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.

Salt River

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

Salt River - Wide shot of group white water rafting

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. 

Cataract Canyon Rafting - Utah - Mild to Wild Rafting

Cataract Canyon 

Peak flows

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!

Low flows

Will probably stay above 6,000 CFS at its lowest in September and October. 

Castle Valley 

Peak flows

About 20,000 CFS from late May to early June. 

Low flows

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. 

Green River Rafting-Gates of Lodore-Mild to Wild Rafting

Gates of Lodore 

Peak flows

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!

Low flows

Will probably hit 1,800 – 2,000 CFS by July. 

Desolation Canyon 

Peak flows

Over 30,000 CFS by early June.  

Low flows  

Most likely between 2,500 and 3,000 CFS by August. 

Yampa River 

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. 

Peak flows

Depending on how quickly it warms up and rains, we’re expecting to see around 20,000 CFS from late May to early June.  

Low flows

Between 2,000 – 4,500 CFS by late June. 

Big Joe Rapid on the Yampa River - Mild to Wild

Upper Animas 

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.

Peak flows

Hot diggity, we’re looking at 3,000 CFS come early June! 

Low flows

Expecting to float above 400 CFS through July. 

Upper Animas White Water Rafting Silverton CO - Mild to Wild

Lower Animas 

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!  

Peak flows

We may see up to 7,000 CFS between late May and early June. 

Low flows

Will probably stay above 500 to 750 through July and August.

Lower Animas, Durango, CO Rafting Through Smelter Rapids - close up of group 

Piedra River 

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. 

Peak flows

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. 

Low flows

Expecting levels to drop down around 500 CFS through June.  

Upper Piedra Forest Landscape - Upper Piedra - Mild to Wild Rafting

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! 

Dolores River Rafting Colorado - Mild to Wild

San Miguel River 

Peak flows

Around 1800 CFS by early June. 

Low flows

Expect levels to stay above 300 well through July.  

Dolores River 

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! 

Peak flows

Around 3,500 – 4,500 CFS in late May 

Low flows

About 800 CFS by mid to late June. 



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