SubscribeAvailable Now
Rafters enjoy a sunny day on the Cache la Poudre River near Fort Collins. Courtesy of Richard Haro

How to Play on Colorado’s Only Wild and Scenic River

Northern Colorado's Cache la Poudre River is the state's only waterway that's protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Just in time for summer, here are eight ways to enjoy this remarkable river.

|

For a landlocked state, Coloradans certainly love water sports. Throughout the summer, kayakers, paddlers, surfers, and rafters all seek reprieve from the heat on our lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. But it’s the rivers that really seem to hold our hearts, providing both an opportunity for inspiration, as well as adventure.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems, a designation that protects 12,734 miles of river in the U.S. under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. There’s only one waterway in Colorado with this designation: the Cache la Poudre River, which was given the classification in October 1986. Located in the northern Front Range, the main and south forks of the river—known simply as “the Poudre,” pronounced POO-der, by locals—originate in Rocky Mountain National Park and flow north and east through the Roosevelt National Forest before eventually passing through Fort Collins. Most of the stretch designated as “wild” moves through Poudre Canyon and the Neota and Comanche Peak Wilderness Areas; the “scenic” stretches run along North County Road 63E and the Poudre Canyon Highway.

Advertisement

“Having the state’s only nationally designated Wild & Scenic River in Fort Collins’ backyard means we have access to exceptional recreational opportunities, pristine waters for wildlife, and pure downstream water that contributes to our world-renowned beer culture,” said Katy Schneider, director of marketing for Visit Fort Collins. “Celebrating the river is something the community does on an ongoing basis, but the 50th anniversary brings to light just how special it is to have this amazing resource within reach.”

Whether you’re already planning to enjoy the Poudre this summer or you’ve never seen its mighty waters, there are many ways to celebrate the anniversary this summer—both on the water and off.

Get In

Arguably, the best way to experience this wild and scenic river is to, quite literally, immerse yourself in it. Rafting is a thrilling option, with Class III and IV rapids like Twin-Pin, Roller Coaster, and Mishawaka Falls. More scenic floats are also available, and because of regulations from Roosevelt National Forest that limit the number of commercial outfitters, the Poudre is typically less crowded than other rivers. Kayakers are also frequently seen on the water: There are plenty of flatwater sections for beginners, as well as Class II-III runs, like the Filter Run, for those looking to level up. Check out A Wanderlust Adventure, Mountain Whitewater, or Rocky Mountain Adventures for guided rafting and kayaking tours.

For a more laidback activity, try tubing the Poudre—a popular pastime for visitors, Fort Collins locals, and especially Colorado State University students. The best time to tube on the waterway is in July and August, but use your best judgment before entering the water. If the river is moving fast, it’s best to stay on shore.

Lastly, if you prefer to take your reel to the water, the Poudre has two separate sections designated as Wild Trout Waters by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and is known for its caches of rainbows, brown, cutbow, and Greenback cutthroat trout.

Advertisement

Note: Soon, fans of the Poudre will have even more to love: Construction of a new whitewater park on the Poudre, just north of Old Town Fort Collins, will begin in summer 2018, with anticipated completion in summer 2019.

Stay Dry

Appreciating the Poudre’s beauty doesn’t always require a bathing suit. Take a scenic drive on the Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic Byway to see the river in all its glory, including over La Poudre Pass, which straddles the Continental Divide and offers hiking access into Rocky Mountain National Park.

For an experience with a soundtrack, take in a show at Mishawaka Amphitheatre (aka “The Mish”), a legendary 102-year-old riverside music venue that includes an outdoor amphitheater open during the summer, as well as a bar and restaurant that is open year-round. Make a night of it, and snag a coveted camping spot in the Poudre Canyon, so you can wake up to enjoy another day along the river.

If you’d like to preserve your experience of the Cache la Poudre, channel your inner Bob Ross and head to Fort Collins on Fridays. As part of Plein Air Artists Colorado, the group paints various sites of both historical and natural beauty; past locations have included Picnic Rock Natural Area in Poudre Canyon and the 1883 Historic Waterworks, Fort Collins’ first public works project.

No matter how you choose to enjoy the river, make plans to visit the Poudre this summer and celebrate Colorado’s only Wild and Scenic River.

Advertisement

5280 Longreads

Newsletter Signup

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone. Sign Up