Dolores River Flow Outlook – 2023 Boating

 In Adventures & Travel, Nature & Wildlife, Wilderness Aware Rafting

If you’re a fan of remote, uncrowded river trips, the Dolores River needs to be high on your bucket list. However, due to low Dolores River flow water levels, the river has been unavailable to rafting for several years. But with recent heavy snowfall in the San Juan Mountain Range, the Dolores River has once again opened to boaters for the 2023 season! Join us as we explore the Dolores River and provide everything you need to know to plan your next adventure.

Dolores River Boating Outlook

Heavy snowfall in the region has raised the Dolores River’s water levels, making it possible for boaters of all types, from rafts to kayaks, to return to the river in 2023. The Dolores River flows are projected to be around 2000 – 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs) for most of the season, with peak flows in May and tapering off in June. The Dolores river rafting and kayaking season is expected to run from late April through mid-June or longer.

kayakers floating down the Dolores River

History of the Dolores River Canyon

The Dolores River canyon runs through Colorado and Utah, originating in the San Juan Mountains and ultimately flowing into the Colorado River. The river was named by Spanish explorers, who called it “El Rio de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores,” which translates to “The River of Our Lady of Sorrows.”

The Dolores River is also known for the McPhee Dam, which was constructed in the 1980s to provide water for nearby towns and agricultural operations. The dam has had a significant impact on the river’s flow, as it diverts a significant amount of water from the river for storage. 

Water winding through the Dolores river Canyon

Highlights of a Dolores River trip

A trip down the Dolores River Canyon is a true wilderness adventure. Boaters can expect to encounter thrilling rapids, stunning scenery, and a variety of wildlife with three sections distinctly different from each other.  The river begins its journey to the Colorado River just below McFee Reservoir and enters Ponderosa Gorge defined by its dense Pine and Douglas Fir forest, steeper river gradient and the infamous Snaggletooth rapid. Along with the spectacular natural environment, the Gorge features interesting human history with ancient Anasazi ruins that can be explored along the river. 

After a 3 day journey, the river changes character in Slick rock Canyon or Little Glen Canyon, which is reminiscent of the now flooded Glen Canyon under Lake Powell with its stunning sandstone geology, and tamer waters.  This section of river is being studied as a potential wilderness area featuring numerous side canyons. Opportunities to hike and discover petroglyphs along canyon walls provide evidence of the Anasazi and Ute people who lived in these areas long before modern day settlers. 

The final section of the Dolores from Bedrock to the confluence with the Colorado River features bigger rapids including Stateline – a long continuous class IV rapid that raises the excitement level! Amazing side canyon hikes are prevalent and rival those found in the Grand Canyon.

All three sections together comprise one of the longest stretches of continuous whitewater rafting in the continental United States with 170 miles of river. This execration which can take 10 days makes for an epic Dolores River rafting trip that many compare to a trip down the Grand Canyon. 

A petroglyph rock carvings in the Dolores River Canyon

Planning Your Trip

Wilderness Aware is excited to announce Dolores River rafting trips are now open for booking for the 2023 season from now until mid-June. Our experienced guides will lead you on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure down the Dolores River, providing all the necessary equipment and expertise, including outstanding meals and riverside camping along the way. We offer Dolores River multi-day trips of 3, 6 or up to 10 days, so you can choose the option that works best for you.

If you’re interested in embarking on a private boating trip, it’s important to note that a Dolores River permit is required for any launch on the Dolores River. Permits are issued through a lottery system and can be obtained through the Bureau of Land Management. Be sure to plan ahead, as Dolores River permits can be difficult to obtain.

A boat floating through dolores river canyon

The Dolores River is an incredible wilderness adventure that should not be missed. This hidden gem of a river is on par with some of the most popular whitewater rivers in Arizona and Idaho. With the recent increase in Dolores River flow water levels, the river has once again opened for rafting in 2023. Learn more about Dolores River rafting and book your adventure with Wilderness Aware Rafting to experience the thrill of the rapids, the beauty of the scenery, and the peace of mind that comes with having an experienced guide leading the way. We look forward to sharing this incredible river with you!

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