Whitewater rafting in the Aspen area is offered by Blazing Adventures, Aspen Whitewater Rafting and Elk Mountain Expeditions. All of the rafting companies provide splash gear, wetsuits, helmets, and wetsuit booties when appropriate. Luckily, the dry Rocky Mountain air and sun means you’ll get dry and warm pretty quickly after your trip. It’s a good idea to wear quick-drying clothing made of non-cotton. Sunscreen is also important and remember to wear old sneakers or sandals with a heal strap. Bring a towel and change of clothes for after the trip.
Rafting waters are classified from I to VI, from basic to advanced. Class I may have some small rough areas that require maneuvering. Class II has small rapids and is appropriate for younger families. Most people are interested in a class II trip which has irregular rapids and people get wet. Class IV is wilder with long and unpredictable rapids close to each other. Class V is extreme and only for experienced paddlers. Class VI isn’t safe. Many rafting experts say that the fitness level of the person is more important than their rafting experience.
With some of the best natural whitewater in the USA, Aspen is a great basecamp for a day of rafting on the Roaring Fork River. The “Slaughterhouse” area between Aspen and Woody Creek includes the waterfall that was on John Denver’s album “Rocky Mountain High” which was released in 1972. This is a trip for experienced rafters. Farther down valley is where most people go for the class III rapids, for instance, through the red stone Woody Creek and Snowmass Canyons. The Roaring Fork River mellows near Maroon Creek. The middle Roaring Fork River, between Basalt and Carbondale, has class II and II rapids which are more appropriate for beginners and young families. When the Roaring Fork River gets to Glenwood Springs, it combines with the warmer waters of the Colorado River.
The headwaters of the Arkansas River are near Leadville, past Independence Pass and the Continental Divide. The Arkansas are internationally known for world-class whitewater because the river drops 4,600 feet in 120 miles. It makes for a fast, scenic trip in untamed rapids. If you can handle class IV and V rapids, consider the “The Numbers” and “Pine Creek”, starting in Granite. The whole trip is about 10 miles but there are shorter trips on “The Numbers” for less experienced paddlers who want to see the river but not the wildest parts. For intermediate experienced rafters, Browns Canyon has class III and IV rapids that wind through a 16-mile long gorge.