This photo needs editing.
Difficulty V+
Length 13 Miles
Flow Range 150 - 800 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 7 years ago 531 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 12/10/2018 6:59 pm

River Description

Upper North Saint Vrain Creek is the the only major canyon in the Front Range that hasn't had a highway or railroad blasted up it. It is quite a long day with 10+ log portages and numerous Class V and V+ rapids. Not for the meek, it has been said that UNSV is a place to take your enemies, not your friends!

Be on a constant look out for wood, running blind corners is not a good idea.  When in doubt, scout.

There are 3 distinct sections with markedly different personalities as you work your way toward Buttonrock Preserve.

The first zone is the Murkwood Section; manky Class V with an abudnace of wood through out. Although the rocks are nice and round, the pinball nature of the rapids combined with the wood make this upper section a difficult place for some to enjoy.  If this happens to be the case with you, walking back out here, as the car is still very close, can be a good idea..

Cascade #1(V) starts off about 50 yards below the put-in. It's not so much unrunnable as it is ugly, manky, and un-fun-able. I usually portage (river left past the no tresspassing signs) straight from my car to just below the last ugly drop. The run-out of Cascade #1 is actually a lot of fun. About a ½ mile downstream is Cascade #2, which is a pretty sweet boulder choked rapid.  The Murkwood section continues on for about 3 more miles, the gradient gradually petering out. There is a lot of wood in here, and it moves around a lot at high water. Runs before and after the peak will have wood portages in different rapids.

This second section is a 4 or 5 miles Class III strech, through some very dramatic terrain, you will see huge ridges of rock coming down from the top of the canyon to river level. Your instincts tell you that there is going to be a huge rapid where the river and the ridge meet, but there isn't.

The third and final zone is called the California Section.

The rapids transition from manky broken rock to smooth granite bedrock. You'll know when to get out and scout as the gradient will pick up dramatically. The California Section is characterized by bedrock pool-drop rapids, one Class V right after another, all in a spectacular smooth granite canyon so unlike much of Colorado. There is a jeep trail in this section, on river left, greatly helping scouting and portaging. The first significant drop splits around a giant boulder and into undercuts on both sides, most choose to portage. The rapid just below the steapest section is tricky to portage(run the entrance and portage the main drop river left). There is a sieve at the bottom of this steep rapid, dangerous at low water.

After this the California Section proper is done, the difficulty mellows out to Class III/IV, but the beautiful bedrock rapids remain. There are a few more log portages in this section, and one or two Class V- drops mixed in, before you get to The Slot. This is pretty much the last drop of the run, there is a left and right slot, and you really want to get to the left slot.

Formerly the paddle across Buttonrock Preserve was illegal, but thanks to the hard work of some local boaters there is a two year test of allowing whitewater paddlers across the reservoir! So be on your best behavior! Do not linger on the reservoir, paddle directly across, portage the dam and put in below as quickly as possible. Make your presence as minimal as possible!

After you have put in below the very clear outflow jet, paddle several more miles to your car. Be heads up for a 15 ft dam about 2/3 of the way down.  It has been run, but is easy to portage. 

As of 2017 there have been only two complete decents, and wood was very prominent. This section comes highly reccomended, especially for someone looking for a bit of adventure style boating.  


To get there: From Lyons head up Hwy 36 towards Estes Park. Look for small County Road 80 on the left and head up that until you get to the gate for the Buttonrock Preserve. Park at the far end of the lot away from the gate and leave a car that doesn't scream "paddler", this will help keep the rangers from looking for you. Head back down to Lyons and up Hwy 7 past the junction with Hwy 72. A few miles past Allenspark you will dip into the North Saint Vrain Valley, put-in at the bridge where Hwy 7 crosses the creek. Actually you should start your run by discretly portaging past the no-tresspassing signs on river left until you are below Cascade #1.

There is an alternate put-in option, that requires hiking down Bright Trail: 1700 ft dropped in 1.5 miles.  So be prepared for steep terrain, a map with details regarding the trail can be found under the photos tab. 

