Top 8 Rafting Companies in the Arkansas River Valley

On your next summer vacation in Salida, Colorado, why not take a thrilling whitewater rafting trip down the Arkansas River? You’ll find some great rafting companies in Salida and Buena Vista that offer a variety of rafting options. Even better, the Arkansas River boasts some of the best whitewater rafting in the entire state. The rafting season typically lasts from May through September, but it does depend on how much snow fell over the winter and how quickly that snow melts once warmer weather arrives. Most years, the river will run at its highest in mid-June, which means that rafters can expect fast currents and exciting rides. You can check the river’s current flow on the Department of Water Resources website. Regardless of when during the summer you’ll be visiting, there are rafting trips available for visitors of just about all ages. We’ve put together a list of the some of the top rafting outfitters in the area so you can find the perfect whitewater experience for you.

The Adventure Company

The Adventure Company is a family-owned business that’s offered rafting trips in Buena Vista and Breckenridge since 1987. They exclusively hire guides with four or more years of professional river guiding experience. You’ll have your pick of several different rafting trips. Families and those interested in a relaxed trip can take a half-day trip on Milk Run. Half-, three-quarter-, and full-day trips are available for those who want to explore Browns Canyon.

Experienced rafters will enjoy half- to full-day trips on The Numbers or a full-day trip through the Royal Gorge. Both of these offer continuous Class IV to V rapids. For even more thrills, expert rafters can take a half- to full-day trip on Pine Creek, which features difficult whitewater conditions and large drops.

They offer a number of activity package combinations that are easily customizable for your tastes. You can add activities like inflatable kayak tours, fishing, hot air balloon rides, rock climbing, and many more to your whitewater rafting trip for a full day of excitement.

American Adventure Expeditions

American Adventure Expeditions offers rafting trips on four different sections of the Arkansas River. If you’re looking for a trip that offers a nice balance between calm and exciting, opt for a ride through Browns Canyon or Bighorn Sheep Canyon. There are three different trip lengths available for Browns Canyon: half-day, three-quarters day, and full-day. Both the three-quarters and the full-day trips include lunch. These trips are ideal for riders 6 and older and they feature Class II to III rapids. Browns Canyon is one of the most popular whitewater destinations in the state. Bighorn Sheep Canyon is also ideal for riders 6 and up with Class II to III rapids. Half- and full-day trips are available and a riverside lunch is included with a full-day rafting trip. Both Browns and Bighorn Sheep Canyons offer incredible scenery and plenty of excitement.

For a trip that packs a little more of a whitewater punch, take the Royal Gorge rafting trip. This trip is designed for riders 14 and older with Class III and IV rapids. Half- and full-day trips are available. And if that’s not enough, you can take a Double Dip trip that includes two trips down the river. The Royal Gorge is an amazing sight to see and one that’s even more incredible when you see it from the bottom. Experienced riders will love The Numbers Rafting trip. It takes you through some of the most difficult and physically demanding sections of the river. It includes Class IV and V rapids and is best suited for riders 16 and over. Half- and full-day trips are available. The full-day trip includes Browns Canyon as well as a barbecue lunch before launching into The Numbers.

You’ll have the chance to experience fun on and off the river if you opt for one of American Adventure Expeditions’ Adventure Packages. These packages combine one of their rafting trips with other great area activities. You can choose from zip lining, mountain biking, ATV tours,  horseback rides, admission to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs, rides on the Royal Gorge Train, or admission to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park.

Independent Whitewater

Whether you’re looking for a quick trip on the river or a two-day experience, Independent Whitewater has you covered. There are trips available for every ability level. If you’d like to enjoy a relaxed and scenic float trip, half- and full-day options are available. You also have the option of a quarter-day excursion if you find that you’re a bit pressed for time.

Riders who’d like to experience Browns Canyon will have their choice of three trip options: half-day, full-day, and high water extended full-day. One of the notable things about Independent Whitewater is that they conclude these trips on private land, which means that you’ll get to experience two rapids that aren’t offered by other companies. The high water extended full-day trip is available only during high water flows and it covers 26 miles.

If you’re thinking about tackling The Numbers, half- and full-day trips are available. They’re best suited for those with prior rafting experience. The full-day Royal Gorge trip is another action-packed option that’s great for experienced rafters. For those who want even more excitement, you can take a two-day trip that features Browns Canyon on the first day and Bighorn Sheep Canyon and the Royal Gorge on the second day.

Noah’s Ark

At Noah’s Ark, you’ll have your choice of seven trip options on four different sections of the Arkansas River. For a Browns Canyon adventure, you can choose from half-day, full-day, or overnight trips. The half-day trip covers 10 miles, while the full-day and overnight trips cover 16 miles. They’re a great option for families with a minimum rider age of 6. Riders without experience (but over the age of 14) can also opt for a full-day or overnight trips in The Narrows. Ranging from 13 to 29 miles, these trips are more challenging than Browns Canyon with Class III and IV rapids.

