The gem of the American southwest

Dolores River

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dolores river overview

Dolores River White Water Rafting Description:

The Dolores River is a gorgeous river that flows through unspoiled and majestic desert scenery in the heart of the American southwest. A long and winding river, the Dolores flows through canyons packed with enormous ponderosa pine trees and high sandstone cliffs in brilliant oranges and red. It continues its journey from the alpine scenery into the high desert, through canyons dotted with amazing white water, ancient ruins and untamed wilderness.

• Difficulty: Class II-IV (What does this mean?)
• Season: May

The Dolores is a classic western river, unspoiled, with a majestic desert backdrop. In May and early June we take advantage of the warm temperatures and early season runoff to raft this exceptional wilderness river. Enormous Ponderosa pines grow in stark contrast with a landscape of red and orange sandstone cliffs. This results in a striking kaleidoscope of color unique to the Dolores River as the scenery changes through five major western life zones, from the alpine life zone at its headwaters to Upper Sonoran desert terrain along much of its lower reaches.

The traverse of the Dolores takes one through an area as interesting for its history as for its rare natural beauty. It is not known who named the Rio de Nuestra Senora de las Dolores (River of our Lady of Sorrows) and when they did so, but the Spaniards knew it by that name when Dominquez and Escalante joined it near the present day town of Dolores, Colorado on August 11, 1776. They were searching for a northern route to the California missions. The unspoiled character encountered by Dominquez and Escalante remains today.

The Dolores River is located about 30 miles northwest of Cortez Colorado, home of Mesa Verde National Park. It is west of Telluride and Durango and within easy driving distance.

Recommended Rafting Trips on the Dolores River:

Ponderosa Gorge 3 Day Trip

Raft fantastic early season whitewater on the Dolores River – a true gem in the southwest. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the red rock cliff gorge while you navigate exciting class III-IV rapids on a river surrounded by towering pine trees. Departing near Durango and Cortez, CO, raft during late May-early June on this trip suitable for all skill levels and ages 10+.

Adult price : $579

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Slick Rock Canyon 3 Day Trip

Travel deep into the desert southwest on the isolated and tremendously beautiful Dolores River. Located in southwest Colorado near Durango and Cortez, raft mellow, mild rapids and take in the stunning red canyon walls that rise tall alongside the river. Suitable for all skill levels and ages 10+, raft during run-off season between late May-early June.

Adult price : $579

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Ponderosa & Slick Rock 6 Day Trip

Take time to truly unwind on this superb desert getaway that combines two breathtaking sections of the Dolores River. The fast-paced rapids of Ponderosa Gorge giveway to the mild, winding water of Slick Rock Canyon. Located near Durango and Cortez, CO, raft in late May-early June through both exciting rapids and mild water. Those ages 10+ and all skill levels are suitable for this adventure.

Adult price : $1,069

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Dolores River 10-Day Utah Rafting in Gateway Canyon

Emerging from Slick Rock Canyon the river enters Paradox Valley, an interesting geologic phenomenon where the river cuts across the valley rather than through the middle of it! This valley was extensively occupied by Pueblo Indian culture and was also famous in western history as a route through which rustlers traversed to sell stolen stock in the mining camps. In the spring, nesting waterfowl abound in the natural but unprotected refuge.

Adult price : $1789

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dolores river sections

Dolores River Sections

Dolores River Rafting Sections:

Ponderosa Gorge
Class III-IV
Gorgeous red-rock canyon filled with towering Ponderosa pines and exciting white water rapids.

Slick Rock Canyon
Class II-III
Gentle float section with awe-inspiring sandstone cliffs the tower over the river.

Paradox & Mesa Canyons
Class II-III
Mild, with a handful of small rapids, you’ll wind your way through some of the most beautiful scenery in the desert southwest.

Gateway Canyon
Class II-III
Gentle and isolated, Gateway Canyon offers up a few bouncy rapids and great desert scenery.

Self-Guided

Information for Dolores River Self-Guided Boaters:

Ponderosa Gorge & Slick Rock Canyon

The Dolores River (Ponderosa Gorge and Slick Rock Canyons) are managed by the Bureau of Land Management out of Dolores, CO.

  • Boating Permit Required: NO
  • Permit Details: No fee of any kind is required to float the river, although there are group size limits. Visit the specific section page, self-guided boater information, for details on these limits.
  • River Manager: U.S Bureau of Land Management – Tres Rios Field Office
    29211 Hwy 184, Dolores, CO 81323
    970.882.7296 ~ www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/sjplc.html

Paradox & Mesa Canyons

The Dolores River (Paradox-Mesa Canyons) are managed by the Bureau of Land Management out of Montrose, CO.

  • Boating Permit Required: NO
  • Permit Details: No fee of any kind is required to float the river, although there are group size limits. Visit the specific section page, self-guided boater information, for details on these limits.
  • River Manager: U.S Bureau of Land Management – Uncompahgre Field Office
    2465 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO 81401
    970.240.5300 ~ www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/ufo.html

Gateway Canyon

The Dolores River (Gateway Canyon) is managed by the Bureau of Land Management out of Moab, UT.

  • Boating Permit Required: YES
  • Permit Details: There is no fee charged and you do not need to submit an application, but you must obtain a permit in advance. This permit must be signed by the trip leader and carried on the river to be authorized. Visit the Gateway Canyon section page, self-guided boater information, for details on obtaining a permit.
  • River Manager: U.S Bureau of Land Management – Moab Field Office
    82 East Dogwood, Moab, UT 84532
    435.259.2100 ~ www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab.html

Shuttles:
If shuttle service is available, information is listed under the specific section page.

Resources

Directions

Directions to the
Dolores River

Our Dolores River trips meet in Cortez, CO, with a short shuttle to the departure point.

Packing List

Packing List and
Pre-Trip Information

Complete lists of what to bring, what we provide, where to meet, policies, rental costs and info.

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reviews

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What people are saying

  • Lydia filled us with confidence. She was skilled and knowledgeable and explained each set of rapids so we knew what to expect. She was great company and we had the best experience. She was brilliant.

    Dwight W. Rafter
  • I cannot wait to come back! Also loved how funny all the guides were. It was the most I’ve seen my sister laugh in a long time! Thank you so much for this amazing experience.

    Lexi R. Rafter
  • I spent several days researching various rafting options and after speaking w/your team was sold. We were not disappointed-the trip is spectacular and our guide Sean was informative, lively professional and entertaining.

    Lauren C. Rafter

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