Trail meets the river about two miles above the Cali Section


Lat/longitude coords are approximate, from TopoZone.

The various reaches of of Saint Vrain Creek,
Upper NSV (Class V+/VI-),
Middle NSV (Class IV/V),
Lower NSV (Class II/III),
Upper SSV (Class V+/VI-),
SSV (Class V/V+), and
Left Hand Creek (Class IV).



Rapid Descriptions

Peak To Peak Hwy

Class - IV Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Put-in and run some bony Class IV with the intention of getting out real soon, or just start a stealthy portage down river left...

Cascade #1

Class - 5.3 Mile - 0.1
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Huge and ugly.

Cascade #2

Class - 5.2 Mile - 0.4
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Long and technical, about half as steep as the first cascade. Still not to be taken lightly.

Rock Creek

Class - IV Mile - 2.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Rock Creek comes in on river right, this is about the end of the Murkwood Zone. Expect less wood and mellow Class III for several miles.

Cow Creek

Class - III Mile - 3.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Cow Creek comes in on river left.

California Section

Class - 5.0 Mile - 6

The river character transitions to smooth bedrock and the gradient starts to pick up progressively.

Steep Section

Class - 5.2 Mile - 6.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
The most steep and burly part of the California section, big rocks and big holes with clean lines. This is the signature drop of the California Section.

Clam Shack

Class - 5.3 Mile - 6.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
At the bottom of the "steep and burly" bit you need to eddy out upstream of the bridge. Just below is Clam Shack, a short but big V+ with undercuts.

Significant Rapid

Class - 5.1 Mile - 7

Worthy of a scout. Below Clam Shack are some great rapids and stout holes. When you come to a big horizon line scout on the right. The rest is read and run until the next bridge.

Eye of the Needle

Class - 5.0 Mile - 7.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Fairly easy line, but very nasty consequences. Scout from the right,portage on the left.  The rapid is marked by a very sharp right hand bend in the river. 

The Slot

Class - 5.1 Mile - 9

There is a left slot and a right slot, avoid the right slot...

Ralph Price Reservoir

Class - I Mile - 9.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
One and 3/4 miles of uphill paddling.

Button Rock Dam

Class - I Mile - 11.2
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
If you manage to get past the rangers carry down the left side of the dam, not the sluice - which is further to the left. The outlet of the dam shoots water out Gauley style, big 40 foot roostertails where it hits the water.

Longmont Reservoir/Dam

Class - IV Mile - 12.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
After one and 1/2 miles of fun Class III/IV portage the dam on the right.

The Takeout

Class - III Mile - 13.25
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


Gage Descriptions

The min flow is 150

350 is good

above 500 is getting big

not reccomended above that


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.

No Accident Reports



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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.

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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! 

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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.


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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!

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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. 

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Saint Vrain Stream Management Planning is Underway (CO)

Nathan Fey

Lyons, Colorado - The St. Vrain Creek on Colorado's northern Front Range is one of several Colorado streams now targeted for comprehensive management plans.   American Whitewater is helping lead the effort, and a series of public and stakeholder meetings is underway this month. Your input can help decide how we can improve public access and safety, stream health, and connectivity between our communities - all critically important after the flooding of September 2013. 

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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)

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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.  

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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...

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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. 

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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.


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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. 

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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.


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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!

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Action Alert: Comment on Colorado Roadless Rule

Thomas O'Keefe

Colorado's backcountry is a human-powered recreation paradise. For paddlers we enjoy great rivers like the Animas or dropping Adrenaline Falls on Lime Creek. Right now the Colorado Roadless Rule that will guide management of these backcountry areas is open for public comment. We encourage all paddlers to weigh in.

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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.

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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.

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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!


Matt Muir


Nathan Fey

Colorado Stewardship Director


Kestrel Kunz


Spencer Huff


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1193838 02/16/09 n/a n/a
1210636 12/10/18 Nathan Fey
1208262 09/06/17 Kestrel Kunz fixing typos
1208248 08/29/17 Spencer Huff grammer editing
1208263 09/06/17 Kestrel Kunz
1208210 08/17/17 Spencer Huff Face Lift