River Rafting: High-Country Thrills and Spills on the Colorado River

The record snowmelt in the Colorado Rockies this summer means action-packed river rafting. And if your teenager is addicted to adventure and virtually fearless, this is the ideal time to enjoy some family togetherness on a raft in the middle of a rushing river.

River rafting is ideal for families with teens — just enough togetherness, but not too much. Typically, you’ll be put into an eight or 12-person raft, so there will be other folks around to diffuse any too-close-for-comfort, don’t-even-think-hugging-me-mom teen angst.

In landlocked Colorado, rivers abound and so do rafting outfitters. Trips usually run from mid-April to mid-September, but the best time for rafting is mid-June through August. Water temperatures are cold — ranging from 48 to 65 degrees — so you might opt, as we did, to rent wetsuits from the outfitter.

I recently took my three teens to Glenwood Canyon Resort, where we rafted with the resort’s sister company, Rock Gardens Rafting. We were ready and eager to experience some high-country thrills and spills on the Colorado River. (www.glenwoodcanyonresort.com, 800-958-6737.)

Colorado’s rivers are raging, to the point where some of the rivers have been closed to water enthusiasts. Fortunately, expert outfitters have selected rivers and portions that are safe for commercial rafting. Were my teens scared? A bit, thanks to the TV reports they’d been watching of inexperienced rafters getting into trouble, or even drowning, in recent weeks. That is why, I assured them, I selected an experienced company that does this every day. Was I scared? Well, a bit, as well, I have to admit. After the very comprehensive, serious safety lecture our tour director gave us, however, my doubts were lessened considerably.

Those who sit up front will get the most wet.

Glenwood Canyon Resort, just east of Glenwood Springs at the No Name exit off Interstate 70, is a delightful gathering of cozy wooden cabins, tent campground and RV park, catering to everyone’s tastes from rustic to comfort. Best of all, the resort is home to its own zip line and rafting outfitters. Rock Gardens Rafting is a member of Colorado Rafting Association, an alliance of outfitters that operates on all of Colorado’s major rivers. CRA is dedicated to safety and professionalism, and its members are “hands-on” operators. CRA has members in Breckenridge, Cotopaxi, Durango, Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction and Gunnison.

Rock Gardens (www.rockgardens.com, 800-958-6737) has been around since 1974, and offers a wide range of rafting trips, from “mild” to “wild,” down the wide Colorado River surrounded by the spectacular walls of Glenwood Canyon and then traveling down the river valley past West Glenwood. We chose the most popular, the half-day (three-hour) Shoshone Colorado, which launches at 9 a.m. but also has departures at noon, 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily. The trip costs $47 for adults, $35 for 15-and-under. Packages are available that include a zipline tour and a hefty lunch back at the resort’s No Name Grill ($82 for adults.)

After our safety lecture and demonstration, some 30 of us piled into the bus for a short trip down river to the launch site. There, we helped carry the heavy rafts down to the river, and boarded our respective rafts.
Our foursome was teamed with two couples, and headed by a strong young man who told us he’d been running rivers for years. Indeed, he proved to be a smooth and very competent guide, taking us through just enough excitement and splashing to make us happy and exhilarated. My teens paddled in perfect unison, and I sat in the back, almost dry, while they hoped to get as wet as possible. We screamed, we laughed, we conquered. Family teamwork at its best!

If You Go

Here’s a partial list of rafting companies operating in Colorado and listed in full detail on the www.colorado.com website (Colorado tourism).

Adventure Outfitters, www.waorafting.com, 800-530-8212
American Adventure Expeditions, www.americanadventure.com, 719-395-2409
Arkansas River Tours, www.arkansasrivertours.com, 800-321-4352
Clear Creek Rafting Company, www.clearcreekrafting.com, 800-353-9901
Echo Canyon River Expedition, www.raftecho.com, 800-755-3246
Lost Paddle Rafting, www.lostpaddlerafting.com, 866-766-7238
Raft Masters, www.raftmasters.com, 800-568-7238
River Runners White Water Rafting, www.riverrunnersltd.com, 800-723-8987
Royal Gorge Rafting, www.royalgorgerafting.net, 719-275-RAFT

Check out the Colorado River Outfitters Association (www.croa.org) to find out more about the wide range of river rafting options in our state, licensing, permitting and training processes for the industry, and about current river conditions.

Safety precautions from Outdoor Adventure River Specialists (OARS), a California-based outfitter association, include:

Always wear a properly fitted personal flotation device or life jacket.
Know how to signal for help — by waving your arms high in the air.
Protect yourself with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses (inexpensive ones, just in case).
Wear lightweight, comfortable shoes (not flip-flops.)
Expect to get wet, so dress accordingly.

Irene Middleman Thomas is a freelance writer who lives in Aurora, Colorado.