Join the Mile-High Club
The Denver/Boulder area of Colorado has plenty of spots to get yourself a little high-altitude paddling fun.
Let’s play a quick game of word association. I’ll say a word, and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? “Colorado.”
Bet you thought of that overplayed John Denver ’70s tune “Rocky Mountain High,” or skiing the Rockies’ legendary powder, or Coors beer, or the gold rush, or something like that, right? No? Then you must have been thinking about paddling.
Colorado’s Denver/Boulder area, on the edge of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, is about as close to nirvana as most of us can get without a spiritual adviser. Within a two-hour drive you’ll find everything from whitewater-themed city parks and Class V+ steep creeks to sea kayaking on high mountain lakes, and the cities are dotted with plenty of decent yet inexpensive places to sleep, great restaurants, and a fun night life (of course, this is all assuming that you’ve any energy left after you get off the water).
Boulder and Denver are close enough to have nearly merged, yet each city retains its own identity. For a glimpse of Boulder’s college-town culture, Pearl Street, with its restaurants, street performers, panhandlers, bookstores, coffee shops, and nightclubs, is a must-see, especially at night.
This part of the country is well-known for whitewater, and lots of it. For those seeking a quick-and-easy whitewater fix, or who want to work on that rusty S-turn or offside roll before heading for bigger water, the area has several municipal whitewater parks with engineered features that offer play potential at nearly any flow.
Clear Creek Whitewater Park in nearby Golden is typical of these parks; drive to the west end of 10th Street, park a few feet from the water, walk to the put-in, and start playing. The Class II-ish course is very short–about 800 feet–but, as any paddler knows, a little water time is better than none at all. The park is also used for several whitewater competitions every year. It’s pool-and-drop at the top, big boulders in the middle, and waves at the bottom. A bonus: the park is just down the street from the Coors Brewery.
Upstream from the park on Clear Creek is the 15-mile Class IV-V+ I-70 to Highway 6 run. Mostly continuous whitewater, it’s a great playboating run. But be alert for the strainers and sieves that tend to collect on this stretch; you can scout most of the run from your vehicle on the drive to the put-in. The take-out is at the Highway 6 bridge, just upstream from the Coors Brewery.
Boulder Creek Path is a city-owned greenway/bike path that parallels Boulder Creek as it runs through town from the end of Fourmile Canyon to Arapahoe Road. Access is a breeze. The streambed has been altered to provide playable features at most levels. It’s rated Class II-III and is about five miles long.