Get a taste of Blue River rapids on the 1st day of the 2017 rafting season (360 video)
Pick your trip
Summit County isn’t exactly a hotbed of whitewater rafting — you’ll have to head further south to the Arkansas River or northwest to the Colorado River for that — but it’s no slouch either. Here’s a look at two of the most popular guided trips within 15 minutes of Dillon Reservoir.
Lower Blue River
The Blue River is split into to sections: the Upper Blue River through Breckenridge and the Lower Blue River through Silverthorne north to Green Mountain Reservoir. The stretch running through Breck never flows fast enough for commercial boating (stand-up paddleboarding is another story), but the six-mile stretch north of Silverthorne is perfect for families, first-timers and folks who simply want a short, mellow trip with bursts of adrenaline. Flows here reach 1,600 cubic feet per second during peak season in June, which translates to Class I-III whitewater on classic rapids like Pipeline, Oh No and Boulder Creek. Just about every local outfitter offers half-day trips on this stretch.
Tiny Tenmile Creek runs from Copper Mountain to Dillon Reservoir through the heart of Frisco with rapids topping out at Class IV. The ride is fast and ferocious, filled with nonstop whitewater for four to six miles in a tight, turbulent creek bordered by the Tenmile Range to the east and Interstate 70 to the west. But don’t let the illusion of civilization fool you — this two-hour trip is not for the faint of heart. KODI Rafting is currently the only commercial outfitter running guided trips, but for two or three weeks during high season, the creek is also a hotbed for expert kayakers.
Pick your guide
Summit County is home to a slew of commercial rafting outfitters running trips on the Blue River and other waterways across the state. Call now for reservations.
Performance Tours Rafting | Breck and Frisco
Season: May to September
Trips: Arkansas River (begins May 1), Browns Canyon (begins early May), Blue River, Colorado River, Clear Creek, Royal Gorge, Bighorn Canyon
Contact: PerformanceTours.com or 970-453-0661
KODI Rafting | Frisco
Season: May to September
Trips: Arkansas River (begins mid-May), Blue River, Tenmile Creek, Clear Creek, Colorado River, Dolores River
Contact: WhitewaterColorado.com or 970-668-1548
AVA | Breck
Season: May to September
Trips: Arkansas River (begins early May), Blue River, Eagle River, Colorado River, Clear Creek, Dolores River, Poudre River, Animas River, Salt River
Contact: ColoradoRafting.net or 1-800-370-0581
The Adventure Company | Breck
Season: May to August
Trips: Arkansas River (begins mid-May), Blue River, Colorado River, Clear Creek
Contact: TheAdventureCompany.com or 719-395-0107
Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting | Frisco
Season: May to September
Trips: Arkansas River, Blue River, Eagle River, Colorado River, Clear Creek
Contact: BreckenridgeWhitewater.com or 970-236-9402
“Do you feel like a crash-test dummy?”
On June 6 — the very first day of commercial whitewater rafting season in Summit County — Jay Chambers asked his first trio of clients how they felt. Chambers, a longtime local with KODI Rafting of Frisco, has been guiding on Summit County rivers for decades. He likes to joke and play and pal around with clients, just to loosen up any tight-wound nerves, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when the mission for the day is a relatively mellow float on the Lower Blue River, it doesn’t take much to get a laugh.
“Not yet,” smiled 31-year-old Julia Byrne, one of three on 2017 season’s inaugural rafting trip. “But I kind of do now that we’ve been talking about it so much.”
That drew laughter from Julia’s sister, 30-year-old Rachel, and their father, Frank. The three had been trying to raft on the Blue for several days before June 6, but flows on the river weren’t quite high enough for commercial trips: about 350 cubic feet per second, or roughly 100 cfs below the magic number for commercially guided trips.
But luck was with the Byrne brood this June. On the final day of a family get-together in Summit — Julia lives in Durango, Rachel lives in Seattle and dad still lives in the family home in Connecticut — the three heard that Denver Water, which owns rights to the hundreds of thousands of gallons in Dillon Reservoir, released water from the lake into the Blue, bumping up flows to about 630 cfs. By this weekend, they’ll be anywhere from 1,400-1,600 cfs, according to Denver Water.
Peak rafting season had officially arrived.
‘Fast and furious’
“In Summit County, we’re at the top — the apex — so if you’re further down in elevation across the state the water will be high later into the season and sometimes all year long, like the Grand Canyon,” Chambers told the Byrne family on the 15-minute shuttle ride from Frisco to the Blue River put-in north of Silverthorne. “But here in Summit, the season is fast and furious.”
Like other local outfitters, KODI leads guided tours on a six-mile stretch of the Blue River with three miles of mellow, scenic floating on Class I and II rapids before three whipfast miles through Class III whitewater. The half-day KODI trip takes about two or three hours, depending on the size of the group, and costs $65 for adults or $59 for children (ages 7 years and older).
It might not sound too fast or too furious, but Chambers was referring to the length of the season — not exactly the rafting itself. Some years, there isn’t enough snowpack for flows on the Blue to reach 450 cfs, and that means no trips at all. It happened most recently in 2015, but this season, conditions are looking wonderfully average, which translates to at least six solid weeks of rafting on the Blue. It might be a late start — KODI usually takes trips on the Blue by Memorial Day weekend — but any season is better than none at all, Chambers said.
“It’s always nice when we get a later start,” Chambers said before loading the raft with the Byrnes family. “Most of our business is Fourh of July or after, and it’s always just a crapshoot (on the Blue), but to hold onto a couple of rivers late into the season is convenient.”
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Mercy of the river
Two short hours later, Chambers, the Byrne trio and Conor Hawks, a 24-year-old guide-in-training, finished barreling through classic rapids like Oh No and Pipeline, and not-so-classic rapids like Big Nasty — a previously unnamed rapid that Chambers christened earlier that morning at the KODI shop. The group came ashore at the take-out wearing big, beaming smiles all around.
“In the beginning, I kind of had an idea what it would be like, when we were just moving along (and) so peaceful,” said Frank, who had never before been whitewater rafting. “And then we had that second instruction period, when he (Chambers) reminded us what to do. And then it really got started.”
Everyone laughed, already scouring their memories for those heart-pounding rapids, and started loading into the shuttle for a short trip back to Frisco.
“I would say it was rad,” Rachel said when asked how the trip was. Like her sister, she’d been whitewater rafting before, but never on that stretch of the Blue.
“With rafting, you’re just at the mercy of the river most of the time,” Julia said.
“All of the time,” Chambers added from the front seat. His clients all nodded in agreement. After only two hours on the river, they knew firsthand the power of 630 cfs — and rising.
“Yes,” Julia said. “All of the time.”
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