FUN FACT: The start of one of the lesser-known multi-day trips in the country
SEASON: April to early June depending on snowpack and release from McPhee Dam.
ISSUES: Recreational users have traditionally been the last to be considered in the management plan for McPhee Dam. A proposal to construct additional diversions designed to capture even more of the spring melt will only make the situation worse. Check with the San Juan Citizen's Alliance for the latest information on this issue.
LOGISTICS: The Bradfield Launch site is reached via Highway 666 and County Road R16 near the town of Cahone. There is camping at the launch site. The take-out for this section is at the Mountain Sheep Point Recreation site, otherwise known as Pump Station, which can be accessed via County Road J.
DESCRIPTION: The Dolores has been a source of irrigation water for over a century. Unfortunately the completion of McPhee dam, one of the last big water projects in the Colorado basin, has resulted in less than dependable flows for boaters and in some years none at all. While the Dolores does not have the intense rapids of some of it's more popular neighboring runs, the camping is superb and one can plan a multiday trip that starts out in the high elevation Ponderosa forests and ends in the desert canyons of the Colorado River. The Dolores is managed by the BLM and they maintain a web page with information on the river. Although permits are not currently required, you will still need your firepan, portable toilet, and dishwater strainer. You will also find a place to sign in at the launch site.
The typical trip starts at the Bradfield Launch and this is considered mile 0. There is an additional 10 miles of river upstream of the bridge before reaching McPhee Dam. This reach is parralleled by FR 504 and is popular with fishermen, but not often boated.
From the Bradfield Launch, the first several miles consists of swift water and semi-continuous class II+ rapids. For those looking to canoe this stretch, whitewater boat handling skills are required along with float bags. Once you leave the road at Bradfield Launch there is no access to the canyon until you reach the Dove Creek Pumping Station 19 miles downstream. There are several excellent camp sites in this forested upper canyon where you can bed down among the pines. The first real class III rapid is at Glade Canyon at river mile 15. The next point of interest is some Anasazi cliff dwellings just past river mile 18. A short distance downstream you will round the bend at Mountain Sheep Point and come to Big Canyon Rapid, another class III. Once you round the point you will be at Dove Creek Pump Station which is the end of this section.
Boaters can continue their trip downstream by taking advantage of boating opportunities on the following sections of the Dolores and Colorado:
Effects of instream flows on whitewater boating on the Dolores River in Colorado.
We have had releases on this reach but don't show any currently. This information is
gathered by the public. If you know about releases then contact us about them. If
you would volunteer to enter the releases, then reach out to us.
Recommended minimum flows
are 200 cfs for
canoes/kayaks/inflatables, 800 cfs for
small rafts to 14 ft., 1000 cfs for large
rafts to 18 ft. Flow information hotline
970.565.7562. River users can expect
approximately 19 days with flows of
2000 cfs which is ideal for this section.
In some years there are no boatable
flows. Check with the
Dolores Water Conservancy
for information on the timing of spring
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
on Dolores @03. Bradfield Launch (McPhee Reservoir) to Dove Creek Pump Station
Dolores day one
Dolores River Putin
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Releases from McPhee Reservoir into the lower Dolores River have come to an end for the 2019 season. American Whitewater is collecting feedback from paddlers who got out on the lower Dolores River this summer. Please follow this link to answer a few short questions about your experience. This feedback is incredibly helpful in our discussions with the reservoir operators and our conservation partners.
This spring in Colorado has been so cool and wet that the U.S. Drought Monitor has officially declared the state drought free. For paddlers this has meant a slow start to the boating season in a lot of places and excitement for the long season expected. For reservoir operators the delayed inflows mean more uncertainty. Starting yesterday, May 30th, flows began ramping down and will reach a level of 400 cfs by midnight the morning of Sunday June 2nd. With warm weather in the forecast however, the release will then ramp back up beginning the morning of Wednesday June 5th and will be up to 1,200 cfs by midnight the morning of Friday, June 7th. Flows will then remain at least 1,200 cfs until Sunday, June 23rd. Please see the Dolores Water Conservation District website’s release page for details on these release changes. They will be posting weekly updates on Monday and Thursday, so continue to check back into their site for the most detailed operation plans.
A bill to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was introduced last month by Colorado Senator Cory Gardener and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and cosponsored by Colorado Senator Michael Bennett. If passed the bill would provide $900M annually for projects protecting natural, cultural and historic resources. Existing funding from the LWCF recently enabled the transfer of two important river access points on the Upper Colorado River. The State Bridge and Two Bridges parcels were owned by Eagle County and had been improved - boat ramps, parking, restroom/changing facilities - by the Eagle County Open Space program with coordination and management support from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This land transfer will protect public access at these locations in perpetuity.
Dolores Water Conservation District put out their most recent predictions on April 23rd. More can be found on their website. We are expecting an updated forecast on May 6th and will be meeting with them on May 9th to begin discussions on how the recreational boating releases can align with other ecological goals. American Whitewater has developed a wide range of guidelines on how a spill can meet both recreation goals and goals to improve aquatic species and riparian health.
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.
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!
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.
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)
Conditions in the Dolores River basin this year are 38% of average for this time of year. Without additional snow storms, this number is likely to drop and there won’t be water available for boating releases. If the trend continues into April-June, there will be no water available for boating or the downstream environment.
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.
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.
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.
Bond, Colorado - American Whitewater is presenting Gore Canyon Festival - August 25-27th 2017. Online registration is open and there are events for everyone, so sign up today!
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.
