The gem of the American Southwest



About Dolores River Rafting

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.

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.

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


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. Departing near Durango and Cortez, CO, raft during late May-early June on this trip suitable for all skill levels and ages 10+.

A red rock cliff on the Ponderosa Gorge

Adult price : $749


Slickrock 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.

The Dolores River flows through Slick Rock Canyon

Adult price : $749


Ponderosa & Slick Rock 6 Day Trip

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

Adult price : $1369


Dolores River 10-Day Utah Rafting in Gateway Canyon

This trip combines Ponderosa Gorge, Slick Rock, and Gateway Canyons to create one of the longest raft trips in the West. Exciting whitewater, fascinating geology, Indian ruins, interesting side creeks, and stunning sunsets will fill your days on this adventure of a lifetime.

Rafting the Dolores River

Adult price : $2289


More Dolores River Info

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.

Please note, all or part of this operation is conducted on public lands under special permit from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

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.


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 ~

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 ~

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 ~

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



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.

Additional Helpful Links



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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