Along the scenic Arkansas River in Buena Vista, Colorado, Buffalo Joe’s Whitewater Rafting company is providing all the fun of summer. From half-day adventures to full-day journeys, this family owned and operated business is one of the most enjoyable whitewater rafting experiences around with a steak lunch and knowledgeable river guides further accentuating world-class boating services in the Centennial State.
With over 30 years of experience, Buffalo Joe’s does even more than river rafting, including winter sporting activities and ATVs in addition to their whitewater services and expertise in all things outdoors. With over 60 boats, depending on the river water levels, Buffalo Joe’s combines hometown business acumen with professional services and style.
Appropriate for all ages, depending on the flow of the river seasonally, Buffalo Joe’s offers several trips. From the rapid-heavy “Numbers” to easier float trips, there is a comfortable speed for everyone. Feeling adventurous myself, the Browns Canyon full-day raft trip was a perfect fit for a day full of adventure.
Our guide, JT, smoothly operated the raft through exciting rapids, scenic floating segments of the trip, and even prepared the famous steak lunch for which Buffalo Joe’s is known in a private spot along the river. Other companies are catch as catch can with baloney sandwiches and Kool-Aid served wherever an open spot on the river allows.
Even with rapids with ominous names such as “Raft Ripper” and “Widowmaker,” the entire group was all smiles throughout the trip with humor and a sense of camaraderie. The tone was set during the safety briefing with guide Timmy explaining: “Those with medical ailments, let me know, if you’re pregnant or would like to be pregnant, we can help you with that too!”
The light-hearted nature and sense of adventure is infused into the company, an inherent love of the outdoors and respect for nature observed by each of the professional and certified guides. Taking guests down some of the most scenic portions of the Arkansas River near Buena Vista, beautiful canyons, picturesque meadows, and mountain views abound as guides tell of historic stories and river myths alike along the trip.
A cliff-side jumping point is even stopped at for a plunge into the chilly waters, which was snow a short 72 hours before entering the river. Great for both family adventures or large group outings, Buffalo Joe’s affords whitewater rafting opportunities like no other.
As Colorado’s only guaranteed waters, the Arkansas River is controlled by a reservoir system, ensuring great water levels for spectacular rafting during the season. The Browns Canyon raft trip is the most popular trip that is offered by Buffalo Joes, floating 13 to 22 miles and navigating up to thirteen class III-IV rapids.
Also offering trips through Royal Gorge, Wild Horse Canyon and a handful of others, the quick bus ride from historic Buena Vista headquarters or the Canon City location are an easy commute to and from the put-in and take-out points, with high-spirited guides and excited float trip members making the time fly by. The best “vacation within a day,” it makes Disney look boring. Safety is of utmost importance for the guides, making guests feel comfortable and inspired with the spirit of teamwork throughout the day.
If You Go
Buffalo Joe’s Whitewater Rafting Company headquarters is located in the historic downtown of Buena Vista, with a Canon City location providing destination departure points for other locations as well. Peppered with unique shops and cozy hideaways in Buena Vista, as well as wonderful dining options such as Mothers, the charming Colorado headquarters location has a small-town feel with big-time recreation.
A mountain drive from Denver to Buena Vista is available along I-70, heading southbound on Highway 91 through Leadville to Buena Vista or along 285 and northbound along Highway 24. Both are scenic drives along mountain passes and quaint Colorado towns.
113 North Railroad Street
Buena Vista, CO 81211
Leave the cellphone at home or in the car because while waterproof bags are available and the guides to have cell phones in case of emergency, the social atmosphere that is created without them is wonderful. In the wilderness, people chatting and enjoying lunch under wide-open Colorado blue skies is refreshing and part of the experience itself.
If bringing a camera, make sure it is waterproof—you will be getting wet. Photos on the best rapids are taken by a third-party photographer and available for purchase when back at the shop.
Text and photos by: Chad Chisholm is a Denver-based photographer and travel writer, his work is featured at JustLuxe, CBS4, Denver Life Magazine, Inspirato Magazine, Colorado Expression, AAA EnCompass, and various other outlets.
Header photo courtesy of Buffalo Joe’s.