unexpected and strategic move by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), a Colorado hunting or fishing license will now be required to access State Wildlife Areas and CPW-leased State Trust Lands (effective July 1, 2020). Many of these affected areas have historically been used for paddling, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and other non-consumptive recreation uses. CPW's press release stated that "This rule is aimed at curtailing non-wildlife-related use of these properties", and while we understand the need to increase revenue to support management of these areas, we have a few concerns with this strategy. On July 1, American Whitewater, Colorado Mountain Club, and multiple other organizations submitted a joint letter to CPW Commissioners requesting that they reconsider the new Rule and find a more practicable and sustainable method for collecting fees for these areas.

article main photo

Opportunity to Participate in Upper Gunnison Watershed Management Plan (CO)

Kestrel Kunz

The Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District in Gunnison, Colorado is coordinating a Watershed Management Planning effort "to help protect existing water uses and watershed health in the Upper Gunnison Basin in the face of pressure from increased water demands and permanent reductions in water supply." The current phase is focusing on Tomichi, Cochetopa, Cebolla, Taylor, and the Gunnison River above Blue Mesa. With local stewardship staff in Crested Butte, American Whitewater has joined the Watershed Management Planning Team to help represent recreational river users and quantify flow preferences and recreational opportunities on the Taylor and Gunnison Rivers. American Whitewater is very excited to be involved in this stakeholder driven process and we are asking paddlers to share their input on management priorities for the Upper Gunnison Basin. If you have experience paddling Cebolla, Taylor, or the Upper Gunnison Rivers, please fill out this quick survey! 

article main photo

AW releases Saint Vrain and Lefthand Creek Recreational Flow Study - CO

Nathan Fey

Longmont, Colorado - As part of a comprehensive Stream Management Plan for the St Vrain Creek Watershed, American Whitewater is collecting and compiling data on recreational uses, and identifying projects and strategies to improve stream health, recreation, and environmental conditions in the region. You can help with this extensive effort. Please participate in the Recreational Flow survey.


article main photo

Support Colorado River Access on Colorado Gives Day!

Kestrel Kunz

Colorado Gives Day is on December 4 this year and is fast approaching! Go here to schedule your online donation to support American Whitewater's Colorado River Access Program. All donations made to American Whitewater on Colorado Gives Day (December 4) will be put towards our River Access Program in Colorado. American Whitewater works to improve river access and public safety throughout the state by working with landowners and managers, paddlers, law enforcement, and lawmakers to understand Colorado's river access laws and the ongoing threats to public safety. Thank you for your support!

article main photo

Voluntary River Closure Proposed On the Slate River (CO)

Kestrel Kunz

Crested Butte CO - Alleged disruption to a Heron Rookery and concerned private landowners have led to a "Voluntary Closure" of the Slate River from the Gunsight Bridge to the Town of Crested Butte between March 15 and June 21 for the 2019 season. The Slate River between Oh Be Joyful Campground and Skyland Bridge, a 10.5 mile stretch, provides an incredibly scenic and unique flatwater paddling experience in the Gunnison Valley. The Voluntary clsoure is a product of the Slate River Floating Management Plan, created by a Working Group convened by the Town of Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Land Trust. The Working Group was created in direct response to pressure from the local community including conservationists and private landowners adjacent to the river, who are concerned that a recent increase in boating activity is disturbing a Heron Rookery that straddles the Slate River. 

article main photo

AW Comments on Colorado Nat'l Forest Wilderness Process

Kestrel Kunz

Today, September 5, marked the close of the public review process for the DRAFT Wilderness Evaluation Report. The Evaluation Phase is the second step of 4 different steps required in the assessment of lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). American Whitewater thoroughly reviewed the DRAFT Wilderness Evaluation Report and submitted our comments to the Forest Service on September 4, 2018. Overall, we found that key paddling reaches throughout the GMUG area were greatly under-represented in the Polygon narratives and thus weren't acknowledged as contributing factors to the Polygon's respective Wilderness Ratings. We let the Forest Service know this, highlighting specific paddling reaches that should be added to each Polygon and which Polygons we believe should have a higher Wilderness Rating based on the high-quality recreation opportunities that each area has to offer. 

