Cache La Poudre - 01. Long Draw Reservoir to Big South Campground

Cache La Poudre, Colorado, US


01. Long Draw Reservoir to Big South Campground (Big South)

Usual Difficulty V+ (for normal flows)
Length 12 Miles
Avg. Gradient 134 fpm
Max Gradient 218 fpm

Double Trouble

Double Trouble
Photo of Fred ? by Brian Adkins taken 06/03 @ low

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
codwr-LAPLODCO0 350 - 950 cfs V+ 92d19h40m 0 cfs (too low)

River Description

Big South is the finest expert run in Colorado. For the first few miles the river marks the western boundery of Rocky Mountain National Park, the rest of the river all the way to the takeout is in the Cache La Poudre Wilderness Area. Big south runs through 12 miles of pristine wilderness with more than a dozen classic Class V, V+, and VI- rapids. The beauty of it is you can have any kind of day you want there. If you’re there for the scenery and the experience you can easily portage the hardest rapids and have a relatively relaxing Class IV+/V- day. If you’re there to test yourself and run some big stuff you will have a couple of big technical hair-raising drops to run.

Pinball Wizard, Rock Lobster, Starter Fluid, Barroom Brawl, Bonk, Nitrogen Narcosis, Prime Time Gorge, Pincushion, The Rush, and Tubular Balls are all V to V- at reasonable water levels, and can be run without scouting if you have a good guide to lead you down.

Taco Bobs, and Fantasy Flight are in the Class V territory, but they have some really ugly lines you want to check out before jumping in. Slideways is another good scout, it’s a classic long and steep Class V studded with big holes.

The truly big Class V+/VI- rapids of the Big South are Cool World, Meltdown, and Double Trouble. Cool World is especially dangerous because it looks like it’s just another Class IV rapid from the top. Be very cautious until you’re past it! The final drop of Cool World slams directly into an undercut cliff on river right. Meltdown is a two-step cascade with a sieve at the bottom. It’s the hardest rapid to portage, so sometimes it seems like it’s "almost" easier to just run the rapid! Double Trouble is a big double waterfall. The hole at the bottom is considered by many to be in the top five scariest hydraulics in Colorado, which is saying a lot!

The only real negative to Big South is the short season. The Forest Service keeps the road to the Long Draw Reservoir (the putin) gated until all snow has melted from it, even in a big year there is sometimes only a week or two of water left after the gate finally opens. This leaves you with two unpleasant alternative to bag the big water of early summer. One, you simply hike upriver from the takeout as far as your lungs and legs can carry you. Two, hike down from the source of the Poudre near Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. This alternative is far easier than hiking up from the bottom, and Trail Ridge Road is guaranteed to be open for the tourists by Memorial Day at the latest, but requires a 4+ hours of shuttle driving.

For a great article about running Big South from RMNP check out

For pics of Big South and many other Colorado classics check out my Webshots photo album.

To get there: The takeout is at the Big South Campground on Co Hwy 14. To drive to the put-in head towards Cameron Pass about a mile until you see a well marked Forest Service sign to Long Draw Reservoir. Head up this dirt road and put-in at the outlet of the reservoir.

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.

See also,

Big South (Class V/VI),
Joe Wright Creek (Class V),
Spencer Heights (Class V/VI),
South Fork (Class IV/V),
White Mile Run/Upper Rustic (Class III),
Grandpa's Gorge/Lower Rustic (Class III/IV),
The Narrows (Class IV/V/V+),
Upper Mishawaka (Class III/IV),
Lower Mishiwaka (Class III),
Poudre Park (Class IV),
Bridges (Class III/IV),
Upper North Fork (Class IV/V),
Lower North Fork (Class II/III), and
Filter Plant (Class III).

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2010-10-29 15:10:37


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Long Draw ReservoirIIPutin
1.0Pinball WizardIV
1.7Rock Lobster5.0
2.6Starter FluidIV+Waterfall
2.9Taco Bobs5.0Hazard Waterfall
3.2Bar Room Brawl5.0
3.3Fantasy Flight5.0Waterfall
3.8Cool World5.2Portage Hazard Waterfall
4.8Melt Down5.1Portage Hazard Waterfall
7.0Nitrogen NarcosisIV+
8.0Prime Time GorgeIV+
8.8Double Trouble5.1Portage Hazard Waterfall
9.6Pin Cushion5.0Hazard
10.7Tubular Balls5.0
11.1The Rush5.0
11.7Curtain Call5.3Portage Hazard Waterfall
12.0Highway 14IVTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Long Draw Reservoir (Class II)
Put in at the outlet of the reservoir.

Pinball Wizard (Class IV, Mile 1.0)
The gradient will tilt steep all of a sudden, not much of a line, just bounce of the round rocks.

Rock Lobster (Class 5.0, Mile 1.7)
We didn't scout this one so I don't remember it too well, nothing went wrong at least!

Starter Fluid (Class IV+, Mile 2.6)

Sweet little waterfall that starts of the goods!

Taco Bobs (Class 5.0, Mile 2.9)
Very different at different water levels. I do know of severe vertical pins at low water. Higher water improves your route options.

Bar Room Brawl (Class 5.0, Mile 3.2)
The river splits around a large rock island. The left channel doesn't go, the right side slams into a wall.

Fantasy Flight (Class 5.0, Mile 3.3)

The entrance to this waterfall has a right and a left line, I refer to them as ugly and uglier.

Cool World (Class 5.2, Mile 3.8)

Tricky entrance that gains momentum before launching into and undercut cliff.

Bonk (Class 5.0, Mile 4.2)
Steep drop that pushes into a cliff on river left.

Melt Down (Class 5.1, Mile 4.8)

Two stage drop. The first drop has a hole at higher water that looks like a jet engine. The second drop sieves. Often has wood problem, particularily in the entrance.

Nitrogen Narcosis (Class IV+, Mile 7.0)

This isn't one of the more distinctive rapids, it kinda blends in with the continuous IV above and below, but is a shade harder.

Prime Time Gorge (Class IV+, Mile 8.0)

Very fun rapids in a small gorge. Frequently has wood problems.

Double Trouble (Class 5.1, Mile 8.8)

This is the big daddy of the Big South. Epic hole rides are too be expected.

Pin Cushion (Class 5.0, Mile 9.6)
Pin spot, hard left boof required.

Slideways (Class 5.1, Mile 10.0)

It's big but straight forward. After 10 miles your definately starting to feel it. The hardest rapid at high water.

Tubular Balls (Class 5.0, Mile 10.7)
The pace seems to quicken after Slideways, not sure exactly which rapid is Tubular balls but do keep an eye out for wood.

The Rush (Class 5.0, Mile 11.1)
Keep and eye out for increasing amounts of wood, you may want to just bag it at some point and start hiking downstream.

Curtain Call (Class 5.3, Mile 11.7)
This has been run at high water, not advisable at any water level. Only for sickos with a lack of good judgement. Waterfalls pouring into sieves. Be sure to start the portage well upstream.

Highway 14 (Class IV, Mile 12.0)
Take out

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Associated Projects

  • Big South Access (CO)
    American Whitewater is working with local paddlers to reform USFS policies that limit early season access to the Big South Fork of the Cache la Poudre River.