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Rafting Season Forecast for 2021

By Kim Cassels   •   March 22, 2021

Rafting Season Forecast for 2021

Gates of Lodore Eddy Out - Lodore - Mild to Wild Rafting

Spring is in there air, and we all know what that means — Time to roll out the rafts! While the Southwest’s version of spring usually features a combo of more blankets of snow mixed with summer stints, we know there’s plenty of mountain-melt coming our way. Check out this rafting season forecast for 2021 for the estimated high and low flows of SW Colorado and Eastern Utah that Mild to Wild is running this year!

Colorado Rafting Season Forecast for 2021

Lower Animas

Durango Rapid Splash - Lower Animas River - Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level: Mild – Intermediate

The lower Animas River is always a family friendly section, and younger children are always walked around the whitewater park during high-flow times in late spring.

Forecast

The North Silverton basins are at about 90% capacity this year, promising for a nice run off without any prolific flooding in late spring. 

The Lower Animas is expected to reach peak flows between 3,500 and 4,200 CFS (cubic feet per second) from late May to early June. 

Flows will mellow within the first week of June to early July depending on summer rain showers, keeping flows between 700 and 1,000 CFS. 

San Miguel

Telluride Colorado River Running – Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level: Intermediate

The San Miguel’s constant class two rapids make this waterway an excellent ride for family’s with older kids and folks who really want to be hands on with paddling.

Forecast

Drainage from north-facing basins of Red Mountain and Lizard Head Pass will start in early June and maintain steady flows on the San Miguel until early July.  

“The Little River that Could” is expected to maintain 800 to 900 CFS during its peak season.

Flows are expected to mellow down to 350 CFS by late July, depending on summer rain showers. 

Yampa

Rapids Yampa River Rafting - Dinosaur National Monument - Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level: Intermediate – High

The Yampa River has plenty of float sections intermixed with splashy, smaller rapids. Late spring churns out the biggest rapids with a class IV called Warm Springs and consistent class III’s through Split Mountain.

Forecast

Buffalo Park snowpack above Steamboat, CO is over 90%. Peak flows should stay around 10,000 CFS from early May until the beginning of June.

Mellow flows will start promptly, most likely in the third week of June, around 2,000 CFS. 

Piedra

Whitewater in Pagosa Springs Colorado – Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level – High

The Lower Piedra River is a more difficult section of river that is appropriate for enthusiastic paddlers who 16-years-old and up ready to tackle class IV rapids and technical rafting maneuvers. The Upper Piedra is still very exciting, but the water isn’t as big, and is appropriate for younger teens.

Forecast

The San Juan Mountains have done well for snow this year, which may give the wild Piedra River peak flows up to 2,500 CFS in mid-May.

Flows should slow down into late June, with runnable rapids still churning as low as 400 CFS.

Upper Animas

Upper Animas Drone Re-Edit - Upper Animas - Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level – Super Duper High

This is the most difficult commercially run river in North America. Be ready for a fitness screening and swim test before hopping on this whitewater breathing beast of the San Juan Mountains!

Forecast

The Upper Animas is expected to climb to 2,500 CFS in late May and early June.

Flows will mellow in mid-June below 1,000 CFS, depending on the spring and summer showers in the San Juan Mountains of course.

Utah Rafting Season Forecast for 2021

Gates of Lodore

Gates of Lodore Rapids 2 - Lodore - Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level: Intermediate

The Gates of Lodore is a super friendly river that offers a few exciting class three sections, including the historic rapids of Disaster Falls and Split Mountain.

Forecast

Flaming Gorge Reservoir is in good shape this year for the upcoming season, with dam releases expected to take place after the Bureau of Reclamation’s usual study of native fish spawning. 

High flows are expected at the end of May, reaching 4,000 to 5,000 CFS that should last around 10 days. Once joining the Yampa in Echo Park, Split Mountain could reach up to 15,000 CFS. 

This should taper off by late June bringing flows down to around 1,800 CFS.

Desolation Canyon

Splashy White Water in Desolation Gray Canyon – Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours

Adventure Level – Mild to Intermediate

Desolation Canyon is great for all ages, and offers plenty of fun class II to III throughout this phenomenal drift.

Forecast

Combined with the Yampa River, Deso may see flows between 15,000 and 16,000 CFS in early June.

Mellow flows will drop to around 5,000 CFS in July.

Castle Valley

Colorado River Whitewater Rafting - Moab, UT - Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level – Mild to Intermediate

Castle Valley is always a go-to for families anytime of year, and for good reason! It’s flat water sections allow for plenty of relaxation and time to sight-see, and the class II to III rapids are an absolute hoot.

Forecast

Depending on how hot spring weather rolls into the Martian desert, Castle Valley should see peak flows between 12,000 to 15,000 CFS in late May or early June.

Flows should mellow out to a nice base of 3,000 to 4,000 CFS in late June.

Cataract Canyon

Moab Rafting Utah-Cataract Canyon-Mild to Wild Rafting

Adventure Level – Intermediate to High

Cataract Canyon is the alma mater of Utah’s whitewater. In spring, you’re going to see some of the biggest rapids in the country. By late summer and early fall, bus-sized holes will shrink to sedan-sized holes.

Forecast

With the contribution of the almighty Green River, Cataract will see peak flows between 30,000 and 40,000 CFS in late May or early June. 

Flows should descend below 10,000 CFS by the first week of July, sustaining 6,000 CFS by early August.

Top Adventure Trips

Cataract Canyon Rafting Trip Colorado River

Cataract Canyon – “Cat” usually hits its max CFS by late May.

Lower Piedra River – Head out there in early May for big water.

Upper Animas – Constant class IV’s usually emerge the first week of June.

Top Family Trips

Big Splash Rafting In Castle Valley - Mild to Wild Rafting

Desolation Canyon – From May to September, Deso is always lovely.

Castle Valley – Always a friendly section of the Colorado River from March to October.

San Miguel – Kids who are 10 and up will have an absolute blast on this Colorado gem.

 

Please note that this forecast is only an informed guesstimate based on current snowpack and expected weather condition. Anything can change, and always hope for rain! Happy rafting!

 

More Reading 

Early Spring Rafting Gear – Where to Go and What to Wear 

6 Reasons to Consider a Multi-day Rafting Trip to Escape COVID-19

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