Ask our guides what their favorite stretch of Class V rafting is along the Arkansas River and chances are they’ll say the Royal Gorge. Known for its iconic history and fast flows, whitewater rafting through the Royal Gorge is a guaranteed fun time!
Just an hour south of Colorado Springs you’ll find some the hottest action the Arkansas River has to offer. It’s a genuine toss up among whitewater aficionados over which section is better – The Royal Gorge or The Numbers. Personally, I find each one so unique that it’s impossible to decide. (If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation, check out our trip that features both: 2 Day Arkansas River Extreme)
Our Royal Gorge trips start a bit differently than the other whitewater rafting trips we do on the Arkansas River. Rather than meeting in our Buena Vista office, you’ll meet up with your guides in nearby Cañon City. After gearing up, we put in just above the start of the Royal Gorge at Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The fun starts immediately with Sunshine Falls a splashy rapid requiring some technical paddling during high water conditions.
Entering the Royal Gorge and looking up at the 1,250 foot granite cliffs showcases Colorado geology, history, and simply beauty at its finest. The layers of rock were carved away by the Arkansas River to create the Royal Gorge as we know it today over a period of 3 million years.
A relic from Colorado’s Wild West Days, you’ll notice railroad tracks laid out in 1878. Originally built by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad company after two years of guerilla warfare against Santa Fe Railroads, these tracks are still in use today by the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.
As we continue on just past Wall Slammer, a class V that gives me butterflies everytime we pass through, the 955 foot high suspension bridge towers above us. Built in 1929, the bridge held the world record for highest bridge until 2001. Looking up at this moment is always my favorite – it’s such a unique perspective. Very few of the Royal Gorge’s annual 500,000 visitors get the opportunity to enjoy their experience via raft!
My favorite time of year to raft the Royal Gorge is early summer (May/June) because of all the secret waterfalls that reveal themselves after spring rains. The juxtaposition of jagged granite cliffs and lush greenery surrounding the waterfalls is absolutely breathtaking. Mid June – July brings high water rafting season making the rapids even more intense and then in August, things mellow out again returning to early summer flows.Regardless of when you visit, the Royal Gorge is also a popular spot for spotting mountain goats and bighorn sheep. I’ve had the best luck spotting them after Lion’s Head Rapid.
If you got a taste of the Arkansas River and are craving a new flavor, I highly suggest checking out the Royal Gorge. It has a very unique feel and is a personal favorite.
Check out all of the options for our Royal Gorge adventures here!