Dolores, CO - Releases into the lower Dolores River will begin to ramp down starting Sunday May 7 until minimal boating flows of 800 – 1200 CFS are reached. A high flow event of 4000 cfs is still planned for May 5th, but the duration of the event may be cut down to two or three days. Forecasts continue to drop and may not produce releases that reach into June.
Dolores, Colorado - The highly anticipated April 1st water supply forecast for the Dolores River has finally been released and for boaters, conditions are promising. With inflow into McPhee Reservoir forecast to be 142% of average, managed releases from McPhee Dam should provide 87 days of flows above 800 cfs, and 50 days above 2000 cfs. Releases have started - lets go boatin'!
Attention all Dolores River Boaters!
Excited About Boating Colorado's Dolores River this year? American Whitewater and our partners are gathering your feedback on the 2017 boating releases from McPhee Dam. After your trip, Please Take Our Online Survey! Your participation will directly inform the next release from McPhee Dam. Make your voice heard!
Dolores, Colorado - A warm March has started the runoff early and driving McPhee Reservoir elevations up, approaching 6915 and rising. Therefore releases will start ramping up March 29, 2017. The forecast for the Dolores River has dropped since March 1, but still promises plenty of water for a recreational release from McPhee Reservoir.
Cortez, Colorado - American Whitewater and local interests in Dolores Water sat down again this month with the most current snowpack, water supply, and McPhee Reservoir storage data, to determine how releases, if possible, can be timed to provide the best boating opportunities, while doing good things for fish, and the health of the River. Releases for the lower Dolores River will happen in 2017 and the forecast for great flows is looking very good right now!
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Cortez, Colorado - After several years of work to restore healthy flows in the Lower Dolores River, American Whitewater and a small group of water and conservation interests in the basin have released the Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan for new management opportunities for McPHee Dam and the Lower Dolores River. The Plan's goal is to restore native fish populations between the dam and the San Miguel River, while protecting world-class whitewater boating opportunities and other Wild and Scenic values. Among the opportunties presented in the Plan, are changes to spring relases from McPhee, which seek to provide better predictability, quality, and reliability of boating flows between April and July.
Dolores, Colorado - This week, American Whitewater filed a Motion to Intervene in the Preliminary Permit application for the Cortez Pumped Storage Project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The proposed project will require two new dams and reservoirs on Plateau Creek, a tributary to the Lower Dolores River.
American Whitewater is working to restore healthy flows to the Lower Dolores River, and is opposed to any new project that proposes to impact flows needed for recreation and the environment.
Colorado - American Whitewater would like to announce our new part-time program staff in the Dolores River basin - Jay Loschert! Jay will be working with AW's Colorado Program Director to organize the local paddling community and to work with the US Bureau of Reclamation and our stakeholders in the Dolores to improve instream flows below McPhee Dam. Welcome Jay!
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.
American Whitewater and our partners at the San Juan Citizens Alliance are hiring a part-time Dolores River Stewardship Assistant to help advance the shared strategies of environmental and recreational interests in the Dolores RIver basin. This position will serve as a lead advocate for whitewater paddling interests, and be dedicated to improving coordination among paddlers, as well as environmental and recreational stakeholders, in the Dolores River basin. Applicants need apply by March 1, 2011.
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.
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!
Colorado - American Whitewater has recently brought our expertise to bear on Dolores River Management and is actively working to restore reliable and sufficient flows to the Dolores Canyon.
Today, we need you to join us in asking the US Bureau of Reclamation to take a leadership role in protecting the recreation and environmental values of the Dolores River. By signing on to our letter, you are demonstrating public support for Federal decisions that protect natural resources and enhance instream flow conditions.
There are only 3 weeks left to participate in American Whitewater's Flow Study for the Dolores River. This is the last call to help American Whitewater propose new reservoir operations and negotiate enhanced instream flows below McPhee Reservoir.
This spring, the Colorado Legislature is considering a bill, which helps protect the rights of commercial boaters to float on commercial sections of river, and increases the safety of boaters by decriminalizing incidental contact with private land to portage obstacles. HB -1188 is a good bill, but doesn't go far enough! HB-1188 passed out of the House by a vote of 40-25, and is scheduled to be introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote on March 17th. We urge you to contact members of Colorado’s Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to support HB-1188, and to amend the bill to include all members of the paddling public.
Dolores River - Colorado
Here we are in mid-March with the high elevation snow in the Dolores and San Miguel watersheds at about 106% of normal and dropping daily. Therefore estimates for spring flows in the Lower Dolores River below McPhee Reservoir are a little below normal. The first projections of this years releases for the Lower Dolores are now available.
American Whitewater and various stakeholders have formed a Working Group in the Lower Dolores River Valley to update the 1990 US Bureau of Land Management’s Lower Dolores River Management Plan. In December 2008, the Working Group launched a year-long process to develop and evaluate alternatives to Wild and Scenic River designation for the Dolores below McPhee Dam.
Releases have dropped to 500 cfs since Tuesday to facilitate Department of Wildlife fish surveys below McPhee. Flows will start increasing Thursday night, April 17 and should be back at 800 cfs by late Friday night and hold through the weekend. Next week's flows will remain at a minimum of 800 cfs and may rise upwards to a maximum 1500 cfs in anticipation of increased runoff based on new forecast data. Lack of new snowfall and winds have lowered the official forecasted run off by 10%, but new snow recorded this week.
Colorado - The Dolores Water Conservancy District has announced it's release schedule from McPhee Reservoir, promising flows at or above 3000 cfs in May. Release estimates are approximate and updates will be made available based on emerging weather conditions, in-flow rates and reservoir levels.
Colorado Stewardship Director
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