Vail Rafting Season: 2017 Trip Overview

The Vail rafting season follows a seasonal dynamic, with factors including snowmelt, weather, and local river conditions all determining which stretches of river are prime for rafting. At Timberline Tours, we offer guided whitewater rafting trips on the Colorado River, the Eagle River, and the Arkansas River, but usually not all at the same time of the summer due to these seasonal river dynamics.

We’re going to focus here on a rafting season overview for the Colorado and Eagle Rivers because these rivers are the closest to Vail, but we also offer amazing rafting trips on the Pine Creek, The Numbers, and Browns Canyon sections of the Arkansas River, a slightly longer shuttle ride away from Vail.

Planning a Vail rafting trip? Here’s what you need to know about how trip availability and rafting seasonality works on Vail’s Eagle and Colorado Rivers:

Vail Rafting Season : Early Summer

EAGLE RIVER & GORE CREEK: Timberline Tours offers rafting trips on the Eagle River’s Dowd Chute/Upper Eagle and Lower Eagle sections early in the season because this river is fed by spring snowmelt, in addition to Gore Creek. Basically, when temperatures begin to warm up in the spring, the snow that has been accumulating on our area’s mountains all winter long begins to melt, causing the Eagle River to fill up with a lot of water in a short time period.

Since the Eagle River is fed only by snowmelt and is not dam controlled, water flows can vary greatly, usually with a quick rise in water levels in the early summer months (May and June) followed by a drop-off in water levels approaching mid-June.

Dowd Chute/Upper Eagle River: Class IV (advanced, high intensity)
For the safety of all guides and paddlers, commercial rafting cutoff limits in addition to guide discretion factor into determining what section of whitewater is prime for rafting on the day of the trip. If it rains overnight, for example, or if a day of hot weather has unleashed a lot of snowmelt all at once into the Eagle River, the water level might be too high for rafting Dowd Chute the following day. In this case, the group will likely put in on a prime Upper Eagle section downriver from Dowd Chute.

Vail Rafting Season - photography by Doug Mayhew |
Dowd Chute/Upper Eagle River |

Lower Eagle River: Class III (intermediate intensity)
Similarly, day-of-trip water levels affect whether or not it’s possible to raft this section of the river that’s only available in the early summer season. When water levels are too high, for instance, rafts will not fit underneath a bridge that is encountered on the Lower Eagle River. But when water levels are too low, rocks and other obstacles make it impossible to raft, as is also the case with the Upper Eagle River and Dowd Chute. For that reason, when the snowmelt has all melted out, our Eagle River rafting season is over, too.

Gore Creek Rafting: Class III (intermediate intensity)
Like the Eagle River, Gore Creek is a snowmelt-fed waterway, which means that rafting Gore Creek is subject to some of the same limitations as the Eagle River. If water levels are too high, rafting is not possible due to bridge clearance limits, but once levels are too low, rocks and other obstacles prevent it. May and early June are usually optimal times to go rafting on Gore Creek, which goes through the heart of Vail Village and also opens up to views of the splendid Gore Range peaks. But due to rapidly changing seasonal water levels, Gore Creek has the shortest window of opportunity for rafting out of all waterways in the Vail area.

Midsummer Vail Rafting

COLORADO RIVER: Like the Eagle River, the Colorado River is fed by snowmelt in the spring and early summer, but it is also dam controlled, with water reservoirs that feed the river. This dynamic makes the Colorado River’s Upper Colorado River and Shoshone sections prime for rafting long after the snowmelt has already runoff, into the late summer.

Upper Colorado River: Class II (scenic, splashy float)
In rafting terms, snowmelt makes for some nice, mild rafting on the Upper Colorado River from early summer, when it’s at its highest, and into the fall. Midsummer is the best time for relaxing float trips on the Upper Colorado River, and we offer a few exciting trip options, including the Dinosaur Discovery with Fossil Posse in addition to the Vail Wine Tasting & Rafting trip, in conjunction with Vines at Vail and 4 Eagle Ranch. Rafts are equipped with oars on Upper Colorado River trips so that guides can maneuver the boat through sections of flat water.

Timberline Tours offers guided Whitewater Rafting trips on the Upper Colorado River near Vail Colorado - photography by Doug Mayhew |
Upper Colorado River |

Shoshone: Class III (intermediate intensity)
In the early summer, Shoshone operates at a commercial cutoff for safety reasons when snowmelt combined with open flows from the dam really gets the Shoshone section raging through Glenwood Canyon. But Shoshone becomes prime for rafting midsummer, with steady water flows supplied by the dam. In June and July, Shoshone’s rapids are rocking, and these more intense sections are followed by a scenic flat through Glenwood Canyon.

For those who want less intensity or who do not meet our age and weight requirements for this trip, a Skip the Rapids Shoshone rafting option can be arranged in advance. On the other hand, we also offer a Triple Thriller Shoshone rafting trip option, which lets those who want more intensity run the rapids three times. Please inquire about these trip options at the time of booking to see if they are available.

Late Summer Vail Rafting

COLORADO RIVER: Because the Colorado River is snowmelt-fed in the early summer and dam controlled throughout the season, it maintains pretty consistent water flows for rafting throughout the bulk of the season. However, toward late August, water levels begin to drop, and the flat sections become slower on Shoshone and on the Upper Colorado River. But at the same time, lower late-season water levels make it possible for rafting Gore Canyon, a Class IV+/V- adrenaline classic known for its high-intensity whitewater rafting.

Upper Colorado River: Class II (scenic, splashy float)
In the late summer season, the Upper Colorado River remains the best option for a scenic float trip. Water levels are lower at this time of the year, so the rapids are mild and splashy. Rafts are equipped with oar frames, so you can relax and enjoy the ride while guides maneuver the boat through smooth sections of river.

Shoshone: Class III (intermediate intensity)
In the late summer season, water levels on Shoshone continue to lower. By August, Shoshone still has some really fun rapids, which can be repeated for more intensity with our Triple Thriller Shoshone rafting trip, but the flat sections following the rapids become slower, which is perfect for those who want to enjoy a relaxing, float trip as the river winds its way through the scenic Glenwood Canyon.

Timberline Tours offer Whitewater Rafting on the Shoshone section of the Colorado River near Vail Colorado - photography by Doug Mayhew |
Shoshone |

Gore Canyon: Class IV and V ((Expert, very high intensity)
In the late summer season, Gore Canyon becomes prime for high-intensity whitewater rafting. Usually in late July or early August, water levels have receded enough to allow for commercial rafting trips on this stretch of the Colorado River, which is a favored trip for athletic adrenaline seekers who are looking to raft an intense and exciting stretch of river. Gore Canyon is commonly known as one of the most challenging commercially rafted sections of whitewater in North America. Timberline Tours was the first rafting outfitter to offer guided rafting on Gore Canyon, and this stretch of whitewater remains a special part of our company’s history as well as Vail’s rafting history.

With expert, world-class guides, we look forward to rafting with you on these Eagle River and Colorado River rafting trips this summer!

Need extra help deciding what rafting trip is best for your group? More tips here:
“River Rafting Class Ratings Explained”
“Best-of Vail Rafting Guide”


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