Please stay tuned as we continue to report on the GMUG Land Management Revision Process and in the meantime you can learn more about the GMUG here. (Photo of Josh King by Nick Spitzer)

article main photo

TAKE ACTION: Comment on the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Management Plan

Kestrel Kunz

ARKANSAS RIVER, Colo. - The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) is revising their Management Plan for the first time since 2001. The new Draft Plan was made publicly available in October and the AHRA is accepting public comments through November 10, 2017 (next week!). In order to design effective and productive comments, American Whitewater has thoroughly reviewed the Draft Plan, discussed the Plan with our local Affiliate Clubs, attended AHRA Public Open Houses, and reached out to key members of the local paddling community. To make it easy for you to SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS, American Whitewater staff have compiled our key concerns and comments for your review. 

article main photo

Colorado Honors the legacy of Matt Brown

Nathan Fey

Gunnison, Colorado - Last Wednesday, Matt Brown - longtime river guide, adventurer, and pillar of the Gunnison Valley community- passed away tragically after an accident in Moab. Matt was so much to so many.  At the request of his family and friends, contributions in Matt's memory can be made to American Whitewater’s River Access work in Colorado.  Matt was a strong ally and advisor in our work to protect the public’s rights to float and fish in the State.  We miss him immensely.

article main photo

Comments needed on Upper Colorado River Recreation Area Management Plan

Nathan Fey

Kremmling, Colorado - The Bureau of Land Management has released for public review and comment a set of preliminary alternatives for managing about 40 miles of the Upper Colorado River between Parshall and State Bridge - including Gore Canyon and Pumphouse. This is your chance to weigh in on whether there should be a day-use permit;  a camping permit with designated campsites in the popular stretch between Pumphouse and State Bridge; and expanding the developed Pumphouse Campground.

article main photo

Gore Fest 2017 is a few weeks away!

Nathan Fey

Bond, Colorado - American Whitewater is presenting Gore Canyon Festival - August 25-27th 2017Online registration is open and there are events for everyone, so sign up today! 

article main photo

A Successful River Cleanup on the St. Vrain (Lyons, CO)

Kestrel Kunz

On Sunday, nearly 50 people gathered on the banks of the St. Vrain River to pick up trash from the water and the shoreline. We started the day off with Hotbox Roasters coffee and donuts, and a few words about River Stewardship – the common cause that brought us all together. We found bedframes, rusty nails, lawn chairs, car doors, plastic water bottles, candy wrappers, fast food containers, and it doesn’t stop there. Our findings are likely a combination of leftover debris from the floods, illegal waste dumping along the river, and built up trash from years of careless passers-by. Thank you to all those that came out for the river cleanup! American Whitewater depends on our affiliate clubs, members, and dedicated volunteers in order to tackle our many River Stewardship projects.  

article main photo

Releases to Lower Dolores River certain in 2017.

Nathan Fey

Cortez, Colorado - Last week, American Whitewater met with local water managers, fisheries biologists, an other interests in Dolores River water, to start negotiating releases from McPhee Dam - like we do every spring.  This year, things are looking very good for the Dolores...

article main photo

Upper Colorado River Access funded by Land & Water Conservation Fund - CO

Nathan Fey

Dotsero, Colorado - A key river access point on the Upper Colorado river, once threatened with closure, has now been permanently protected through a partnership between BLM and Eagle County. 

article main photo

One more day to submit input on Colorado's Brown Canyon National Monument!

Kestrel Kunz

There is only one more day left to share what you value most in the Browns Canyon National Monument planning area! The Bureau of Land Management, U.S Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are working together to develop a Coordinated Management Plan for Browns Canyon National Monument. In order to design a plan that most benefits citizens and visitors of Colorado, the agencies designed an Online Survey and Mapping Tool to understand how the public interacts with the Browns Canyon planning area and what aspects of the area are most important to the public.


article main photo

New Report on Impact to San Miguel River From Proposed Reservoirs

Evan Stafford

Colorado - American Whitewater has released a new study on whitewater recreation in the San Miguel River Basin. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) requested that Montrose County consult with American Whitewater on recreational needs and future impacts for the San Miguel River. Montrose County acquired conditional water rights to the San Miguel River in hopes of building multiple new reservoirs on BLM land. American Whitewater worked with Montrose County’s agents to assess the impact its conditional storage proposals would have on existing recreational opportunities. 

article main photo

Proposed Asphalt and Gravel Mine threatens the Upper Colorado River

Evan Stafford

A new proposal to allow the development of a 90- acre open pit mine in Eagle County at the gateway to the Colorado River has local river users asking questions. We encourage everyone to attend an Open House December 6 at 6 PM at the Gypsum Recreation Center, and to make your voices heard at the Town Council meeting where they will discuss the application on December 13 at 7 PM.


