Dolores River Information
The Dolores River flows for more than 200 miles through southwestern Colorado, starting high in the San Juan Mountains and descending to its confluence with the Colorado River near the Colorado-Utah border. The Dolores flows through five major western life zones, from the Alpine Life Zone at its headwaters to the Upper Sonoran Life Zone along much of the lower reach (6,400 - 5,000 foot elevation).
Currently, a permit is not required for private boating parties on the Dolores River within Colorado. However, the BLM requires all boaters to register at access points.
All overnight boating parties on the Dolores River are required to use:
- Firepans for all open fires
- Porta-potty for human waste
- Strainer for dishwater
In addition, scrim (a loosely woven gauze-like material) is recommended for use as "kitchen" flooring.
Group Size Limits
- 25 people from Bradfield Recreation Site to Slick Rock
- 16 people from Slick Rock to Bedrock through the Wilderness Study Area
Bedrock to Gateway
For information on boating from Bedrock to Gateway, contact:
BLM Uncompahgre Field Office
2505 South Townsend
Montrose, CO 81401
Gateway to Dewey Bridge
A permit is required to boat the Dolores River from Gateway to Dewey Bridge. For information on this 32-mile stretch, contact:
BLM Moab Field Office
82 East Dogwood
Moab, Utah 84532
(435) 259-7012 8AM-12PM Mon-Fri
Outfitters are required to obtain a Special Recreation Permit from the BLM authorizing commercial river rafting on the Dolores River. For more information, visit the Dolores River Commercial Outfitters page or contact the BLM at:
BLM Tres Rios Field Office
29211 Hwy 184
Dolores, Colorado 81323
Length of Season
In an average snowpack year, the river is floatable from late April to early June. In a very dry year, there may be no boatable flows at all.
Flows on the lower Dolores River are controlled by spill releases from McPhee Reservoir, 12.5 miles upstream of the Bradfield launch site. The spill releases are managed by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). The BOR calculates their spill releases according to reservoir level, river inflow, and user demand (irrigation, municipal contracts, etc).
Recommended minimum flows:
- 200 cfs....canoes/kayaks/inflatables
- 800 cfs....small rafts to 14 feet
- 1000 cfs...large rafts to 18 feet
The Dolores River Guide covers 173 miles of the Dolores River from the Bradfield launch site to the river's confluence with the Colorado River in Utah. This 92-page waterproof guide includes detailed topographic maps showing river miles, campsites and launch sites as well as other useful information. It is available in Colorado from the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores (970-882-5600), the San Juan Mountains Association in Durango (970-247-4874), or in Dolores (970-882-7296) and local retail bookstores, boating shops and several mail-order suppliers.
Due to issues related to dogs on the Dolores River (including feces around campsites, wildlife harassment, and harassment of other boaters), all dogs must be on a leash at campsites, put-ins/take-outs, and whenever out of the boat. Dog feces must be carried out!
Avoiding the Crowds
Memorial Day Weekend is the busiest time on the Dolores River. You may encounter 200+ people at either the Bradfield or Slick Rock launch sites on Saturday morning. Mountain Sheep and Gypsum Valley launch sites are less crowded. Most parties launch between 10:00 and 11:30 AM. Competition for campsites is greatest in the Slick Rock to Bedrock stretch where campsites are limited.
Avoid camping or having lunch at the bottom of Snaggletooth rapid on river left. A real "people/boat jam" develops here with boats recovering from "Snag" and portage groups reloading and launching. There are many nice lunch spots in the next mile.
Generally, you will encounter more boating groups on weekends than during the week.
Parties of 10 or less should use small camps and leave the larger camps for the larger groups. Also, try to avoid camping within sight or sound of other groups.
Camp Snatching. Some folks feel it is essential to send a kayak ahead to secure a camp; others find this highly offensive. Things go more smoothly if this practice is avoided. When passing another group late in the day, talk about camps. Deal with it. Try to camp at the site you have discussed.
Be reasonable. Be flexible. Communicate. We are all, after all, in the same boat.
Minimizing Your Impact
By practicing the 7 Principals of Leave No Trace, we can maintain a relatively pristine, untrampled corridor of unique wildlife, cultural and recreation resources for our future use and enjoyment.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Every boater must wear a Coast Guard approved type I, III, or V personal floatation device (PFD).
- Weather during April and May can be quite cold and windy with occasional rain, and sometimes even a late season snowstorm. Hypothermia can result from this combination of factors, and boaters should be knowledgeable of its symptoms and treatment.
- Inflatable rafts should contain four air chambers.
- Carry at least one spare oar or paddle, an adequate first aid kit, a patch/repair kit and an air pump per vessel.
- Reliable drinking water is not available from the Dolores or its tributaries. Boil, purify or carry the drinking water you will need. Drinking water is available at the Bradfield launch site.
Infants & Small Children
- Infants and small children do not belong on the Dolores River. Do not allow your child onto the boat if you answer NO to any of the following questions:
- Can your child climb in & out of a boat by himself/herself?
- Is your child strong enough to hold himself/herself in a moving or bouncing boat without being held by a parent?
