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Where to Go When the Snow Melts: Colorado's Gnarliest Whitewater

Whitewater season is upon us

Mother's Day snow in Colorado means an already epic whitewater season just got even better. Wash those mud season blues right out of your hair with some of the Centennial State's most iconic Class IV/V runs (all rafter/kayaker friendly; no water separatism here).

Pine Creek/The Numbers/The Narrows: At high flow, the Arkansas River gives the goods: Class IV/V technical rapids, tight passages, frothing hydraulics, big drops, and sections of continuous whitewater. These three contiguous sections are the most notorious, and rage high only early in the season (depending upon the snowpack, outfitters usually start running in June). The most advanced, Pine Creek, has the most continuous rapids in the state. The put-in is located in the mountain hamlet of Granite, located between Leadville and Buena Vista in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area.

Trips vary; you can do each section on its own, but Curbed Ski recommends going for the whole shebang: Until you've navigated "The Gauntlet" that is Pine Creek and Numbers, you haven't experienced Colorado whitewater. The Narrows offers Class III/IV rapids through the Collegiate Peaks region. Alternatively, the 18-mile Royal Gorge section, near Cañon City, has Class IV whitewater (only in high season, during deep snowpack years) in a stunning canyon with 1,000-foot walls.

Clear Creek Canyon: Just 30 miles west of Denver, near Idaho Springs, this swift, narrow, technical section of the South Platte River drops 1,300 vertical feet, making for some hairy IV/V whitewater. It also offers more rapids that most commercially-run rivers in Colorado (over 30), and its proximity to DIA means you can sneak in an affordable day trip and a beer at Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs before catching your flight. What's not to love?

Silverton Stretch: While the entire 28-mile section of the Upper Animas River, located between Durango and Silverton, is considered world-class when the water's high to moderate, this Class IV/V section is the prizewinner. Twelve miles of high-altitude (9,300 feet), boiling whitewater- surrounded by the 14,000-foot peaks of the Weminuche Wilderness- ends with No Name Rapid, a two-mile-long stretch continuous whitewater with vertical gradient. Take-out is at the start of the Class III/IV Needleton section; go for an add-on- you're already wet.