The Animas River is more than just a whitewater rafter’s dream: It’s an important part of Durango Colorado’s landscape. The early Spanish explorers who originally traveled the Four Corners region named the winding river Animas — which means “ghosts” or “lost souls” in Spanish — for the spirits natives claimed haunted the lower stretches. However, today you’ll likely find that the Animas River and her “Gold Medal Waters” are a spirited part of Durango’s culture and heritage – especially if you’re into whitewater rafting.
Durango Whitewater Rafting: Navigating the Animas River
Though the river starts near Silverton and flows all the way to the San Juan River in New Mexico, it’s most famous stretches are right in our backyard: The bustling streets of Downtown Durango flank the shores of the Lower Animas River. This popular run for rafters, kayakers, tubers and fishermen features exciting Class III rapids with churning whitewater and challenging drops.
This stretch of river is easily accessible for enthusiasts with basic paddling skills, with several put-in spots and the newer Whitewater Park in Downtown Durango. Rafters, tubers and kayakers can put-in with access points along the Animas River:
- 33rd Street (limited parking)
- 29th Street at Memorial Park
- Recreation Center (tubing put-in)*
- 9th Street at Schneider Park (tubing take-out)*
- Santa Rita Park
- Cundiff Park
- High Bridge
- Dallabetta Park
Anyone visiting Durango should run the Animas River with an experienced guide. The portion of the river running alongside downtown Durango is easily accessible for enthusiasts with basic paddling skills. The section from 33rd to 29th is easy but then the rapids start to speed up after that and should be taken very seriously. After the 9th Street Bridge, people should get out if they do not have proper training or a personal floatation device. This is the drop in to the white water park.
The Upper Animas River
The Upper Animas River is for experienced rafters only. These Class V rapids showcase scenic views through the breathtaking San Juan backcountry. Regardless of the path you choose, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when you’re navigating the twists and turns of the memorable Animas River. As noted, the Upper Animas are Class V rapids. They are extremely difficult and long, violent rapids, a significant hazard to life in case of mishap. Full training and an experienced guide is HIGHLY encouraged.
Play it Safe: Animas River Rules, Etiquette and More
The Animas River is more than just spirited part of Durango’s landscape and culture; it’s the lifeblood of the entire Four Corners community. This means that it’s practically an entity of its own, and it should be respected. It’s important to remember that rafting or tubing on the Animas isn’t like the lazy river ride you might enjoy at the waterpark: Expect to be challenged and prepare for the unexpected. Regardless of your swimming skill or level of fitness, personal floatation devices (think: lifejackets) are strongly recommended. Helmets and secure footwear are also important – river sandals or old tennis shoes are your best bet.
It’s also important to remember that you may need to self-rescue when you’re out on the river. And even if you’re crew is safe in the water, you might find yourself in a situation in which you need to help fellow rafters. If you’re new to rafting, take advantage of local outfitters and resources like the Colorado Rivers Outfitters Association to get up to speed on river safety and rescue procedures before putting in and starting your adventure. We suggest connecting with a local guide: This is the best way to safely navigate the river while learning more about the region’s culture, history, wildlife and geology.
Respect the rules of the river when you’re out on the Animas. River etiquette is essential. Be sure to use designated areas for put-in and take-out, and consider keeping the following tips in mind:
- No open containers of alcohol are allowed anywhere on the Animas River.
- No glass containers allowed on the river.
- Pack out all trash and dispose in a proper receptacle.
- Dogs must be on a leash on shore and dog waste must be cleaned up.
- Do not trespass and respect private property.
- Be courteous to others on and near the river.
- When approaching anglers, move away to the opposite side of the river.
- Experience the spirit of the Animas River for yourself! Plan your next Durango Whitewater Rafting adventure and get ready to soak in the experience of a lifetime.
Guide to Rapid Classifications
|Class I||Moving water with ripples and small waves.|
|Class II||Easy rapids with waves up to three feet. Open channels.|
|Class III||Rapids with high, erratic waves capable of swamping an open canoe; constricted channels.|
|Class IV||Long, difficult rapids with obstructed passages; scouting from shore may be necessary.|
|Class V||Extremely difficult and long, violent rapids, a significant hazard to life in case of mishap.|
|Class VI||Not navigable.|