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Posted: July 16, 2010

Whatever floats your boat

Wet and wild or positively peaceful -- Colorado rafting has it all

Randi Abels

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White waves crash against the front of the raft. Your adrenaline pumps as you fight the pull of the current, paddling your raft to some calm waters before hitting another set of rapids.

Sound a little too intense? How about a calm afternoon with the family, paddling down one of the most scenic rivers in Colorado, camera in hand?

Both scenarios and more can be found on the rivers of Colorado this summer.

After having alarmingly high water levels at the start of the season from the spring runoff, rafting fans were worried the water levels would drop off too much for the rest of the season. But Drew Kramer, a spokesman for Colorado River Outfitters Association, says this season has turned out to be a great one.

"Exciting whitewater still exists for the adrenaline junkies, but there are plenty of more moderate stretches of river available, as well as plenty of opportunities for beginners," Kramer says.

Every season is different for outfitters because of water levels and differing groups of people that come to raft, so it was hard to say how this season would turn out. Every trip in every raft has a slightly different personality, Kramer says.

"Mother Nature is continuously tweaking our outdoor playground - moving some rocks and trees around, maybe ever-so-slightly affecting the bend or depth of a particular stretch of river -so no two river runs are ever identical. It's part of the charm and excitement of rafting in Colorado," he says.

Half day trips run about $45, or for those who love the thrill of the water, multi-day adventures run several hundred dollars. There are plenty of options this summer. "Rafting is one of the best bang-for-the-buck recreation options out there," Kramer says.

Colorado's commercial river outfitters hosted an average of about 500,000 visitors each year and generated more than $100 million in economic activity each year over the past decade. The Longwoods International tourism survey indicates that in 2009, overall travel to Colorado rose for the sixth straight year to a record 51.7 million domestic visitors. The outfitters association is excited for the steady flow of visitors that will keep their successes high.

Last year, the commercial user days were high, and CROA is expecting similar trends for this year. The Arkansas River, spanning from western to central Colorado, saw the most action, being the highest ranked river for user days and the busiest river in the country. Bob Hamel, a spokesperson for Arkansas River Tours, sees rafting as a high profile activity in Colorado.

"There are over 100 miles of river to operate on, and many different sections. Our trips travel across the entire river, beginning in Cotopaxi," he said.

If you are just looking to get your feet wet, check out www.croa.org for more information about rafting in Colorado.

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Randi Abels is a ColoradoBiz intern.

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