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Arkansas River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord
Bear Gulch to Canon City
~ 15.1 Miles


EXPERT KAYAKERS ONLY!

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Grape Creek is the epitome of Colorado steep creeks. Starting out with 5 miles of Class III to IV rapids, Grape Creek quickly becomes a tight, big drop, Class V whitewater run. Its gradient varies greatly from a shallow 35 fpm to a very steep 215 fpm. About the only thing missing is constant or predictable water. Grape Creek is very seasonal, and depends upon a weather phenomenon of a heavy snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a reservoir at or above its conservation level and local rainfall to trigger a few short weeks of navigability in late May to early June.

Grape Creek is best left to advanced to expert level whitewater kayakers. Canoes and rafts would not be particularly well suited for this run, and would probably experience tremendous difficulty, at best. But, if you are up to the task, and fortunate enough to catch the creek when it is running, then you will be treated to some of Mother Nature's beautiful wonders. From top to bottom, Grape Creek drops some 1,460 feet in just 15.1 miles. It flows down a desert canyon floor with rocky banks lined with cacti and other arid-growing vegetation. Its big drops, rocky channel and constriction present significant hazards, even to experienced boaters. So, why would anybody want to paddle Grape Creek? Because it is there!

Location

Chaffee County, Colorado, bordered on the west by the San Isabel National Forest and on the east by the Pike National Forest in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Denver, to the northeast, and Pueblo, to the southeast, are just about equidistant from the river.

Distance from major cities

Durango miles; Grand Junction miles; Denver miles; Pueblo miles; Santa Fe miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Oklahoma City miles; Tulsa miles; Dallas miles; Austin miles; San Antonio miles; Houston miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent and clear, though snow-melt cold.This section is rated Class III to IV at flows below about 2,700 cfs, increasing by one half step at higher flows. Because of the cold water temperature, and the often cool to cold air temperature, wetsuits or drysuits are highly recommended to prevent hypothermia.

Best time to go

This section is heavily, dependent upon uncommon weather conditions, but generally it flows from late May to early June.

Hazards to navigation

The first 5 miles is nearly constant Class III to IV rapids. The middle 5 miles is steep Class V drops, turbulent holes, narrow canyon walls and quick decision-making. The last 5 miles is more relaxed, ending in a small rapid and runnable dam with a left-side slot above the confluence of the Arkansas River.

River Access Points

From Centennial Park in Canon City, follow Griffin Street to 4th Strret, then turn right. Veer left off 4th Street onto Elm Street, then almost immediately turn right onto Grape Creek. Go about 13 miles to the sign that reads "Grape Creek Access", then turn right. Follow the access road about 4.5 miles to the Bear Gulch put-in. (NOTE: a high clearance vehicle is recommended because of rough terrain near the creek.) Take out at Centennial Park in Canon City at 4th and Griffin Streets.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no public campgrounds located on Grape Creek. Five Points Campground off SH 50 on the Arkansas River above Canon City and immediately below Pinnacle Rock is available for overnight camping. Other campgrounds are available in each of the sections above this one on the Arkansas River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services Located on Grape Creek. However, such services may be available from outfitters in other areas. Ask local paddlers for details.

Reviewer's comments

Grape Creek is a very pretty and very treacherous place to play, even for expert whitewater kayakers. Anybody else should go somewhere else to play. It has fifteen different gradients in just 15.1 miles of creek, rolling like a roller coaster from its start at 90 fpm, peaking in the middle at 215 fpm and finally ending at a flatter 35 fpm. The short season features fast moving water, big drops, big rocks, big standing waves, and big opportunities to damage or destroy boats and injure or kill paddlers. Its setting is rugged wilderness, with moderately high canyon walls, mountains and green trees everywhere except the channel, and sometimes parts of those things are there, too! Grape Creek is a tributary of the Arkansas River, ending on that stream at Centennial Park in Canon City, so if you are up to snuff and wants a great ride while in the area running the Arkansas, the Grape Creek is a run you will long remember. Canoes and rafts should not even think about running the creek because it is just too steep and too narrow with too many opportunities for disaster. This is truly a hairboater's playground.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to V- w/ mandatory portages
Length 15.1 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Bear Gulch
Lat/Long
Last Take-out Centennial Park in Canon City
Lat/Long
Elevation msl
Gradient 35 to 215 fpm (14 changes)
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats EXPERT KAYAKERS ONLY!
Season April? through May?
Permits No


Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click HERE to visit the web site of Pikes Peak Whitewater Club

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Arkansas River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Arkansas River Homepage ] [ Granite to Buena Vista ] [ Buena Vista to Stone Bridge ] [ Stone Bridge to Rincon ]
[ Rincon to Pinnacle Rock ] [ Pinnacle Rock to Canon City ] [ Lake Creek ]

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