Blue River - Colorado

Date: June 12, 2020; Length: 10 miles; Duration: 2 hours 30 min

Put In: Columbine Landing Recreation Area

Wide shoulder off Hwy 9 to park just before the bridge (E12A). Not a designated access spot but clear enough to get to. Strong rapids surrounding, so not a recommended access point.

Takeout: Prairie Point Campground

Prairie Point Campground is on river right as the water widens and flattens out. Not a designated takeout spot but an easy one. A short but steep hill climb brings you to the campground location.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

Intense. That's what comes to mind for the first half of this stretch I paddled. There were continuous solid class II rapids for the first five miles or so before it became more intermittent of a thing. There wasn't much relaxing and appreciating the experience until those final miles, but definitely an enjoyable one looking back on.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

Immediate surroundings weren't anything special and more open, but thankfully so. Off in the distant, no matter the direction you looked, you would see beautiful mountains, being at around 8000 ft in Colorado.

Rapids = 5/5

Rapids were intense from the start. The steep gradient and narrow river at higher waters and elevation made this no doubtably the case. It was a sprint of 5 or so miles of continuous solid class IIs that was starting to feel like a marathon. But getting through that first stretch, got you to the second half of rapids being more intermittent and not quite as intense, yet no less fun.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: ~47 feet per mile. Strong current with consistent to intermittent rapids.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: Paddling at this water level was a big challenge. The rapids were intense from the start and continued this way for a solid five miles before getting more intermittent and manageable. I wouldn't recommend paddling at this water level (too high) or even this section of river if you aren't experienced in whitewater paddling or well equipped.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Dillon gauge, located about 19 miles upriver of the put in to this section):

  • USGS Number = 09050700
  • Discharge Rate = 500 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 2.05 ft

Overall Experience

Having travelled to Colorado, I wanted to find a mountain river that would offer some quality whitewater rapids but not too extreme for my experience, skill, and general desire. So one that caught my eye was the Blue River, about an hour west of Denver, with different sections between reservoir dams and a confluence with the Colorado River. From here I needed to choose between the upper and lower sections, which happen to be opposite in their geographical locations, as the Blue flows north. The upper (southern) section consists of 30 miles of a steep gradient, dropping on average an intense 47 feet per mile and class II-IV rapids. The lower (northern) section consists of 14 miles of an even higher gradient of 49 feet per mile, but mostly due to the first four miles and less technical class II-III rapids. So I was going back and forth between which I was going to do. Leading up to leaving for Colorado, I had settled on paddling what seemed to be the more manageable Lower Blue. But I changed back to doing the Upper Blue the day before because of what seemed too low of water levels for the Lower, to the point that I’d have a lot of scraping and portaging. So the Upper Blue it was and more intense rapids to come.
My plan was to paddle 01 miles from Columbine Landing to the Green Mountain Reservoir. This would be the less intense of the Upper Blue, but also still had some legit rapids early on with Boulder creek entering the Blue. So the night before I camped at Prairie Point Campground, at the southern edge of the Green Mountain Reservoir where the Upper Blue finally slowed and started to flatten out. The next morning I packed my packraft, personal flotation device (PFD), and all and walked along Hwy 8 towards my put in. It was a chilly June morning up at about 8000 feet until the sun came over the mountains. After about seven miles of walking I reached what I believed was Columbine Landing at the last bridge before Blue River Campground three miles upriver. After an easy inflation, I got down to the river and realized I was in store for an intense run of rapids right away and also the first time using the sprayskirt to my packraft (designed to avoid taking in water).
So with everything strapped down, sprayskirt set up, and PFD tight to my body, I push off and am immediately in rapids, trying to best position myself for the ensuing endless rapids ahead of me. And it’s going well enough. I’m adjusting how I’m paddling, trying to time my stokes and maneuvering, but my packraft seems off. I feel too low to the water surface, probably because my inflated seat cushion has deflated for some reason. And the packraft seems a little deflated too, but what’s worst is that my sprayskirt is not staying up and is holding water and taking in water. So if the intense, seemingly endless rapids weren’t enough, I’m also looking for a spot to pull off and fix these issues. About an hour in, I find a somewhat calm spot on river right that I pull off to and step out of my water filled packraft and start fixing my issues, all while dealing with the freezing cold mountain water I’m soaked with. Re-inflating my seat cushion and packraft, I then realize I had the shoulder straps to the sprayskirt loose instead of more locked in and tight. So with that fixed, everything freshly inflated, and my packraft empty of water, I push back off into the Blue. From here my river trip becomes a smooth one, better prepared to face the last of these endlessly continuous strong rapids and then enjoying the final stretch of a mix of calm stretches and riffles to lighter rapids. I’m the only paddler but I do pass by a couple fishermen towards the end. And I know I’m a mere mile or so away from the takeout when the river starts to feel more like a lake, widening and slowing down.
Briefly later I come to what looks to be Prairie Point Campground on river right. I decided to takeout at a small beach area with rocks. It takes a hike up a short but steep slope with my still inflated packraft. Then I know for sure that this is the right place, as my car is within sight. So back to my campsite, I deflate and dry my packraft and everything else to end my adventurous river trip on the Upper Blue. It was great for the thrills, but definitely not recommended for everyone, whether it be your desired paddling experience or your skill or experience levels.