The July 4th long weekend was spectacular for being out-of-doors. For us, we choose 4 days on the Colorado River traveling from Radium to Cottonwood Island Recreation site just above Dotsero. The river was flowing about 5000 CFS which moved us along at a pretty good clip. Yarmony was raging and the hole at the top was intimidating but the lateral waves below demanded to be reckoned with. Once we emerged from the canyon the river settled into a pleasant back and forth meander. Gone was the lazily moving water usually found between Radium and Rancho Del Rio. We had the usual afternoon winds but there was current under our boat to keep us moving! We cruised in and out of the islands and arrived at Rancho much quicker than normal.
Next was one of my favorite parts of the river – the four-mile section between Rancho and State Bridge. The river snakes back and forth and there are lots of small waves, perfect for people learning to paddle a kayak, row a raft, or try a stand-u7p paddleboard. Or those just wanting to practice can hone their skills. There are campsites but a bit noisy as the railroad runs close to the river. I remember when the old Historic State Bridge built in 1890 still spanned the river. I’m never drove over it but I know I walked around on it. The piers are still in the middle of the river and debris is still on the shore. The old bridge was replaced by the modern bridge in 1966. Then the State Bridge Lodge was open and huge concerts drew hundreds of people every weekend. The Lodge burned in 2007 and was replaced by a stage and more limited venue that never gained the popular appeal of the old lodge.
Years ago, the Bureau of Land Management started charging a parking fee for the recreational sites along the river. Most of this money actually stays here and is used to improve the facilities offered along the river. The improvements at Pumphouse, Radium, and the recently acquired Eagle County State Bridge River access have been impressive. More areas were developed downstream like Two Bridges River Access, Catamount Bridge River Access, Pinball Recreation site and River Access, Horse Creek River Access, Cottonwood Island Recreation Site, Lyons Gulch and Dotsero Landing. The campgrounds, boat ramps, toilets, and more were upgrades and are normally well-kept during the boating season. State Bridge, Two bridges, and some others do not allow camping at the river access. However please note the vault or pit toilets between the recreation sites were removed last year after campers abused them for many years throwing in garbage and many things not designed for that type of system. Please remember to carry a portable solid waste system with you, particularly when planning an overnight campout. Even for a day trip, carry a small plastic bag for used toilet paper.
We continued down river for several more delightful days enjoying this wonder in our backyard. On a busy holiday weekend, we saw relatively few people. Those we saw were mostly courteous and loving nature the same way we were. Be respectful of wildlife and the space of others around you.
For a great guide to the river, consult the Upper Colorado River Recreation guide from Kremmling to Glenwood Canyon online under the BLM. The guide which shows facilities as well as private and public lands is found at http://blm-egis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=8c49def5acd34631a1f135880937e84e# .
Fisherman rule the river on the lower portions but families are finding rafting an excellent way for the whole family to have fun – we saw more people with kids than ever before. Please remember common courtesy and leave the excessive drinking and boisterous foul language at home, especially when in camp. Respect quiet hours approximately 10p to 7am. When there are wall to wall boats on the upper sections, try to avoid collisions. On the lower sections where boats have more space, please do not pull out in front of others just entering rapids as this can cause accidents and a lot of hard feelings. People need space to maneuver in the water or they might flip in a hole, wrap a rock, or ram others throwing people into the water. A swim in cold water is not fun for anyone. Safety should always be a priority.
USFS tips – the trails are still wet and muddy at higher elevations. Creeks are outrageously high so be wary when attempting to cross. Snow is still abundant at 9800 to 10,000 feet and you can easily lose the trail. Be careful out there, tell someone where you are going and always carry the ten essentials when hiking.