Rafting Season Forecast for 2023
By Kim Cassels • April 11, 2023
Rafting Season Forecast for 2023
Whoop whoop— It’s the Rafting Season Forecast for 2023!!!
Hold onto those boat straps folks, it’s going to be a WILD season! With a long and snow-packed winter behind us, we’re gearing up for a righteously rampant runoff across the Colorado Plateau. Get ready for some of the highest flows these western rivers have seen in over a decade.
The Rockies are currently holding well over 100% of their snowpack averages, and many basins have more moisture right now than the past two years combined. We’ve already seen record water levels hit the Salt River in March, and we expect Southwest Colorado and Utah to follow similar suit in May.
All this snowmelt not only means obnoxiously frothy whitewater on the way, but also prolonged opportunities for recreation and the Colorado Plateau this year. Read on to get the full rafting season forecast for 2023 on the rivers Mild to Wild runs.
**All snowpack readings were taken from SNOTEL on April 10th, 2023.
White Mountains Snowpack: 2,407%
For those who haven’t yet joined the Salt cult— The season has been surging since mid-March this year. Record precipitation in the White Mountains has even made it too high to run certain days this season! Here’s what to expect through the rest of April and May:
April Water Levels
Expected to see phenomenal, sustained flows around 2,000 CFS
May Water Levels
Most likely will trickle down between 800 – 1,000 CFS
Colorado River at Large
Snowpack levels for Upper Colorado River Basin: 150%
The Upper Colorado River basin is looking absolutely SWOLL for 2023. The basin is at its highest in over a decade, close to its record levels in 2011. It’s likely that the Colorado River along with its contributing tributaries, like the Green, Yampa and Dolores, will see fabulous flows throughout the season.
Expecting around 60,000 CFS from late May to early June, with hopefully prolonged flows within 40,000 CFS until July. Be ready for holes as big as a bus this spring!
Will probably stay above 6,000 CFS at its lowest in September and October.
About 20,000 CFS from late May to early June.
Somewhere between 5,000 – 6,000 CFS by July.
Green River at Large
Snowpack levels for the Upper Green River Basin: 131%
The Green River’s flows through Dinosaur National Monument, Desolation Canyon, and beyond (until meeting the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon) will depend heavily on what happens with the water management at Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming, per usual.
Releases are dictated by the fish spawning season, which is usually in late May or early June. By July and/or August, flows tend to increase again to get water downstream.
Expecting a peak release of 9,000 CFS around late May or early June. Once meeting with the Yampa River, it could reach up to 30,000 CFS. Split Mountain is going to be an absolute hoot!
Will probably hit 1,800 – 2,000 CFS by July.
Over 30,000 CFS by early June.
Most likely between 2,500 and 3,000 CFS by August.
Snowpack for Yampa River Basin: 146%
Buffalo Park is seeing a 10 year record for snowpack levels! This is especially exciting since the Yampa tends to trickle off abruptly by July. We’ll most likely see great water levels even by the last launch on July 1st.
Depending on how quickly it warms up and rains, we’re expecting to see around 20,000 CFS from late May to early June.
Between 2,000 – 4,500 CFS by late June.
Snowpack for Animas River: 174%
Hold onto your paddles Upper A busters, 2023 is going to be a frothy ride!! The San Juan Mountains have been battered with one layer of powder after the next this year.
Depending on the contributing rain showers flowing down from the surrounding peaks, we may have to move trips out past the initial runoff this season since the cutoff is 1,500 CFS. But be not discouraged whitewater hams, water levels can come down quickly during the day.
Hot diggity, we’re looking at 3,000 CFS come early June!
Expecting to float above 400 CFS through July.
Once out of the Weminuche and meandering through Durango, the Lower Animas gets righteously bloated with runoff and rain through spring. The cutoff is 4,000 CFS, so we may have to move some trips during this time to avoid some ripples that may be too hot to handle!
We may see up to 7,000 CFS between late May and early June.
Will probably stay above 500 to 750 through July and August.
Snowpack for Piedra River: 208%
The Piedra River is a lesser-known free flowing mountain stream of the San Juans, and we’re ready to see it rumble this season. High water in this narrow canyon comes as quickly as it goes, but this year, we’re expecting exciting levels well through June.
The upper canyon may see around 3,000 CFS in mid to late May, which is too high to raft. But like the Upper Animas, levels can change on the Piedra throughout the day, but be prepared to be flexible! We run the Piedra up to 2,000 CFS.
Expecting levels to drop down around 500 CFS through June.
San Miguel and Dolores River at Large
Snowpack for the San Miguel and Dolores River: 183%
This year marks a momentous occasion in Southwest Colorado as we’ll likely see the Dolores River flow once again through its miraculous canyon— a grand and remote stretch of wilderness that rarely sees enough water to flow past the McPhee Dam.
As for the San Miguel, it tends to see one of the shortest rafting seasons in Colorado, and this year it’s looking high enough to splash through July!
Around 1800 CFS by early June.
Expect levels to stay above 300 well through July.
Sizable releases from the McPhee Dam aren’t usually announced with much advance notice. Until the reservoir is full, which will certainly be sometime this spring, we may see a release in May.
In 2024 McPhee will go through a re-licensing phase, which will give boaters more say on releases. It will be the first time it will be re-licensed!
Around 3,500 – 4,500 CFS in late May
About 800 CFS by mid to late June.