Saint Vrain Creek, North, Colorado, US
|Usual Difficulty||V+ (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||196 fpm|
|Max Gradient||375 fpm|
|NORTH SAINT VRAIN CREEK ABOVE BUTTONROCK (RAL...|
|codwr-NSVABRCO0||150 - 800 cfs||V+||4y221d14h17m||531 cfs (running)|
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.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Peak To Peak Hwy||IV|
|7.2||Eye of the Needle||5.0|
|9.5||Ralph Price Reservoir||I|
|11.2||Button Rock Dam||I|
The river character transitions to smooth bedrock and the gradient starts to pick up progressively.
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.
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.
There is a left slot and a right slot, avoid the right slot...
Action Alert: Comment on Colorado Roadless Rule
July 8, 2011