The Best Rafting in Vail, Colorado

Vail is known for its world-class ski resorts, stunning scenery, and adrenaline-filled activities. For adventure-seekers drawn to the water, the Vail Valley offers some of the best and most beautiful rafting in the state. Rivers cut through Colorado’s landscape, with the headwaters of the Colorado River originating in the mountains above Vail. Whether you’re a seasoned rafter or it’s your first time floating on the river, there are rapids to suit everyone’s level of comfort and excitement.

Whitewater Classifications

Guests should know what type of trip they’re signing up for. So how do you distinguish river ratings? Rivers are rated using roman numerals from I - VI to describe their difficulty. Class I is calm, flat water, whereas Class VI is extreme and un-runnable rivers. Most commercial companies offer guided trips through Class II, III, and IV rapids.

Class II water offers easy rapids and mellow waves suitable for all ages. For first timers and families, look for Class II trips with a guided outfitter for a fun and safe river experience. Class III offers more excitement and bigger waves up to 4 feet. This provides a more thrilling experience on the water but is still suitable for a family adventure. Long, difficult rapids with narrow passages through rocks and canyons classify Class IV rapids. Rafting on Class IV rapids provides an adrenaline-filled, heart-pumping whitewater adventure that is suitable for experienced rafters who are comfortable paddling through rough waters.

Where to Raft

For the best rafting in the Vail Valley, Sage Outdoor Adventures offers numerous options for guided river trips suitable for all levels and ages. Here are some of the most popular rafting trips in our area:


  • Upper Colorado River: The Upper Colorado River provides the perfect family-friendly float. A half-day trip takes guests of all ages and experience levels through mellow Class II waters. This is a great introduction to whitewater rafting because it offers mild rapids, wildlife sightings, and beautiful scenery through red rock canyons. With some swimming spots for little ones to splash in, this two-hour float is a great trip the whole family can enjoy. Tours start at Sage’s Colorado River Outpost in Dotsero, a 25 minute drive from Edwards.


  • Shoshone Rapids: For those seeking adventure, head to Glenwood Canyon for a scenic and thrilling ride through the Shoshone Rapids. A short but exciting two-mile trip through Class III whitewater navigates through the scenic Glenwood Canyon, filled with interesting geological features. If one trip isn’t enough, shuttle back up to the top for a double dip and do the rapids again. Sage Outdoor Adventures offers tours that allow guests to run the same section of rapids twice. Tours meet at Sage’s Colorado River Outpost in Dotsero. This half-day trip is suitable for families, but the minimum age is 7 years old and 50 pounds.
  • Brown’s Canyon: One of the best sections of whitewater in the Western U.S. is found not far from the Vail Valley. A 10-mile adventure takes rafters through the beautiful Brown’s Canyon National Monument on the Arkansas River. Tackle famous Class III rapids and soak in the scenery of the surrounding granite cliffs as you paddle through semi-arid desert landscape. Tours originate at Sage’s Buena Vista Outpost, a 1.5-hour drive from Edwards. Minimum age is 8 years old and 50 pounds.

What to Bring on the River

Properly preparing for a day on the river will ensure you have a more enjoyable time. Here are essentials to include before you hit the water:

  • Appropriate clothing: Dress in a bathing suit and/or clothing that can get wet, such as quick dry shorts and a sun shirt. If it’s cool, grab a rain jacket or a fleece to help block the water and wind.
  • Footwear: Water shoes or sandals should have a strap around the back of the foot for a secure fit.
  • Sun protection: With no shade on a raft, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses with a strap will help shield you from the sun’s powerful rays.
  • Dry bag: Stash your personal belongings, such as a phone or camera, in a dry, waterproof bag.
  • Towel & dry clothes
  • Water and snacks

When to Go Rafting

Summer is the best time to go rafting with high water flows. Water levels peak in early June - be prepared for high, fast water. Some sections of the river are not offered to guests until July 1. By September, water levels lower, but flows depend on the previous winter’s snowpack. Check in with a guided outfitter about what is open and available for commercial trips.