FUN FACT: Some sections of beautiful desert scenery.
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: To reach the put-in, take Highway 141 to the bridge across the Dolores at Slickrock. There is a launch site upstream river right of the bridge. The first 15 miles or so of this section pass through mostly private ranch lands so this section is less frequently paddled unless its part of a long multi-day trip. The alternate Gypsum Valley Launch is near the end of this first part and just above the point where the river enters Slick Rock Canyon. You can reach it by taking Highway 20 off Highway 141. The take-out at Bedrock is on river left just upstream of the Highway 90 Bridge. There have been reports of car vandalism at this access site.
DESCRIPTION: This section of the Dolores starts with a mellow float through ranch land before entering Slick Rock Canyon which contains a few easy rapids. You're not going on this run for the whitewater action, but rather the beautiful scenery, desert campsites, and side canyon hikes. That being said there are still a couple of spots where solid intermediate paddling skills are required, and once you're committed to this remote canyon opportunities to exit are limited. While McPhee dam upstream limits the days you can float this river its still a great desert river trip. 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.
From the Slickrock Launch at mile 47 the river winds through ranch land and the short Little Glen Canyon. It's mostly a mellow float but there's some beautiful desert scenery that displays a sharp contrast for those who have floated down from the upper sections of the river. Campsites are very limited in this first section (although there are a couple) and much of the land is private. The bugs can be pretty bad in early spring so if you've got raft support bring the bug tent. Once you pass the Gypsum Valley Launch (mile 61) it's only a couple miles until you pass under a highway bridge and enter Slickrock Canyon. This is a wilderness study area and there are several opportunities for great side hikes, several of which lead to native rock art. Although the river flows through a constrained canyon there is some good camping, but if you're on the river with good flows over Memorial Day weekend you'd better grab your site early. When setting up camp or setting off on a side hike keep your eyes open for poison ivy.
The best whitewater comes near the end where you get some decent class III rapids as you approach the take-out. Before passing under the Highway 90 Bridge you'll find an access on river left that serves as a take-out.
Boaters can start from further upstream or continue their trip downstream by taking advantage of boating opportunities on the following sections of the Dolores and Colorado:
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 District for information on the timing of spring releases.
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.
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.
Rafting the Dolores River Canyons
Lower Dolores River
Dolores River Canyon
Dolores near Slickrock
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 - 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!
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.
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...
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!
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.
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 - 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'!
Alamosa, Colorado - American Whitewater needs your help to define streamflows that support the full range of recreational boating opportunities on the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers in Southern Colorado. Information provided by you will help set goals for flows and physical conditions to protect and enhance streams, and inform multi-objective projects to improve ecological, recreational, and community values. Please participate in our survey today!
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)
It's that time of year folks! Colorado Event Season is soon upon us. Whether you've been training all winter in preparation or whether you just enjoy a good show and boating with your friends, these classic Colorado river events are not to miss!
In addition to the many whitewater festivals that American Whitewater partners with in Colorado, we are excited to announce that AW is hosting Gore Fest again this year! We hope to see you at Rancho Del Rio on August 24 - 26. Stay tuned for more details on race registration, entertainment, and volunteer opportunities.
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.
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!
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.
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 Stewardship Director
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!