In my few years of kayaking in Colorado, there is not a better run in the state. Vallecito has it all. It is a beautiful, remote, wilderness gorge, complete with a 1 mile hike in, a 17 footer, beautiful geology and water as blue as the sky. The rocks are smooth and the drops are clean. Vallecito starts off with Entrance Falls, a picturesque 17 footer that lands in an eddy that can only be described as magical. A few more great bump and grind type rapids (Trash Can, S-Turn and some unnamed boogie) lead you to Fuzzy Little Bunny. This narrow 12 footer has little room for error, especially when you include the mandatory yelling of “Fuzzy Little Bunny!” as you launch off the lip. Boofant, a sweet little s-turn type rapid leads you under a fallen log and right into Paddle B*tch, a 2 tiered, boulder garden type drop with many ill-placed rocks. No Way Out is next and allows for some eddy hopping and a sweet 5 foot boofing finish. Finish line comes last, an eight footer offering many different lines, from freewheels to ear dips to a hot eddy on the left.
Another remote wilderness run, Big South is the only federally designated Wild and Scenic Run in the state (Not really sure how this is possible). Big South is a full-on day, starting high up in the Cache la Poudre wilderness and running 12 miles down to the confluence with the main stem of the Poudre. This section is reminiscent of southeast style creeking and is one of the few pool drop style runs in the region. Offering a variety of styles of drops, from 5-12 foot rock and water boofs, lots of boogie and amazing scenery this section is a can’t miss for Colorado road trippers. Many would consider the crux of this section to be Double Trouble, which comes just after a long class 4 section called Prime time Gorge. Double Trouble is a 2 tiered drop, a 12 footer into a steep 8 foot pour-over, which forms one of the nastiest hydraulics I have ever seen. This run is also home to one of my favorite rapid names, Tubular Balls. Check this one out for sure.
This is Colorado creek boating at its finest. Not the most difficult or remote run, OBJ is known for its big boofs and slides. After a short 1 mile hike up (or romp up a 4 wheel drive road if you have a vehicle capable crossing the Slate River), the put in is located just above the second biggest vert of the run, a 15 foot auto boof. Send it, laugh and smile with your friends in the eddy below, then boogie on down through some manky class 4. The next rapid of note is the S-Turn to 8-footer, which is exactly what it sounds like: a snaky slide into an 8 foot water boof, perfect to practice your freewheels. Immediately after is the Broken Slide. This one is pretty straight forward but definitely has lots opportunity to end up in the wrong place. Trust me, I know from experience. Three sisters is next and the middle one has a sweet boof on the left. Catch the eddy on the left below and get ready for the big one. This drop is known by a variety of names, but I just call it the big one. The actual height is highly disputed, but 23’ sounds about right. A 3-foot rolling slide leads you to the lip, where you throw in a big righty to avoid the shelf on the left. Two more fun slides lead you to the beaver-dam pool where you portage and put on for Avalanche. Avalanche is an 70 foot slide with a variety of lines and places to piton or get knocked off line. Make sure to be just left of center for the bottom. The next series of slides is fast and fun and goes right down the middle. Pick up Sticks is last and deserves a scout on the way up. A twisting slide with little room for error and a woodpile at the bottom keeps it interesting.
I may be slightly biased by including this one, but what can I say, this is my home run and I wouldn’t feel right leaving it off. At one time, Pine Creek was reserved for only the world’s best kayakers, but today, it is considered a great option for those looking to step it up. At flows below 1,200 on the Granite gauge, Pine Creek is a solid Class IV+ with 5 consequences. Above 1,200 the hole becomes legendary and has beat down numerous kayakers. Swimming here at any level can be deadly, as Triple Drop, a long section of waves and holes follows. Numbers proper is a great quintessential class IV run. Number 1 offers a variety of lines at all flows and is always a good time. Watch out for the bridge at flows over 3,500! 1.5 is next and has a massive wave to surf or kick flip at higher flows. 2 has some great boofs at most levels. 3 comes shortly after and at high flows has a mean hole left of center midway through the rapid. 4 is the longest rapid on the section and is very manky at low flow. At high flows, a huge wave forms and is backed up by Big Nasty, a massive hole at high flows that can be punched through by those with the cajones to do so. Don’t get pushed right into the drainage ditch. The section below 4 and above 5 offers the best play on the river in my opinion. There are a few surf waves, splat rocks and the infamous Ender Rock. Some boogie water takes you to the bridge and into 5. At low flows, 5 is rocky and technical, while at high flows the crux of the drop tends to wash out. The crux moves upstream where there are 2 large lateral waves that try and push paddlers left towards the island. Ferry hard to the right and run the main right channel down the middle. Depending on flows, there are other lines to take. 5.5 is next and has a variety of read and run lines depending on flow. Most paddlers take out just below here, but those looking for a longer run can head down to Miner’s Camp to enjoy 6 and 7.
The class V- rating can be deceiving, especially depending on the timing of your Colorado road trip. Gore tends to be the late season go-to for Colorado boaters, as it is a great place to take your first steps into class V or continue to develop class V skills. In the spring time, when flows get over 2,000, Gore becomes a “mini-Stikine,” complete with huge lines, big holes and an intimidating gorge. Only head in here at high water if you are a very solid Class V+ boater with a solid guide. The highest descents are somewhere around the 9,000 CFS range and have pushed some great boaters to their limits. If you’re doing a later season trip, or its low water, Gore at normal flows (below 1,800 CFS on the Kremmling gauge) is a great run. Applesauce is the first rapid after a long flat water paddle in and is tricky to style, but when it goes good, it is a beautiful thing. Some boogie water leads you into Gore Rapid, the crux drop in the run, which is a long, technical drop with many lines. Scissors and Pyrite offer some good boofs to avoid big holes. A few miles of solid class IV read and run leads into Tunnel, which is marked by the second train tunnel on the right side of the river. Line ‘er up, give it a little righty lean and send it over this notorious hydraulic. Pat yourself on the back if you make it upright, as it seems to be a rare feat these days. Toilet Bowl is a 6 foot tall, river-wide, ledge hole. The move is easy, but the consequence of a blown line is a beat down of epic proportions. As far as I know, only one guy has paddled out of Toilet Bowl without a swim. Boof the middle or sneak it on the left. Last is Kirschbaum’s, a long technical rapid with big rocks, big holes and many lines to choose from. Enjoy this last section of good whitewater before a mile or so long paddle out. If you head this way, bring the play boats, as the newly constructed Pumphouse whitewater park at the takeout offers a great way to spend the afternoon after a successful Gore run.