When a ton of snow falls on Vail, it takes most of the summer for all of it to melt off the highest peaks, filling local rivers and streams with the churning white water that makes Vail a major rafting and kayaking destination. And, with some of the hottest days of this summer yet to scorch us, there's no better time than now to get up close and personal with some cool, clear water.
Gore Creek and the Upper Eagle River are typically presummer delights for local boaters. And as May turns to June each spring, late season snow can still boost the snowpack above its annual average up high (200 percent of annual average in some cases), giving hope for tantalizing runs well into summer.
Typically, Gore Creek is a scenic trickle meandering through Vail Village. But for two weeks each spring, it morphs into a swift-flowing torrent sweeping boaters from East Vail’s Ford Park, past multimillion-dollar backyards, under quaint bridges, and into West Vail. This “urban creeking” should last a lot longer this season, allowing boaters to shop for cosmopolitan eddies and waves further into summer.
Outside of town, Gore Creek dumps into the Upper Eagle at Dowd Junction, at the Minturn turnoff on Interstate 70. The narrow canyon forms a famous wave called Dowd Chute, a whitewater thrill ride that should render rafters ecstatic well into July. Only the best kayakers should even think about it.
The valley’s tried-and-true trips should benefit from this season’s super-hydration as well, such as the relatively placid (Class II and III) Upper Colorado River and the Colorado’s more challenging Shoshone section through scenic Glenwood Canyon. In other directions, the fun lies at Pine Creek and the Numbers on the Arkansas River and the borderline insane Gore Canyon section of the Colorado. A Class V trip through a narrow gorge below Kremmling on the Colorado River, Gore Canyon includes a couple of twelve-foot waterfall drops, and some outfitters require a swim test so that only the most physically fit boaters are allowed to sign on.
It’s also the venue for the unofficial end of the boating season on Saturday, August 26, when the annual Gore Fest race wraps up a stellar whitewater season with all sorts of rafting and kayaking carnage.
In reality, though, it ain’t over till the fat lady swims. The dam-released Upper Colorado River, particularly with record snowpack, should run well into the fall, when her gorgeous canyons will be dotted with yellow and red aspens. The “Upper C,” as it’s known locally, is a world apart from the rest of the Vail Valley.
Gather a crew, and book a trip with one of the valley's rafting companies: Lakota Guides, 970-845-7238; Nova Guides, 719-486-2656; Timberline Tours, 970-476-1414; Sage Outdoor Adventures, 970-476-3700. Or, float the Colorado in what's billed as the Cadillac of inner tubes via Turtle Tubing's tours, 970-471-0547.