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Old 04-10-2012   #1
ATL, Georgia
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 3
Moving to Colorado for the Summer

Hello All,

This seems to be the best form to ask these questions. I am moving to Colorado from the Southeast US to do some kayak instruction and to experience a new area. A few questions I have:

Camping: I have a homemade camper trailer I am going to drag out there. How is the camping around Salida, CO? Free Camping? Free Camping for a trailer with no hook ups? Any cheap camping with electric hookups? Any policies that require you to move after so many days?

Kayaking: I will be working as an instructor on the Arkansas River in Salida, CO, where should be my go to class 5 steep creek fix? Any hair runs within 3hrs for off days? Any epic multi-days close by? I will be in the area from mid-May through Mid-August.

How cold is the water mid-summer? Seriously, because I come from a place where drytop-only is permissible year around.

Thanks for advise in advance,


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Old 04-10-2012   #2
DanOrion's Avatar
Indian Hills, Colorado
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 1,448
I'm sure others will provide more constructive advice, but here's mine: This year is going to suck as much as last year was awesome. Bring your hiking boots and (if you can) a mountain bike. There's some lovely exploring to do in the Upper Ark Valley...14ers to hike, mountain valleys to backpack in, great mountain biking, etc. Unfortunately, the boating opportunities will disappoint due to our very severe, virtually unprecedented, no fun at all, sucks to be a kayaker, might as well get a 12-pack, sit on the couch and watch sports drought.

Insofar as camping...the enforcement is pretty strict regarding the (2week?) free camping limit on public lands. It's very likely that you can find an arrangement to park your camper on someone's private land for free or a small fee for the summer. You'll have no problem figuring that out once you get here.

Plan for cold water. By July, the Arky will be getting full-drytop warm.

Kayaking...this is where others probably have better advice, but given drought, I expect you'll be limited to low water or dam release. Gore, Bailey (not quite steep) Black Canyon of the Gunny (multi-day), Crystal (serious business).

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Old 04-10-2012   #3
ACC's Avatar
dropzone, Colorado
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 845
Go to Idaho. But if you are set on CO, Lake Creek will be running in the Ark valley for a quick V-V+ fix, Crested Butte creeks will run for a couple weeks, the Black Canyon will run (overnighter V epic), etc. There will be Gore and Bailey dam release. Probably still better here in the summer than the SE, but our runnoff is going to be short, small and early this year.
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Old 04-10-2012   #4
glenn's Avatar
BZN, Montana
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 1,489
I spent 2 months in/around Salida and didn't pay for camping except on a sand dunes visit. No tickets and didn't get kicked out of anywhere. I had a handful of locations and tried not to stay anywhere more than 2-3 days. I never left camp setup during the day either. Most outfitters provide some kind of on site camping though so that's definitely the preferred route.

Plan on cold water and cold nights. It's not uncommon to wake up with frost on the windows especially in May and early June. It's a windy place too, so just bare that in mind with whatever camping arrangements you are setting up. Tents die.
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Old 04-12-2012   #5
whip's Avatar
Salida, Colorado
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 516
Actually a low water year is better for kayak instruction but not good for rafting. I think you have to move every 14 days in Nat'l Forest and sooner in prime locations. My guess is a few days after you start you'll be hooked up with numerous options.
No amount of money is worth your free time!
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Old 04-12-2012   #6
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 104
Hey Zach,

yes, it will be low water, but the Arkansas will still be fun. 750 cfs minimum is "guaranteed" until August 15th (not sure if that would ever be in question given the drought, but I doubt it). I don't know if you're a playboater, but if so, the Salida whitewater park and the Buena Vista whitewater park will still be very fun at those levels.... and we should see higher levels in June (peak runoff is usually around the summer solstice). Browns Canyon will be fun class III-IV and the numbers (above Buena Vista) is fun class IV with some good play.
Nearest creeking fix is Lake Creek, which is near Twin Lakes on the way up independence pass. Lake Creek often runs much too high to run because there is a tunnel carrying water from the western slope which dumps into Lake Creek. So even with low snowpack, Lake Creek should be good pretty often... it's definitely pretty steep and gnarly, but if you're into that and you've got a good guide, you'll like it.
I would recommend picking up a copy of Whitewater of the Southern Rockies. All these runs and those in the region are in there.
Regional stuff that is fun includes Bailey to Pine, Gore Canyon, Vallecito and other creeks in the San Juans, etc.
Have fun and we'll probably see you on the river!
Not sure about Salida area, but there's lots of 2 week maximum free camping near Buena Vista both in the National forest west of town and in the Four Mile BLM area north of town. Cheers,

Dustin Urban
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Old 04-12-2012   #7
hotchkiss's Avatar
Pejivalle, Costa Rica
Paddling Since: 1993
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 188
Drive west one hour and you're in the kayaking epicenter of the universe. Any direction you travel from Gunnison, you'll find world class boating.

Don't believe me, pull out a map circle all the best boating in Colorado, then triangulate the center and there's little ol' Gunnison.
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Old 04-12-2012   #8
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1999
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 855
Your after work class 5 run is Lake Creek (about less than one hour from Salida). It should have an okay season due to pumping water over from the roaring fork. Within 3 hours, there are tons of "hair-boating" options. Buy a copy of WW of the Southern Rockies to figure out your options. These other hair boat options will have a very very short window to catch them though.

Water is cold the higher up the drainage you go. By June'ish and July it is shorty top weather down there in Salida.

Like others have said... it ain't gonna be a good year, but you will still be able to have fun. The flow program on the Ark is not guaranteed. And word around the campfire is that those who control the water are hoping to be able to keep the Ark at 600 until the first part of August. If they can manage to keep the flow program going until first part of August, the Ark will have plenty of fun to be had. And if not, I spent the summer on the Ark in 2002 and managed to find a "reasonable" amount of fun on the river all the way down to 150CFS (it wasn't ideal, but with the state forests burning down all around us, smoke filled skies where you couldn't see the mountains, and it being insanely hot... jumping in a cool river with only 150CFS was refreshing!)

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