Every year, thousands of people flock to Colorado to experience the state’s world-renowned whitewater rafting. But when are the rafts running and when is the best time to go? The answer depends on a number of factors, including water flow, temperature, and dam releases. Here’s a quick overview of what you need to know before you plan your raft trip with Kodi! 

Water Flow

One of the most important factors in determining whitewater rafting season is water flow. In Colorado, the majority of the whitewater rafting season is determined by snowmelt from the nearby mountain ranges. As the winter snow starts to melt in the spring, the rivers begin to swell and the whitewater rapids get more intense. This is considered peak rafting season on the rivers in Colorado.

However, water flow can also be affected by rainfall. If there is a particularly rainy summer period, the Arkansas, Colorado, Blue Rivers and Clear Creek will benefit from higher water levels and more thrilling rapids. This can extend the whitewater rafting season beyond summer into late fall. Conversely, if it’s a dry summer, the rivers will experience lower water levels and the river’s rapids will be less intense and more “bony” or rocky. This can shorten the rafting season or make some stretches of the river unsuitable for beginners and families.


Another important factor in determining the rafting season is temperature. While most people think of the heat of the summer as the best time to go rafting, the truth is that springtime is actually better if you’re goal is an exhilarating high-water raft trip! In Colorado, the average temperature in June is about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the temperature can vary widely depending on elevation and location. For example, at higher elevations like Vail, Breckenridge, Frisco, or Kremmling, the average temperature in June is only about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In lower-lying areas like Denver or Boulder, the average temperature can be as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit and this affects the Clear Creek trips more.

Dam Releases

Beyonds water flow and temperature, another factor that impcts rafting season are dam releases. In Colorado, there are a number of dams that are required to release water for recreation downstream for anglers and whitewater rafters like Kodi. These dam releases are typically scheduled in advance and are released on a regular basis throughout the summer months to keep river flows consistent. 

For example, let’s go deeper into dam releases for the Arkansas River. The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for the management of water in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Part of their responsibility includes the release of water from Twin Lakes Reservoir specifically for white water rafting on the Arkansas River in Buena Vista, Colorado. Typically the Arkansas River receives a dam release every week of the summertime and is guaranteed commercial rafting through Labor Day Weekend.  

Why Are Dam Releases Good for White Water Rafting?

The dam releases provide a consistent flow of water that’s ideal for white water rafting. Without the dam releases, the river would be too low in some spots and too high in others, which would make rafting difficult and unpredictable. Dam releases also create waves and rapids that are perfect for an adrenaline-pumping rafting trip!

High Water 

One of the most popular times to go whitewater rafting in Colorado is during high water season.  

This is when the rivers are running at their highest levels and provide an extra thrill for rafters.

Most river water in Colorado starts as snow… The more snow melt… The higher the water levels. High water typically occurs in late May or early June, although it can vary depending on conditions stated earlier in this article. 

End of Season 

Just like everything else in nature, Colorado’s whitewater rafting season eventually comes to an end. The exact date varies depending on a variety of factors, but typically speaking, rafting season wraps up in early September. For example, some years the Blue River is too low to raft commercially at all due to low water flow with rocks to avoid, and if the water is too high, low bridges can be a challenge. So there is a sweet spot of river flow that allows us to schedule trips in May/June timeframe for a few glorious weeks. Conversely, the Arkansas River which includes the river stretches Numbers, Browns Canyon, and Pine Creek are guaranteed commercial rafting through Labor Day weekend due to these scheduled dam releases. The Upper Colorado River runs even later than the Arkansas River and typically runs until mid or sometimes even the end of September. 

Check out the graphs below to see how the river levels fluctuate throughout the year or go to the USGA National Water Dashboard to see real-time water levels, water quality, and precipitation all in context with the current weather patterns. You can even manipulate the graphs to select the time of year you plan to visit so you know if you’ll be here at the typical high water time or when the river is a little lower and slower. 

Check out this Arkansas River flow report showing the water flows from January through October of 2022. It’s interesting to see how the water peaked in late May, dropped and then peaked again later in June, only to experience a steady decrease throughout late summer and into Fall. The little spike in early September was a rainy period.

Next, check out this graph showing the flow for the Upper C section of the Colorado River. Because there isn’t a predictable dam release, the flow is much more erratic with tributaries from various rivers and dams flowing into this section of the river and rainfall impacting the flows when the weather brings a nice storm. 

This third graphic shows a map and “hydrograph” of the monitoring sites for all the tributaries of the Colorado River and the monitoring site for the Upper C (the blue balloon). The red dots represent all the monitoring sites of water sources that flow into the Colorado River, so you can imagine how many different data points are needed to understand the flow. This river and creek water is used by various farmers and ranchers, so that water is truly unpredictable for rafting. 

So when is the best time to go whitewater rafting in Colorado? The answer really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want warmer temperatures and lower water levels, mid summertime like July will be your best bet. However, if you’re looking for higher waters, cooler daytime temps, and a more thrilling experience, late May and early June will be a better choice. 

If you have any questions about the current river conditions, feel free to contact us and we will be sure to point you in the right direction.. No matter when you decide to go rafting, though, one thing is for sure: you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time!  Happy paddling!