MY GOAL FOR THE DAY was to stay firmly put inside the large rubber raft as I floated through Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River. How I found myself jumping off a granite outcropping and plunging into the river remains a mystery. I suppose I was inspired by seeing my 19-year-old son doing a backflip a moment earlier.
Browns Canyon is one of the most popular white-water destinations in the state. PHOTO COURTESY OF AMERICAN ADVENTURE EXPEDITIONS
I’d signed up for a private half-day tour with American Adventure Expeditions (americanadventure.com), based out of Buena Vista. During the pandemic, the outfitter discovered the beauty of private tours—no awkward getting-to-know-you moments with strangers—and today, most folks choose this more exclusive option. (Find more outfitters at arkansasriveroutfitters.org.)
The Arkansas River drops 4,650 feet along its 152 miles, making for churning white water and adrenaline rushes. The Browns Canyon half-day was the perfect balance for me: sustained calm stretches punctuated by Class II and III rapids like Zoom Flume and Big Drop. Aside from the intentional cliff jump, I stayed in the raft the whole time.
We went in mid-August, a time when rivers can run slow, but the innovative Voluntary Flow Management Program manages the release of water from reservoirs upstream, guaranteeing 700 cubic feet per second of water flow from July 1 through August 15.
More experienced rafters and thrill seekers can run the Arkansas River’s narrow, rocky Numbers section, featuring big drops and continuous white water. But that Class IV+ tour makes it harder to take in the scenery and look for bighorn sheep and bald eagles. Browns Canyon National Monument, one of nine monuments in Colorado, is filled with hoodoos and dramatic rock spires eroded over the eons. Perfect, it turns out, for jumping off.