article main photo

Lyons Outdoor Games and Burning Can to Support AW

Nathan Fey

Lyons, Colorado - For the second year in a row, Oskar Blues Brewery is hosting the Burning Can Festival at this year Lyons Outdoor Games.  Burning Can, which takes place under the backdrop of Rocky Mountain National Park and the St. Vrain River, is a celebration of good beer, served in a can.  This year, All money raised from Lyons Outdoor Games recycled cans will be donated to American Whitewater. See you there!

article main photo

AW launches Flow Study for Yampa River

Nathan Fey

Colorado - American Whitewater is conducting a study of flow-recreation relationships for the Yampa Basin, and identifying specific metrics for use in the Watershed Flow Evaluation Tool. This study is intended to inform local, state, and federal planning efforts as to the full range and quality of recreational boating opportunities for the Wild and Scenic suitable Yampa River, as well as the Elk and White Rivers, and their tributaries. Your participation in the flow survey is requested.

article main photo

River Access Task Force Submits Recommendations to Colorado Governor

Nathan Fey

Colorado - On December 23, Governor Bill Ritter issued a report outlining a series of proposals for resolving disputes between landowners and rafters in Colorado. He also signed an executive order creating the River Access Mediation Commission to provide a way for some of the most contentious conflicts between boaters and property owners to be addressed. The Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force was a 17-member group created in July of 2010 to help craft ways to sort out conflicts on Colorado rivers on a stretch-by-stretch basis as those disputes arise.

article main photo

Help Protect the Yampa River - Colorado

Nathan Fey

Colorado - Last month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released their proposed management plan for the Little Snake Resource Area, encompassing over a million acres of soaring plateaus, wild and scenic rivers, and sweeping sagebrush basins.  Special interests are trying to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to protect portions of the Yampa River – one of the nation's last free flowing rivers.    Let BLM know that protections for these rivers are important to you!

article main photo

The 99 BASIC: fatigue, fun, and friendship for Colorado Access

Jason Robertson

4738thumb.jpg What would possibly lure you into paddling 99 miles in a single day on Colorado's Arkansas River? 20 paddlers met at daybreak on June 4th to paddle this distance as a fundraiser for American Whitewater's Paul Zirkelbach Access Fund.

Christopher Brobin


Thomas O'Keefe


Craig Irwin


Matt Muir


Kestrel Kunz


Sean Davis


Evan Stafford


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1202230 05/21/13 Christopher Brobin
1197766 06/03/10 Christopher Brobin
1197276 02/21/10 Christopher Brobin minor edits
1195688 07/27/09 Thomas O'Keefe
1202418 07/18/13 Craig Irwin cdi20130718
1197271 02/20/10 Christopher Brobin
1196842 12/08/09 Christopher Brobin
1196825 12/07/09 Christopher Brobin
1190154 02/12/09 n/a n/a
1196845 12/08/09 Christopher Brobin
1197275 02/20/10 Christopher Brobin
1197272 02/20/10 Christopher Brobin
1197274 02/20/10 Christopher Brobin Added new Intro and run description
1203804 11/10/14 Thomas O'Keefe fixed abstract
1200129 05/17/11 Christopher Brobin
1204079 01/27/15 Craig Irwin cdi
1203118 02/27/14 Craig Irwin 20140227
1203463 06/10/14 Christopher Brobin I'm trying to fix the damage someone did to my page.
1204124 02/10/15 Craig Irwin 201502
1204173 02/15/15 Craig Irwin 201502
1204832 07/05/15 Craig Irwin 20150705
1204214 02/21/15 Craig Irwin 20150220
1205016 09/25/15 Craig Irwin 20150925
1207679 07/09/17 Kestrel Kunz Reach # fixed
1211081 02/03/19 Kestrel Kunz updated image position
1211326 02/27/19 Craig Irwin updated image position
1211082 02/03/19 Craig Irwin updated stats
1211327 02/27/19 Sean Davis updated name
1211328 02/27/19 Sean Davis updated description
1211329 02/27/19 Sean Davis updated description
1211330 02/27/19 Sean Davis updated description
1212156 05/06/19 Evan Stafford updated stats
1213019 06/25/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1213020 06/25/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated description
1211401 03/11/19 Craig Irwin updated description