A Guide to Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

Colorado has a lot of water running around the state with hundreds of rivers, creeks, and streams. Due to the snowmelt that occurs from Colorado mountains and the Rocky Mountains, this snow turns into all the bodies of water you see raging. Whitewater rafting is popular to do in this state due to all these rivers running through and it is a must when you go to Colorado. Although this sport seems intimidating, it can actually be considered safe and it is an enjoyable experience for yourself and to share with your friends or family.

It is one of the most adrenaline-pumping and thrill-seeking outdoor activities you can do and it gives you an opportunity to explore Colorado’s nature. Not too long ago, I just returned from Colorado. It was nice to revisit Colorado since 5 years ago as a solo traveler. (In 2018 – it doesn’t even feel it was that long ago, WOW!) A whitewater rafting trip, which was never really on my bucketlist, became one of the most memorable outdoor things I’ve done and am so happy to have experienced it at least once so far. If you’re planning a trip in Colorado, this blog post will guide you on how to prepare for this type of trip.

How to prepare for whitewater rafting

If you’re going to book a whitewater rafting activity with an excursion company, then luckily, you do not have to do much preparations for this. However, it’s still important to know what to wear, what to bring/what not to bring, and what to expect.

First off, whitewater rafting packages varies, and I’ll go into more details of where we ended up booking for our experience after this. Whitewater rafting can take hours and require you to be outside for hours. Therefore, you definitely need to wear sunscreen the day you raft, at least covering parts of your face, neck, and exposed body parts, but if you wear a wetsuit, you won’t need to use much of it. I always recommend a 50+ SPF.  

Whitewater rafting usually takes place during the months of May through August. Like I mentioned, most of Colorado’s water comes from snowmelt, so expect the water to be very cold, even on these summer months. Since most of Colorado’s places are on higher elevations, I recommend getting hydrated as possible. I was sipping on LiquidIV for days before the day came to rafting – it’s easier to get dehydrated through higher altitude with lower humidity. 

To prepare as well, you need to know what are some of the things you should wear and what to do when going out in the river:

  • DO wear thermal rashguards under your wetsuit. I ended up wearing just a bathing suit under but I would’ve preferred to be warmer under my wetsuit!
  • DO rent wetsuits when booking your whitewater rafting experience, unless you have your own.
  • DO NOT bring electronics out rafting; it has a possibility to get lost or damaged, except maybe GoPros would be fine as long as it can get mounted. Some helmets may provide that.
  • DO NOT wear anything cotton – just a no-no when you can possibly get wet.
  • DO take some motion sickness prevention meds like Dramamine if your body cannot handle waves/rapids well. You’ll know if you ever got sea sick.
  • DO have fun and don’t be too nervous!

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Where to book for whitewater rafting

You’ll find in Colorado there are so many companies that tour people around to do whitewater rafting, but the company that we went with for this experience is The Adventure Company, also known as TAC. By the way as a disclosure, I was not sponsored by this company at all, I just decided to include this as part of my review for whitewater rafting in Colorado.

The process is streamlined to be easy from signing up to the second you step foot into that river. Along signing up, you will have to sign some waivers. First, you want to choose which package of their whitewater rafting you’d like to go with. They have options ranging from beginner, intermediate, and to advanced. We went with the intermediate option and to be specific, the 3/4 Day package that includes a half-day trip with the Ultimate Fajita Feast lunch. This comes out to be $124 per person. The half-day trip is the same length as their 1/2 Day package, so it’s expected you’ll be rafting for 9 miles long and going over 10 rapids.

The day you signed up to do this, you will then drive over to their building in the city of Buena Vista. You will go inside and confirm your reservation with them and then they will direct you to go to the area where you pick up your wetsuits, helmets, booties, and life jackets and there is a station to change your clothes as well as a bathroom with showers. Afterwards, there will be a shuttle bus that will pick you up and then drop you off at the start of the river.

I have to note that I loved going with this tour because of the workers they have. The shuttle bus guide was super funny and had us laughing from beginning to end with his comments while telling us about the sceneries we were driving past. Our rafting guide too (Eric), on my raft, was so funny, kind, and helpful. I also felt the same with the other guides who were assisting in setting up the fajita feast lunch. I’m starting to think they have to hire people with a sense of humor. 

What the experience of whitewater rafting is like

The river that we got out to raft in is in Browns Canyon, which is a national monument in between Buena Vista and Salida. The elevation here ranges from 7,300 feet to 10,000 feet. Browns Canyon towers over the Arkansas River, which is one of the major rivers of Colorado and where we rafted in. Some geological history of Browns Canyon: this range formed around 70 million years ago and is home with some of the highest peaks of the state. Some wildlife to be found in this river are mountain lions (lots of them), coyotes, black bears, red foxes, bobcats, mule deer, elk, big horned sheep, and one animal we saw while we were rafting: moose.

Whitewater rafting in Browns Canyon National Monument

It may seem intimidating at first when you see the flow of the river, but rest assured, your guide most likely has had years of experience rafting on the river, knows the safety procedures, and knows their way around. Before you start paddling, they will talk about how to stay safe and some demonstrations to your group. Before you also go, you have an option to store your water bottles in their mesh bag or if anything valuable, they have chests for that.

The guide will take you down slowly through the river, first hitting a Class II river, and then after the lunch (if you take the package we did), you will switch on over to a Class III river. There are six categories/classes of types of rivers, and the bigger the scale, the stronger the river is and the more dangerous it is to raft through.

The guide will instruct you with some instructions on how to paddle correctly and he will shout at everyone what to do including the right way to paddle. For example, if he says “Forward 2”, he would expect you to do a forward stroke twice. He will also make the distinction between the left and right side of the raft. You also would have to be sitting on the sides of the raft at all times, which is actually more comfortable than it looks.

During some of the chiller parts of the river, the guide will inform you about the history of the views, flora, and fauna you will see. I love how much sightseeing can be done through rafting.

If you’re looking to get splashed way more, the front of the raft is your best bet to experience that while at the back, you’re not going to get as splashed, but you can still feel that experience depending on a few rapids. The guide will also let you know when the rapids will pick up and get heavier. My favorite rapid I experienced through this tour and in Browns Canyon’s river is the 7 Sisters or what my guide said is called “the Staircase”.

Whitewater rafting in Browns Canyon National Monument

At some point during these rapids is when their photographer comes out, which is pretty useful since I bought no camera with me (it’s SO hard to do as an adventure travel blogger) and thank God for the photographer because some of these photos I used here wouldn’t be here without them!

Whitewater rafting in Browns Canyon National Monument

The experience truly is an adrenaline rush, but you will know how amazing rafts were built to withstand the power of these rivers. I actually found rafting least scarier than being on roller coasters. (I’m serious!) Overall, you don’t want to miss out on trying whitewater rafting in Colorado or wherever you are visiting known for their rivers. Maybe one day down the future, I’d love to try whitewater rafting again, but somewhere abroad! (Bali, Indonesia, maybe?)

Tell me what you thought below!