Been curious to try stand-up paddleboarding on the river? You’re in luck. In June, Aspen’s Limelight Hotel launched a complimentary river SUP program. Every Wednesday morning through September, Charlie MacArthur, owner of Aspen Kayak and SUP Academy, takes guests on a three-hour adventure consisting of a guided lesson and tour. Stand-up paddleboard, paddle, life jacket, and transportation are all included.

We set out at 9:30 a.m. on a sunny morning in July, driving two miles to the North Star Nature Preserve. Everyone in our small group had already done some stand-up paddleboarding on flat water, so MacArthur talked about key differences on the river—mainly forcefully moving water. He promised we wouldn’t encounter any rapids on this mellow one-mile stretch of the Roaring Fork, but that even gently flowing water can bully you around if you haven’t mastered basic paddle strokes. Borrowing a term from canoeing, he told us how effective a J-stroke can be to navigate obstacles, like rocks, in the river, and then guided us into a tranquil eddy to practice.

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Once everyone got the hang of it, we ventured out into the middle of the Roaring Fork, where the flow carried us effortlessly forward. Our paddles became tools used more for steering—to keep the nose of the board pointing down the river—than for generating power. It left plenty of energy for taking photos, and soaking in the picture-perfect alpine scenery. Deep green hillsides lined the river, highlighted by a cobalt blue sky and a healthy smattering of poufy white clouds. Beyond loomed Aspen Mountain, where the grassy ski runs cut a lighter green ribbon among the pines.

The dark blue water was surprisingly cold for a warm day. “It was probably snow on top of the mountain 36 hours ago,” quipped an Aspen local named Jordan. By the time we reached the take-out point, everyone was pretty amped from a successful first river run on a SUP. A few of us even leapt from the pedestrian bridge into the river as MacArthur loaded the SUPs back onto the van. No one wanted the experience to end. “What’s next?” I asked MacArthur as I climbed into the van. “Well, you can always sign up for one of my whitewater SUP lessons,” he said.


—Photo by Seth K. Hughes Photography