When the snow melts from the mountaintops, summer in Vail sings with opportunities for outdoor adventure — including going whitewater rafting with a guide.
Here’s what you need to know:
Navigating River Safety
Vail’s whitewater-rafting opportunities are as varied as they are bountiful. Before you plan your summer in Vail, be sure to consider both class and type of whitewater. Monitor waterflow levels and pay attention to river ratings, so you find yourself on waves that are fun, manageable and invigorating — not dangerous. It’s best leave the navigating to a trusted river outfitter (see our recommendations below), so that you can make the most out of your river adventure.
Colorado rivers are rated using Roman numerals I to V, according to the International Scale of River Difficulty, with I being easy and family-friendly, and V being expert-level (best for experienced rafters who go with a guide).
River Ratings for Vail Rafting
Class I: Easy, family-friendly waters perfect for those with little ones looking for whitewater adventure (or even paddleboarding and tubing). Rough areas are limited and require minimal skill to navigate. Check Out: Upper Colorado, Vail’s Whitewater Park on Gore Creek
Class II: Great for groups and first-timers looking for a little summertime thrill in Vail. These rapids will put some pep in your paddle with a small number of rocks and maneuvering along the way. Check Out: Upper Eagle, Upper Colorado
Class III: Best for experienced rafters and paddlers. The exciting terrain is more advanced, boasting medium waves, 3-to-5-foot drops and significant maneuvering. Check Out: Middle and Lower Eagle, Brown’s Canyon, Shoshone, Gore Creek
Class IV: Excellent for those with advanced rafting experience. This whitewater boasts large waves, long rapids and some considerable drops with sharp maneuvers. Check Out: Gore Creek, Edwards Mile, Down Chute, Upper Eagle, The Numbers
Class V: Best for hardcore rafters and experts familiar with Vail’s whitewater scene. This class promises large waves and rocks, continuous rapids, significant drops and precise maneuvers that can be life or death. Check Out: Pine Creek, The Numbers, Gore Canyon
Pro Tip: A river’s level of challenge changes with fluctuations in water levels. Check with an experienced rafting company and guide for updated ratings based on flow, and always carry and wear the proper safety equipment.
Where to Go
Now that you’re familiar with whitewater-rafting classifications, it’s time to choose your route. Guided-rafting-trip options are available for full days, half days and quick trips from Class I up to Class V rapids on the Eagle, Colorado and Arkansas rivers.
Depending on your group’s ages and level of adventure, here are a few of our favorites river experiences:
- Class I: Vail’s Whitewater Park in the center of the village (by the International Bridge) for a perfect kayak playground.
- Class I-III: Sections of the Eagle and Colorado rivers for enjoyable float trips to more adventurous runs through small rapids.
- Class III: The Shoshone Trip through spectacular Glenwood Canyon on the Colorado river.
- Class III-IV: The Arkansas River for Browns Canyon or the extreme Numbers section.
Vail Rafting Guides
Before booking your Colorado whitewater-rafting trip, sift through these trusted companies. They’ll ensure you summer in Vail is unforgettable — and safe.
An expert in the field of Vail whitewater rafting, Lakota Guides has serviced thrill-seeking visitors for decades. From “mild to wild,” this company offers guided tours for every skill level.
Nova Guides offers tours on the Arkansas, Colorado and Eagle rivers. When you’re ready to dry off, join their staff for a Jeep or mountain-biking tour.
With three convenient locations and a long history in the Vail Valley, Sage Outdoor Adventures brings deep knowledge of the area. The company provides wetsuits, helmets and tours for all ages.
Timberline Tours offers 10 different rafting routes from beginner to expert levels. Check out their wine-and-rafting tour for a taste of Vail’s illustrious food-and-wine scene.
Provides authentic Colorado adventures, skill-building courses, and fun guided trips for outdoor enthusiasts and groups of all fitness and skill levels. Enjoy our brand-new raft, kayak, and SUP facility at Rancho del Rio to access half-day, full-day, and overnight trips on the Upper Colorado River.
For those who desire a more serene summer activity in Vail, check out Turtle Tubing. This company offers private or shared tubing tours and optional transportation on the Turtle Bus — a mobile tiki lounge.
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