Rafting Colorado’s Canyon Country

The Colorado River cuts some impressive canyons, which makes Vail rafting an incredibly scenic experience, with towering rock walls and other natural wonders to explore along the way. And, as canyon walls constrict, water flows more quickly, making the Colorado River exciting and fast-moving in sections. The Colorado River meanders in an out of canyons as it passes through Colorado and beyond, but two of these canyons near Vail are our rafting destinations: Gore Canyon and Glenwood Canyon.

Read on to get an overview of the different types of Colorado River rafting you can experience in these two majestic canyons.

Glenwood Canyon: Family-Friendly Shoshone Rafting

The Shoshone section of the Colorado River runs through Glenwood Canyon, a place of classic Colorado beauty. Glenwood Canyon was carved by the river’s flowing waters more than 3 million years ago, and rock cliffs rise up to heights of 1,300 feet above the surface of the Colorado River. In total, Glenwood Canyon is a bit longer than 12 miles, and the Shoshone rafting trip begins just above a mile-long section of Class III (intermediate intensity) rapids.

Glenwood Canyon & the Shoshone section of the Colorado River | photo: Chelsea Tuttle

While rafting through the Shoshone section of the Colorado River, the beauty of Glenwood Canyon adds to the adventure you’ll experience here. After you’ve rafted through the rapids, you’ll be able to take it all in as you float across calm waters through the canyon all the way to Glenwood Springs, the end destination of this exciting river journey.

Rafting the Shoshone rapids in July | photo: Rapid Image Photography, www.rapidimagephoto.com

Timberline Tours guides rafting through Glenwood Canyon’s Shoshone section each summer from July through September, and river dynamics change throughout the rafting season. Shoshone operates at commercial safety cutoff limits in the early summer (June), when snowmelt combines with open flows from the dam, and it’s not available for rafting until the water flow is stabilized. Shoshone becomes prime for rafting in midsummer (July), when water flows remain steadily supplied by the dam. In August and September, water levels continue to lower, making late summer the most relaxing time on this section of river.

Relaxing on the float through Glenwood Canyon | photo: Rapid Image Photography, www.rapidimagephoto.com

Timberline Tours offers a few variations for rafting Shoshone. A Skip the Rapids trip is best for those who want to lessen the intensity of the trip, and the Shoshone Triple Thriller (three times through the rapids!) is a good choice for those who want to increase the excitement. See the Shoshone rafting page on our website for details about age and weight minimums.

Gore Canyon: Exciting Rafting for Strong Paddlers

Gore Canyon is a steep, rugged, and short canyon that is the setting for the most challenging commercial rafting in the state of Colorado—and one of the most challenging sections of river run overall in the United States. 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. The Colorado River has cut the deep and steep Gore Canyon, which is near enough to Vail for an exciting river adventure that’s best suited for athletic paddlers looking for a challenge.

Vail Colorado Canyon Country
The steep and deep Gore Canyon | photo: Chelsea Tuttle

Gore Canyon rafting begins with a 45-minute calm-water paddle on the Colorado River as you approach the canyon’s constriction. During this part of the trip, guides will review whitewater swimming techniques, rafting safety measures, and rafting paddling commands that you’ll use upcoming. As you paddle toward Gore Canyon, you can also enjoy the beauty of mountain scenery and wildlife. But once you hit the rapids, you’ll need to be completely focused as you encounter big whitewater, significant gradient, and difficult paddling moves.

Canyon Country Colorado
The legendary Mondo, guiding Tunnel Falls

Gore Canyon rafting is known especially for its Tunnel Falls, a Class V waterfall rapid, and for Kirshbaum Rapid, one of the longest, continuous rapids in the state of Colorado. But many other exciting rapids will be encountered along the way before it’s time to enjoy the final Class II float to the Colorado River take-out location. See the Gore Canyon rafting page on our website for details about age and weight minimums.

Whitewater rafting is an exciting way to explore Colorado’s canyon country, and we look forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Gore Canyon Rafting: Extremely Colorado
Rafting Shoshone: Classic Colorado Whitewater
River Rafting Class Ratings Explained
Common Rafting Paddling Commands
Vail Rafting Paddling Tips
Vail Rafting Safety


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.