The 430 inches of snow that fell on the Steamboat Ski Area last winter produced many memorable powder days, but now that it's summer, rafting enthusiasts are still reaping the benefits.
This season seems assured of producing the longest river rafting season of the decade and the rivers of Northwest Colorado have a distinct advantage over the rest of the state.
High Adventure Rafting should enjoy a healthy season on the family rafting that runs right through downtown Steamboat Springs. They put in at a city park opposite the ski area and run all the way through downtown to the commercial campground a mile further west. At $43 for adults and $35 for children 12 and younger, it's a good value, it's convenient for visitors to Steamboat, and this season the fun might last until early July.
The mighty Colorado, an hour south of Steamboat will produce Class III (family friendly) rapids all season.
Colorado River Guides, a Routt County company whose owners live in Yampa, just south of Steamboat Springs, has great depth of experience in showing people a good time on the Colorado River. The summer rafting operation is based right on the river at State Bridge on Colorado Highway 131.
The company doesn't shuttle guests from Steamboat, but meets them on the river and shuttles them upstream to put in points at Radium or Pumphouse. Many lodging companies in Steamboat will arrange a van ride to State Bridge for people who don't have their own vehicles.
Rates on the Colorado River begin at $38 for adults and $30 for children 12 and younger for a half-day trip. Full day rates are $65 and $48 and include lunch.
"The Colorado is always a lot of fun at 900 cubic feet per second or better," owner Paul Worley said. It just gets more fun when it gets to 6,000, 8,000 or even 10,000 cfs. When the river drops to 400 cfs, adventurous souls can rent two-person inflatable kayaks called "duckies" and paddle their own course on the Colorado.
High Adventures also leads trips on the Colorado, including a shuttle ride from Steamboat. However, owner Jarett Duty said his company emphasizes raft trips in Northern Colorado as long as streamflows permit. The company offers a mountain wilderness float on the North Platte, and a mild desert wilderness float through Juniper Canyon on the Yampa west of Craig.
Their most popular trip is "The Daily Double" on the Elk River where it pours out of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
"People love it because they can accomplish two of their goals in one day. We raft three and a half miles on the Elk from 10 a.m. until noon, and it's a great float. Then we break for lunch followed by a two-hour horseback ride at Elk River Guest Ranch."
The daily double cost $135 for adults and $113 for children.
For early summer thrills, Colorado River Guides float clients through the class III and IV rapids on the Eagle River between Avon and Edwards.
Rates on the Eagle are $45 and $40 for half-day trips and $70 and $55 for the full-day experience. Some clients also enjoy eyeballing the river-side mansions in the Vail Valley, Worley said.
For people who have experienced several whitewater raft trips and have the confidence to wield their own paddle on an intense stretch of the Yampa River, is waiting. Don't blame us if you feel like a pinball when that particular thrill ride is over.
For athletic adult rafters, Cross Mountain Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument is one of the most intense floats in the state. Clients must be capable of wielding a paddle themselves.
"We frequently turn people down for this float after we meet them in the morning," Duty said.
Cross Mountain Canyon is a genuine adrenaline fix.