- Does your child have the knowledge, strength and skill to get to shore or back to a boat if he/she has fallen overboard?
- Does your child have the knowledge, strength & skill to survive a swim in cold, moving water or rapids?
- Does your child have the knowledge, strength & skill to grab hold of a thrown rope?
- The Dolores is a springtime river, which can mean very cold water and harsh changes in weather. Make the right decision for your child's safety. If you answered no to any of the previous questions, then a trip on the Dolores River may not be appropriate for your infant's or child's safety and enjoyment.
Bradfield Launch to Slick Rock
SLICK ROCK PUT-IN AND TAKE-OUT UPDATE
With the help of the Dolores Water Conservation District, the Dolores River Boating Advocates worked with the local landowners at river mile 47.25 (river left) to open this site for boating access in 2016.
The 2016 launch location is downstream of the highway 141 bridge that crosses the river. In one guide this 2016 launch location is listed as, “Chuck Wagon Cafe. Pay Phone and H2O available.” It is also known as the Slickrock Store. The location is NOT the one listed in the river guides.
There is ample parking at the site and two access points. Parking a vehicle (with or without a trailer) will be $7.00 a day.
This will be the only put-in or take-out at Slick Rock. THE OLD LAUNCH, just upstream of the bridge, that is marked in the river guides WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE.
The nearest BLM provided river access is located at the Gypsum Valley Recreation Site (see Gypsum Valley Boat Launch Map linked here).
Bradfield Launch to Gypsum Valley Recreation Site:
Maximum group size: 25
This is generally a three-day trip. One-day trips are possible between Bradfield Bridge and Mountain Sheep Point Recreation Site (19 miles). Total trip length from Bradfield Bridge to Gypsum Valley is 61 river miles.
Shuttle distance is approximately 65 miles/95 minutes one-way via paved, gravel roads, and natural surface roads. Road 20R can be very slick and muddy when wet.
This stretch of river drops an average of 19 feet per mile and contains the most difficult and challenging whitewater on the Dolores River, including "Snaggletooth Rapid" (Class IV-V).
The access point to this segment of the river is the Bradfield Recreation Site on river left 1/4 mile downstream from the Bradfield Bridge.
The Bradfield Recreation Site offers campsites, toilets, potable water, and a gravel-surfaced parking area and boat launch ramp. Campsite fees are $8.00 per night.
Sloping canyon walls covered with oakbrush and other shrubs characterize the first few miles of river below Bradfield Bridge. Then the canyon deepens, sandstone walls appear and groves of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir cover the benches along the river. This stretch of river is appropriately called "Ponderosa Gorge." The unique combination of pine groves and red sandstone cliffs makes this one of the most scenic segments of the Dolores River.
Approximately 19 miles downriver from Bradfield is the Mountain Sheep Point Recreation Site, which can be accessed by driving about 6 miles east from Dove Creek along gravel and dirt county roads (Beginning with County Road J where it intersects with Highway 491). This access site has limited parking, a boat launch ramp, toilets, and limited primitive campsites just down river at the "Box Elder" campsite. No fees are charged for camping here. There is no potable water at this site.
Snaggletooth Rapid (Class IV-V) is located about eight miles below the Mountain Sheep Point Recreation Site near mile 27. This rapid has been portaged as often as successfully run. Stop and scout this rapid (river left).
Below Snaggletooth, the canyon becomes drier and the vegetation begins to change to that of Upper Sonoran life zone. Pinyon-juniper, yucca, cactus, and various shrubs are predominant. Beyond the confluence with Disappointment Creek, the canyon widens to rolling arid hills.
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Gypsum Valley Recreation Site to Bedrock
Maximum group size: 16
This 36 mile segment of river drops an average of 10 feet per mile with fewer and less difficult rapids than the upper segment, though it still contains several short Class III drops.
The Gypsum Valley to Bedrock segment is normally run in two or three days. Trip length is 36 river miles from Gypsum Valley to Bedrock.
Shuttle distance from Gypsum Valley to Bedrock is approximately 61 miles/90 minutes one-way via paved roads.
For those familiar with the Slick Rock access, the Gypsum Valley Recreation Site is 14 miles downriver or 25 road miles from Slick Rock. From the Slick Rock bridge continue east on Highway 141 for 12 miles to graveled county road 20 R. Turn left (west) and proceed 13 miles down 20 R to the Gypsum Valley Recreation Site. Facilities include a launch ramp, parking, picnic tables, grills, and shelters. There are no toilets or potable water at this site. Camping is allowed but is very primitive.
About 16.5 miles downstream of the Slick Rock bridge site, just past the Gypsum Valley bridge, the river abruptly enters the 29,000 acre Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area. Here, the Dolores begins a series of meanders deeply entrenched in the massive sandstones of the area. The canyon is narrow and deep with towering walls that often reach skyward directly from the water's edge. Several large side canyons provide interesting hiking along this segment. Slick Rock Canyon ends abruptly at Bedrock where the river crosses Paradox Valley.
The Bedrock access is just south and west of the Bedrock Bridge. Facilities include a launch ramp, parking, picnic tables, grills and shelters. There are no toilets or potable water. Camping is allowed but is very primitive.
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