Paddling season is underway in Colorado, and late snow in the high country is going to make for an extended runoff period this year. Now is a prime time to hit the state’s whitewater parks: stretches of river that have been modified to create a series of drops and pools that are fun to run with a kayak, canoe, standup paddleboard (SUP), or some other floating device. When creating parks, engineers design whitewater features for typical flows, and also enhance stream habitat, creating better fishing and pleasant places for people and wildlife to hang out along the riverbanks.
One reason Colorado has so many excellent whitewater parks is because a pioneer of river park design lives in Boulder. Gary Lacy is president of Recreation Engineering and Planning, whose URL—boaterparks.com—speaks to the company’s specialty. Lacy has designed more than 100 whitewater parks, including many of those listed here. Colorado also benefits from the backing of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), which channels lottery proceeds to outdoor recreation projects, including whitewater parks. You’ve got GOCO to thank (among many other supporters) for four of the parks described below: Buena Vista, Gunnison, Montrose, and Salida.
So load up the car with your kayak, canoe, raft, or paddleboard and head out there to any of these eight awesome whitewater parks in Colorado while the getting is good. The water is raging right now. Keep in mind that higher water usually makes whitewater features more challenging, so be sure of your skills if you’re putting in during peak runoff. Otherwise, wait for flows to drop a bit. As an added bonus, whitewater parks are typically in or near a town, so you can make a few runs and then sidle up to a bar for a beer.