Gore Canyon Rafting: Extremely Colorado

The Gore Canyon section of the Colorado River is the most challenging commercially run section of whitewater in the state of Colorado and perhaps the most challenging section of river run commercially in the United States. Located on the Colorado River near Vail, Colorado, the Gore Canyon rafting trip is a good fit for athletic paddlers looking for an intense—perhaps even extreme—river experience. This Class IV and V (expert, very high intensity) rafting trip is known for its variety of rapids; from pool-drop to waterfall to continuous rapids, Gore Canyon has it all.

Timberline Tours has a rich rafting history in the Vail area, and Timberline was the first rafting outfitter to open up Gore Canyon (at right) in the mid-1990s for commercially guided rafting trips. The safety of our guests on the river is our first priority, so we want to give you a detailed overview of this trip in order to help you decide whether or not Gore Canyon rafting is a good fit for you and your group.

In addition to the information you’ll find here, please also review the Gore Canyon Guidelines and Questionnaire on the Timberline Tours Gore Canyon whitewater rafting trip page to ensure that this level of rafting is what you’re hoping to experience. Those who raft Gore Canyon must be strong swimmers and be in excellent physical condition; previous rafting experience is highly recommended.

Read on to find out what’s involved, door-to-door, on a Gore Canyon rafting trip with Timberline Tours:

Gore Canyon Rafting: Trip Overview

A Gore Canyon rafting trip begins when Timberline Tours picks you up at your Vail accommodation and drives you to the Gore Canyon put-in on the Colorado River, where you will get outfitted with the essential rafting gear you’ll need for the trip, including personal floatation devices (PFDs), helmets, wetsuits, splash tops, and paddles.

Once outfitted and on the river, you’ll have a 45-minute flat-water paddle along the Colorado River, where you will work with guides on perfecting your paddling technique. You will also review and practice common rafting commands on this stretch of river. This entry into Gore Canyon is anything but boring, as it’s also a prime place for Colorado wildlife viewing. Bald eagles are frequently seen flying overhead, and moose have even been encountered along this stretch of river.

As you approach the entry of Gore Canyon, guides will review safety measures, and then paddlers will go through the first portion of whitewater swimming training required for this trip. At this point, all paddlers will take turns swimming underneath the raft and practice proper technique for getting back into the raft. A final intense paddling practice session will also happen along this stretch before entering the canyon.

The first rapid encountered in Gore Canyon is a Class II / III rapid, and at the bottom of this rapid, expect to eddy out for the final whitewater swimming training session. Here, guests will hike upstream, dive in the river, and swim a Class II+ rapid. This training helps guests get accustomed to what it feels like to swim powerfully in moving current, and it also helps acclimatize the body to the shock of cold-water immersion.

Once back on the river, paddlers will encounter Fisherman’s Nightmare (above right), the first significant rapid on Gore Canyon, a class IV pool-drop type rapid. This rapid takes quite a steep drop; it’s short, abrupt, and exciting. From there, paddlers will raft through a Class II section of river to the entry of Gore Rapid, the biggest rapid and the start of an intense, continuous stretch of rapids.

Antony guiding below Gore Rapid.

Paddlers will normally portage the entry into Gore Rapid, which requires physical effort and balance to carry the raft over rocky, uneven terrain. Paddlers will then push off into the middle of the rapid and continue paddling a solid Class IV / IV+ stretch of river for a significant stretch. This intense section ends with Pyrite Rapid, a pool-drop type rapid. The next section of river is sustained Class IV whitewater leading up to Tunnel Falls, a Class V waterfall rapid.

Before entering Tunnel Falls, paddlers will get out of the rafts to scout the rapid with guides. Guides will establish safety measures and run one raft at a time through Tunnel Falls. From Tunnel Falls, rafts will carry on paddling through another stretch that includes Class IV whitewater until Kirshbaum Rapid, the longest single rapid of the day.

Gore Canyon Rafting
Mongo guiding Tunnel Falls.

Kirshbaum Rapid on Gore Canyon is one of the longest, continuous rapids in the state of Colorado. It’s marked by big whitewater, significant gradient, and difficult paddling moves. Paddling through Kirshbaum requires intense paddling, but it is followed by a section of Class III whitewater that leads out to a Class II float to the take-out on the Colorado River.

At the take-out, Timberline guides and paddlers celebrate the Gore Canyon whitewater rafting experience over a riverside lunch before returning to Vail. Gore Canyon rafting is a full-day trip, and the actual time it takes depends on what happens on the river. Portaging rapids and safely recovering swimmers takes time and skill, but be assured that Timberline Tours guides offer expert leadership every paddle stroke along the way.

Gore Canyon Rafting Season:

Gore Canyon becomes prime for whitewater rafting usually in the late summer season. By late July or early August, water levels have normally receded enough to allow for commercial rafting trips on this stretch of the Colorado River.

Gore Canyon Rafting Age and Weight Requirements:

The minimum age for this trip is 18 years old and at least 100 pounds. A maximum weight of 250 pounds is required due to limits of personal floatation devices. These age and weight requirements can vary depending on water level, so please call our offices to discuss them closer to your trip date.

Timberline Tours runs a minimum of two rafts on each Gore Canyon trip; four paddlers plus one guide are in each raft.

With expert, world-class guides at Timberline Tours, we look forward to rafting Gore Canyon with you this summer!


Timberline Tours is the Vail-area’s premier whitewater rafting and backcountry jeep tours outfitter, also offering stand up paddle board (SUP) and duckie river trips on Colorado’s Eagle, Colorado, and Arkansas Rivers. All of our guided trips are open to Vail, Colorado visitors, locals, families, and corporate groups.

To book your Vail, Colorado adventure, call Timberline Tours at (970) 476-1414, or email us at info@timberlinetours.com.