Cache La Poudre, North Fork, Colorado, US
|Usual Difficulty||IV-V (for normal flows)|
At most levels this can be considered a “beginner creek” run, consisting mostly of rock-dodging with a few more discrete drops. It’s a beautiful wilderness run that will disappoint hard-core creeker. If you’re looking for non-stop action, go somewhere else. If you’re seeking a wilderness run with manageable rapids and beautiful scenery, and don’t mind a mellow paddle out to the reservoir, you’ll like this stretch.
The big event is an uncharacteristic small falls (~6’), about 2/3 of the way through the trip. The scout is marked by a relatively discrete drop (one of just a few) with a prominent cliff on river left that goes all the way to water level. Get out on river left by the large pointy rock and climb the outcrop for a look. At low to moderate water levels, the falls tend to be low-consequence, carnage is rare, and there’s a great boof move into the eddy below. At levels over ~ 600(?) the river-right eddy just above the falls gets small, squirrely, and it drains into an ugly slot between two huge boulders so you’ll want to know where you’re going. About 1,000 (?) the hole and boils into the undercuts at the falls get ugly – be sure to scout and don’t blow the line!! The portage isn’t fun, and is easier on river-right.
Just below the falls is a notably steep drop with a sharp left at the bottom, immediately followed by two fun play holes and a sunny rock. Shortly beyond this you’ll enter the fence zone and a mellow paddle out. Be heads-up for several fences that will require portages at high water or adept fence-evading at lower levels.
The landowners at the bridge by Trails End have mellowed, and they’ve been downright friendly the last couple years. At the putin, please be polite, respectful and modest and don’t screw this up. Think Bailey and float through the Trails End property quietly and quickly. There’s a long history of access issues, including confrontations and a call to the sheriff to sort things out and it’s worth going out of your way to maintain the currently cordial relations.
The easiest putin at the bridge is upstream river left, using the bridge abutment for access. Unload at the bridge but leave your car at the very good off-road parking a short (2-3 minute) walk past the bridge. The key challenge to this run is the road to Halligan, which in the distant past (10-25 yrs) almost always opened for Memorial Day weekend. During the past decade it’s sometimes opened earlier in May, but in 2014 Colorado Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (by phone) was incorrectly telling boaters the road was open when in fact it was closed. It’s a harsh 2.5 mi, uphill carry out from the reservoir. Only the truly tough will consider that an option! There’s usually beta on MountainBuzz about access as the water rises. The drainage for this run is low-elevation and it’s an early-season run.
Prior to the road opening, an apparently attractive alternative is to paddle across the (posted) Halligan Reservoir, then carry around the (posted) dam and run down to the road. It’s physically possible to do so, but there is, unambiguously, no legal way to do it. If you meet anyone in this section (there’s private access, it flows through a TNC reserve, and it’s a prime fishing stretch), there’s a high likelihood of a very unpleasant confrontation, and the very real possibility of an even more unpleasant meeting with the sheriff at the takeout. Below Halligan the creek bed is full of willows; it's not a secret whitewater stash.
Once Halligan Reservoir fills, you’ll have the flow at USGS gauge 06751490
CLANLICO (North Fork Cache la Poudre R. at Livermore, Co.)
For descriptions of Colorado runs, see Whitewater of the Southern Rockies by Stafford
and McCutchen, or Colorado Rivers and Creeks by Banks and Eckert.
Lat/longitude coords are approximate, from TopoZone.
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).