Options for more experienced riders include full-day trips on The Numbers or down the Royal Gorge. The Numbers rafting trips covers 19 miles and features narrow and steep sections as well as Class IV and V rapids. 

Riders need to have previous experience with Class III rapids and be over the age of 18. The Royal Gorge rafting trip is demanding as well with Class IV and V rapids. It covers 18 miles and riders must be over the age of 16 with Class III rafting experience.

One of the unique features of Noah’s Ark is that it also includes an aerial adventure park. You can choose a Park & Paddle Package, which includes half a day in the park and half a day on the river.

Performance Tours Whitewater Rafting

Performance Tours has been offering whitewater rafting trips since 1986. Their experience and knowledge will shine through every step of the way, whether you’re just asking questions or you’re on the river with one of their guides. They have trip options that are perfect for just about everyone. If you have children age 4 and older, you may want to consider a half- or full-day Mild and Scenic trip on the Arkansas River. These are great especially if you want to focus your attention on the stunning mountain scenery. Half- and full-day trips through Browns Canyon are great for those who are looking for a little more excitement but nothing technically challenging.

If you choose to take a full day trip through the Narrows, also known as Wild Horse Canyon, you’ll enjoy one of the most secluded sections of the river along with exciting Class III+ rapids.

Trips through Bighorn Canyon are similarly exciting but offer the added possibility of some great wildlife viewing opportunities. For action-packed trips, take a half- or full-day trip through The Numbers or the Royal Gorge. Both of these are perfect choices for experienced rafters. If you’re just passing through the area, Performance Tours also offers half-day trips down the Blue River near Breckenridge.

Combine your rafting trip with zipline tours, horseback riding, or a trip on the Royal Gorge Train  for an unforgettable Colorado experience.

Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center

If you take a rafting trip with the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC), it will be easy to see just how passionate they are about nature and outdoor adventures. Half- and full-day trips are available on the stretch of the Arkansas River that runs through Salida. This is a relaxed and scenic trip that provides a nice introduction to rafting. You can also opt to take a half-day trip through Upper or Lower Browns Canyon or full day through both. Bighorn Sheep Canyon is another popular choice for full-day trips. More whitewater fun can be had with a full-day trip through the Royal Gorge or half- or full-day trips on The Numbers.

If none of those options is appealing, you can customize a full-day rafting trip so that it includes exactly what you want – including lunch!

The RMOC also offers guided rock climbing and mountain biking that you can combine with your rafting trip. If you’re interested in further customizing a multi-sport adventure, they’ll work with you to craft the perfect itinerary. There are even kayaking and stand up paddle board classes available.

River Runners

River Runners offers five beginner whitewater rafting trips and two advanced trips. Families with children over the age of three can take an easy float trip of four miles on the river. The Salida Town Run takes riders through downtown Salida and features some mild rapids and plenty of lovely scenery. There’s a Happy Hour rafting trip available that covers six miles and ends at Browns Canyon Riverside Grill where you can enjoy dinner and half-off drinks. Half- and full-day trips through Browns Canyon and Bighorn Sheep Canyon are available, both of which are popular choices that make it easy to experience some of the best Class III and IV rapids in the state.

Advanced riders can take their pick of half- or full-day trips through the Royal Gorge or The Numbers. 

These options are popular as well, so it’s highly recommended that you book in advance. Riders need to be at least 14 years old and they should be strong swimmers, too. The Royal Gorge full-day trip includes Bighorn Sheep Canyon in the morning.

As previously mentioned, River Runners features the Browns Canyon Riverside Grill. This is a lovely spot to spend some time in before or after your rafting trip. Here, you can grab a bite to eat or maybe a beer or cocktail. We highly recommend enjoying a Rum Runner after a trip on the river. If you want to maximize your time on the river, River Runners also offers inflatable kayak tours and stand up paddle (SUP) board tours.

Wilderness Aware Rafting

You’ll have lots of great rafting options if you choose to book a trip with Wilderness Aware Rafting. Families with young children, ages four and up, can choose from a half-day trip through Lower Browns Canyon or a dinner float trip on the Arkansas. The dinner float trip is the only one you’ll find in the area. It covers 3.5 miles and ends at the Riverside Grill, where you’ll have your choice of five entrees. It’s a fun and mellow way to end the day.

Wilderness Aware Rafting offers half- and full-day trips through Browns Canyon, The Narrows, Bighorn Sheep Canyon, The Numbers, and Royal Gorge. There’s also a full-day trip that combines Browns Canyon with The Numbers. Trips through the Royal Gorge and The Numbers are best suited for advanced rafters who are over the age of 14.

You can also choose from three Paddle & Saddle packages, each of which includes a trip through Browns Canyon plus different horseback ride options. There’s also a Raft & Zip package with a Browns Canyon trip in the morning and a two-hour zip line tour in the afternoon.

Looking for a Place to Stay?


We have one- to three-bedroom cabins available and we’d love to be your home base for all of your mountain adventures. You can find even more information on things to do in the area on our Summer Activities page. If you have any questions about our cabins, feel free to give us a call at (719) 539-6953. We look forward to seeing you in Salida!


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