Kayaking the Whole Colorado River: Is It Plausible

Kayaking the Whole Colorado River: Is It Plausible 2

There’s no doubt that kayaking can be a lot of fun.

It can be a source of joy and thrill for many. But here’s the bitter reality – kayaking can also be quite difficult, and not to mention, dangerous.

A few important factors that determine your level of kayaking are your paddle style, your kayaking type, the type of kayak you are using, and the most important of all – the place you choose for kayaking.

Different water bodies have different surface waves; some are easy to paddle on, while others require some skill that you can attain through practice and experience.

For instance, sea and ocean kayakers have to deal with large waves that are tough to paddle on, especially for a beginner.

Similarly, several river bodies are harder to navigate, such as the Colorado River in Colorado, United States.

Like most tough kayaking destinations, some sections of the Colorado River are quite a challenge to paddle.

If you’re planning to go kayaking on the Colorado River, here’s everything you should know about it to plan your trip accordingly.

Is It Possible to Kayak the Colorado River from the Source?

Is It Possible To Kayak The Colorado River From The Source?

The Colorado River is one of the longest rivers in North America, and as is expected, sections of the Colorado River are not entirely safe for kayaking.

That being said, many kayak enthusiasts and professionals consider paddling in the unpredictable waters of the Colorado River a fun, exciting challenge.

The headwater of the Colorado River is the La Poudre Pass Lake – a small lake in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado.

Unlike most Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River, the river’s mainstream is suitable for beginners.

After crossing the small lake, you will gush into Grand Lake – Colorado’s deepest river, situated in Grand County.

It is one of the best summer holiday destinations for kayaking where you can go with your family and friends and have the time of your life.

Kayaking in Grand Lake is moderately easy, and the pretty lake offers some scenic views of the mountains covered with pine trees and lakefront houses with dockyards and cute boats.

As you work your way down from the Grand Lake, you will meet your very first obstacle – Gore Canyon on the upper Colorado River in southwest Grand County.

It has extremely difficult rapids of class V that only highly skilled kayakers can paddle.

After that, the Glenwood Springs Canyon begins (the Colorado River’s Lower Section), which is divided into – Barrel Springs, Shoshone, and Grizzly Creek.

Barrel Spring is a dry and pretty rough section that can be tough to get around to. You can hitch a ride to pass the area safely.

Next is the Shoshone and Glenwood Spring Canyon that offers some class II – class IV rapids. Many people come here to seek whitewater thrills, and the panoramic views are a bonus!

From there on, some remote areas of the Colorado River begin, such as the Grand Canyon, which is impossible to visit without a permit.

In order to kayak through the Grand Canyon, you will need to pay a fee.

Plus, you should also have class IV skills to paddle through this region.

Other areas of the Colorado River where you will need to get a permit for kayaking are Grand Canyon in Arizona, Cataract Canyon in Utah, Westwater Canyon in Utah, and Ruby-Horse thief Canyons in Utah to Colorado.

After the Grand Canyon, paddlers look forward to their journey to Lee’s Ferry and Diamond Creek. Other than kayaking, fishing and boating are quite famous over here.

How Long Does It Take?

How Long Does It Take?

Kayaking the Colorado River is an impossible feat. The river is so long that it may take months to paddle it from its source to finish. However, you can paddle a great deal of the river.

The Colorado River comprises of different classes of bodies that are suitable for different types of paddlers – beginners, intermediate, expert, etc.

It can take days to cross the source of the Colorado River, but this length can vary depending on your stamina, weather conditions, number of stops made, number of paddlers, etc.

When it comes to Grand Lake, it only takes about 2 hours to kayak along the shoreline. Usually, paddlers stay here longer as the lake is packed with picturesque landscapes – worth the visitors’ time.

The Colorado River is divided into lower and upper sections, comprising of various river bodies that are anywhere from hundreds to thousands of miles long.

Considering this, kayaking the entire Colorado River in one go is not possible.

Generally, paddlers take 14 to 21 days to complete the tedious journey from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek. However, people with class III-IV skills can only kayak through these rivers.

Tips for Kayaking the Colorado River

Tips For Kayaking The Colorado River

If this is your first time kayaking the Colorado River, you will need to remember some important tips to make your trip a memorable one.

Here are some important tips that you should keep in mind:

1. Observe the Water Always

While the water surface of the Colorado River is flat (such as La Poudre Pass Lake), the wind and weather conditions can dramatically change the water texture.

It is not uncommon to experience choppy water in the Colorado River.

 Class IV and V river bodies have extremely hard rapids that may lead to capsizing, especially if you are not a professional kayaker.

Even if you are paddling tamed water, you should never take it for granted and be on the alert at all times.

2. You May Need a Permit to Kayak Some Rivers in Colorado

The Kayak River is surrounded by many remote areas that are worth a visit. However, a few years ago, these areas had so many visitors that the government had to invent a permit system.

Without the permit, you can’t kayak the Grand Canyon, Cataract Canyon, etc.

So, if you are planning to kayak through the isolated areas of the Colorado River, make sure that you are equipped with a permit.

Or else your trip will be good for nothing. You won’t need permits to access the Lower Colorado Rivers.

3. Consider Grand Lake for a Scenic Kayaking Tour

Isn’t it everyone’s dream to go kayaking in a place that offers you breathtaking natural beauty?

If that’s what you expect from your next trip to Colorado, make sure that you go to Grand Lake for kayaking.

The beautiful lake holds some of the most stunning views of the Rockies. It also features over 200 campsites on the shoreline.

Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby are the two picturesque destinations that are situated close to Grand Lake and are worth exploring with your loved ones.

4. The Upper Eagle River and the Arkansas River for Beginner Kayaks

While the Colorado River is best recommended to professional kayaks, some of its rivers are safe for beginners as well. These include the Upper Eagle River and the Arkansas River.

These are the best rivers for beginners to hone their kayaking skills. Even when the rapids are too high, they are rather friendly and easy to paddle.

However, keep in mind that you need to be equipped with the proper kayaking gear for a safe and sound trip. You can also go to these destinations with your kids and have a fun family kayaking trip.

5. Choose the Paddling Area Wisely

Before going kayaking on the Colorado River, you will have to choose a specific section where you will go kayaking.

As stated above, the Colorado River is divided into the Upper and Lower Sections. Depending on your paddling skill, choose the right area for you.

Most Upper Colorado Rivers are best suited for highly skilled and advanced kayakers. The rivers in this part of Colorado usually have class IV to V rapids.

You can also check the American Whitewater’s International Scale of River Difficulty to pick the river based on your paddling level. 


The Colorado River is one of the major rivers in the United States that consists of a plethora of other big and small rivers.

Some of these rivers are so long that it may take you a couple of days to paddle through them.

With the best will in the world, kayaking the whole Colorado River is just not possible.

However, you can consider kayaking through the different tributaries of the Colorado River (depending on the water/weather conditions, your skill sets, preferences, etc.).

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