Kayaking the Colorado River: An Epic Adventure

The Colorado River is a majestic waterway that has captivated kayaking enthusiasts from around the world. Stretching 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez, this awe-inspiring river offers an unforgettable experience for those seeking adventure and natural beauty.

The Magnificence of the Colorado River

The Colorado River has a rich history that dates back to the 19th century, when John Wesley Powell embarked on his famous expeditions. Today, the river continues to inspire dreamers, conservationists, and adventure seekers alike. Every summer, thousands of kayakers and campers flock to its banks, drawn by the tranquil and addictive relaxation that only the Colorado River can provide.

But it’s not just the serene waters that make kayaking the Colorado River so enticing. The landscapes that unfold as you float along are truly breathtaking. Vibrant cliffs, majestic canyons carved by the river, and lush bottomlands create a scenery unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere. To help you plan your kayaking adventure, here are some essential things to consider.

Kayaking the Whole Colorado River – Upper and Lower

While it may require occasional hiking, most sections of the Colorado River are kayak-friendly. Many kayakers choose to tackle the popular segments and arrange transportation at both ends. As the river dries up near Mexico, we will focus on the most popular kayaking destinations within the United States.

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The Colorado River is divided into the Upper and Lower Basins, separated at Lee’s Ferry. The Upper Colorado River encompasses Colorado, Utah, and parts of Arizona, while the Lower Colorado River runs through parts of Arizona, Nevada, and California.

Equip Yourself for an Epic Adventure

To prepare for your kayaking adventure, investing in a well-built, durable kayak is crucial. Sit-on-top kayaks offer ease of use and stability, making them ideal for beginners. On the other hand, sit-inside kayaks keep you dry and are more suitable for colder waters.

In addition to your kayak, there are other essential gear items to consider, such as signaling devices, spare paddles, a repair kit, and a map of the Colorado River. Drinking water is crucial, as the silty nature of the river makes it unsuitable for water filter systems.

Choose the Perfect Paddling Area

Before embarking on your kayaking journey, it’s important to determine the specific section of the river you’ll be paddling. The American Whitewater’s International Scale of River Difficulty provides valuable information about the difficulty levels of different parts of the river. By understanding the river’s classifications, you can choose a paddling area that suits your skill level and preferences.

Familiarize yourself with access and exit points along the river, especially if the difficulty level increases downstream, to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Obtain the Necessary Permits

To protect certain sections of the Colorado River from excessive human impact, permits are required for kayaking in some areas. For example, a permit is necessary to kayak through the Grand Canyon. Obtaining a permit involves participating in a weighted lottery and paying a nominal fee. It’s important to note that kayakers attempting the Grand Canyon should possess Class IV paddling skills.

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Other sections of the Colorado River that require permits include Grand Canyon – Arizona, Cataract Canyon – Utah, Westwater Canyon – Utah, and Ruby-Horsethief Canyons – Utah to Colorado.

Discover the Gems of the Colorado River

Various regions along the Colorado River offer unique kayaking experiences. Let’s explore some notable destinations in different states:


The Upper Colorado River in Colorado offers intermediate and expert sections, making it suitable for experienced kayakers. For beginners, easier floats can be found near Grand Junction and between South Canyon and Cameo. In addition to the Colorado River, there are numerous lakes and rivers throughout Colorado that cater to kayakers of all skill levels.

Notable destinations include Gore Canyon, Rancho Del Rio to Dotsero, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction.


The outdoor paradise of Moab in Utah boasts some of the most spectacular stretches of the Colorado River. Whether you prefer a calm family-friendly float or an adrenaline-pumping ride through intense whitewater, Moab has it all. The Fisher Towers section is ideal for families and beginners, while Cataract and Westwater Canyons offer thrilling whitewater adventures. Single and multi-day trips are available to suit your preferences.


The Arizona stretches of the Colorado River offer diverse kayaking opportunities. Glen Canyon provides a relatively easy float, while Lee’s Ferry offers excellent fishing and boating opportunities. Private trips through the Grand Canyon require a permit and offer a chance to embark on a remarkable journey through time.


In Nevada, kayakers can enjoy the Black Canyon Water Trail, which was designated a National Water Trail in 2014. Accessible from Goldstrike Canyon in Nevada and Willow Beach in Arizona, this 30-mile stretch near Hoover Dam offers a remarkable kayaking experience. Goldstrike Canyon also provides an opportunity to visit the popular Gold Strike Hot Springs.

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The Colorado River briefly enters California, forming its eastern border with Arizona. It flows into Lake Havasu, created by Parker Dam, which spans both Arizona and California. This area offers boating and kayaking opportunities, with Needles being a notable location.


The final 70 miles of the Colorado River in Mexico are mostly dry due to dams and irrigation. However, certain marshlands and irrigation canals keep some areas alive. Despite its diminished state, the river continues to supply Mexican cities and irrigate crops.


Kayaking the Colorado River is a remarkable adventure that offers a unique blend of natural beauty and historical significance. As you paddle along, you’ll be mesmerized by the stunning landscapes and landmarks that unfold before your eyes.

To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, it’s essential to have the right equipment, familiarize yourself with the river’s classifications and access points, and obtain any necessary permits. So, gather your gear, plan your route, and embark on a kayaking journey that will create lasting memories. And always remember to respect the river and leave no trace behind.

For more information on kayaking the Colorado River, visit UpStreamPaddle for valuable insights and resources.