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Stories from Element 52

Stories from Element 52

Go Braving Colorado’s White-Water Rapids

According to locals, the remote location of southern Colorado’s 40-mile-long Piedra River makes it a truly unique place for rafting. About a three-and-a-half-hour drive away from Telluride, the river flows south from the San Juan Mountains and travels through canyons full of lush, green wilderness. “The Arkansas River, which runs through parts of Colorado, is beautiful and extremely famous for white-water rafting,” Dane Olson says. “But its popularity also means constant crowds, so we locals tend to gravitate toward the Piedra River, which is located in a pristine forest reserve that feels basically untouched by man. It’s such a treat to paddle through these beautiful, secluded surroundings.”

Your white-water rafting trip kicks off in these relatively calm waters, where you have a chance to drink in the breathtaking beauty of the forest before the real adventure begins. As you’re meandering down, you’ll notice rushing tributaries and small creeks cascading into the river, meaning you’ve hit Class II rapids. “This is where you’ll occasionally need to maneuver around some boulders and medium-sized waves, but it’s usually pretty safe,” Dane explains. As the Piedra increases in volume and intensity, you’ll bump and scrape your way through Class III rapids with splashy, powerful waves that can occasionally swamp your raft.

But thrill-seekers know even more excitement lies ahead in white-knuckle Class IV rapids—which greets you with a steep, pulse-quickening entrance. “Class IV rapids are technical with a high level of difficulty, so they’re usually reserved for more advanced rafters,” Dane says. “But beginners who are in good physical shape and comfortable in the water can definitely tackle Class IV, especially with an experienced guide and scouting team along for the ride.” Expect icy, stinging waves to sluice you along the way—giving new meaning to the phrase “wet and wild.”

After your journey down the Upper Piedra, we’re betting even first-timers will welcome the cacophonous symphony of the river with its mighty roar and crash. “And you’ll be marking your calendars for next May!” Dane promises.Stories from Element 52