From its headwaters near Independence Pass high above Aspen to its confluence with the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs, the aptly named Roaring Fork drops more than 6,000 feet over 70 miles. This means plenty of whitewater for boating—some pretty wild rides, some less so.
Local raft companies put their most experienced guides on Slaughterhouse, a fast and furious stretch of river—dropping 85 feet per minute on average—that starts just outside of Aspen and includes multiple Class IV and V rapids. The most iconic of these is the six-foot drop of Slaughterhouse Falls, below which some companies station a photographer who captures the terrified looks on people’s faces midplunge, amid a backdrop of churning whitewater caused by a dramatic pinch in the local geology.
A few notches lower on the thrill meter, the upper Roaring Fork through Woody Creek and Snowmass canyons is the valley’s most popular commercial trip, featuring exciting Class III rapids spelled by a few calmer stretches to appreciate the gorgeous scenery.
For the risk-averse (e.g., families with young children and/or seniors), a tamer option is the middle and lower Roaring Fork, with just enough splash to stay cool on a hot summer’s day and plenty of time to soak in the inspirational sights and sounds of the river.
“The beautiful thing about our valley is there’s a little bit for everyone in the family, from the wild ride and constant paddling of Slaughterhouse to if grandma and grandpa want to take their 5-year-old grandchild,” says Vince Nichols, owner of outfitter Blazing Adventures. “And with last season’s snowpack, we’re sure to have a great rafting season.”
Ditto for kayaking. Newbies should enlist the help of Aspen Kayak & SUP (owned by Charlie MacArthur, perhaps one of the most experienced kayakers in Colorado), starting with a pool session at the Aspen Recreation Center and followed by a guided
Aspen Whitewater Rafting and Blazing Adventures also offer guided trips on the middle Roaring Fork in inflatable kayaks, or duckies. These half-day trips that include Class II, sometimes III, rapids are “nice when the water gets a little lower, and more exciting than sitting in a big raft with six other people,” says Nichols.
For experienced kayakers with their own gear, all the stretches of river available to rafts are fun options—and then some, as you don’t need much more than public access to launch and take out. Playboaters can practice spins, flips, and surfing in Glenwood Whitewater Park, a man-made set of features including a large and small standing wave, a hole, and practice pools. There are also two wave features—geared to intermediate and advanced kayakers, respectively—on the Roaring Fork just above Basalt.
Rafting & Kayaking Resources
Learn to kayak, hone skills, and/or take a guided kayak trip with Aspen Kayak & SUP (970-618-2295, aspenkayakacademy.com). For guided rafting and inflatable kayak trips on the Roaring Fork, try Aspen Whitewater Rafting (970-920-3511, aspenwhitewater.com) or Blazing Adventures (970-923-4544, blazingadventures.com).