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BLM>Colorado>Field Offices>Uncompahgre>Recreation>San Miguel River Boating Info
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The San Miguel River begins in the San Juan Mountains above Telluride, Colorado and ends at the confluence with the Dolores River 72 miles downstream (near Uravan).  While the San Miguel is more or less free-flowing, diversion dams dot the river and alter its flow.  The San Miguel drops over 7,000 feet from an alpine to a desert ecosystem.  The riparian corridor is lush and contains numerous globally rare riparian plant communities.

San Miguel Leopard to Deep CreekThe San Miguel offers the whitewater boater a variety of runs, all within the class II+ to III range.  The consistent gradient and continuous flow of the river provide the boater with an abundance of whitewater, none of which is overly difficult.  While the river should be easily negotiable by the intermediate whitewater boater, numerous strainers and downed wood from spring floods can make the river more challenging than its rating would suggest.  Use caution in maneuvering around these ever-changing obstacles.



Flow:  250-550 cfs

Recommendation:  Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, rafts 12ft or smaller

  • River is less "pushy" but rapids become more technical with exposed rocks and narrow passages
  • Beware of submerged and exposed rocks
  • This flow is good for less experienced rafters and paddlers

    Flow:  550-1200 cfs

    Recommendation:  Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, rafts 14ft or smaller
  • Best level for beginner to intermediate rafters. Challenging for intermediate kayakers.

    Flow:  1200-2000 cfs

    Recommendation:  Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, rafts 14ft or smaller
  • Solid Class III with some IV possible
  • River becomes pushy and fast as flows approach 3,000 cfs. Many rapids will wash out while others will form. 
  • Beware of overhanging trees and strainers.

    Flow:  2000+ cfs (rare)

    Recommendation:  Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, rafts 14 ft

  • Link to...

    USGS Streamflow - San Miguel Near Placerville


    Commercial River Outfitters 




    San Miguel Whitewater Park in SnowBilk Creek to Down Valley Park

    Difficulty: II+--III
    Average gradient: 40-50ft./mile
    Flow: minimum 250 cfs
    Length: 10.2 miles
    Topo Maps: Grey Head; Little Cone
    Character: Small drainage, continuous yet predictable. Nice whitewater, great scenery.

    Description: This section is classic. The whitewater is straightforward and all easily boat scoutable. The beginning is quite narrow and brooklike, but picks up downstream as more creeks enter on river left. The most interesting drop is Sawpit Rapid (III), requiring straightforward maneuvering with an abundance of eddies. Sawpit is easily scoutable during the shuttle, a short distance past the town of Sawpit on Highway 145. This run is excellent at all levels with lots of eddies at flows below 750cfs, filled in and playful up to 1500 cfs, pushy and floodlike above 1500 cfs. Moss covered banks and sunlight penetrating an overhanging canopy makes an aesthetic contrast with the sandstone canyon. This run always conjures up Sherwood Forest visions. Strainer Note: Relatively few in this section.

    Put in:  Approximately 9 miles from Fall Creek Bridge on Highway 145, turn right on gravel road to Illium Valley.  Next right, then one quarter mile to small camping area along the river.  Easily bicycled or hitched.  The run can easily be divided in half by using Silver Pick Road Bridge (approximately halfway) as either a put-in or take-out.

    Take out: Down Valley Park, just off of Highway 145 between the hamlets of Placerville and Sawpit.



    Rafting the San MiguelDown Valley Park to Specie Creek 

    Difficulty: II+ - III
    Average gradient: 30 - 40ft./mile
    Flow: minimum 250 cfs
    Length: 6.5 miles
    Topo Maps: Little Cone; Placerville
    Character: Somewhat rural, less busy than the Sawpit section. Blind corners.

    Description: This section of the San Miguel River is one of the easiest and most straightforward. It's less busy than the section above through Bilk Creek and Sawpit, though the river still contains its continuous nature. Down Valley Park to Specie Creek is an excellent warm up run or good first time on the San Miguel run. The canyon in this section is making the transition into high desert and is quite scenic. This run has good play spots at higher water (above 1250 cfs). Strainer note: There's quite a slew of down wood about a mile above the Specie Creek take out, scoutable on the shuttle, portage river right.

    Put In: Down Valley Park, off of Hwy 145 between the hamlets of Placerville and Sawpit. Easily bicycled or hitched.

    Take Out: Specie Creek Bridge, approximately 3.5 miles north of Hwy 62 junction, turn left off of Hwy 145.



    Rafting the San MiguelSpecie Creek to Beaver Creek

    Difficulty: II+ - III
    Average gradient: 30 - 40 ft./mile
    Flow: minimum 250 cfs
    Length: 9.5 miles
    Topo Maps: Placerville; Gurley Canyon
    Character: Pinon pines and junipers dot the canyon. Sandstone canyon begins to open up.

    Description: This section has a number of blind corners adding a little zip to the whitewater. The boating in this section is similar to that above, continuous yet very straightforward. Strainer Note: At high water, there isn't an abundance of eddies, so keep an eye out for wood.

    Put In: Specie Creek bridge, heading north, turn left off of Hwy 145 approximately 3.5 miles past the junction of Hwy 62 and 145. Easily bicycled or hitched.

    Take Out: Beaver Creek, (turn off easy to miss) turn left off of Hwy 145 approximately 9.5 miles after Specie Creek.



    Kayaking the San MiguelNorwood Canyon/Ledges

    Difficulty: II+ - III
    Average gradient: 30 - 40ft./mile
    Flow: minimum 250 cfs
    Length: 20 miles
    Topo Maps: Gurley Canyon; Sanborn Park; Big Bucktail Creek
    Character: Semi-wilderness run through a beautiful desert canyon.

    Description: This section is a gem. 20 miles (maybe even a couple more) through a stunning desert canyon. Even though there are a couple of dirt roads on either end of the run, one would never know it - this section has a true wilderness character. Can be done in a long day or a couple of shorter ones.

    There is a lowhead diversion dam approximately 2/3 through the run, creating powerful recirculating hydraulics during high spring runoff. A BLM warning sign is on river right.  Portage is recommended at high flows. 

    The most interesting part of the run comes at the end (the best for last!) - the Ledges. Here the river flows over sandstone bedrock creating a few waves but mainly ledge holes. Lots of surfing to be had here (rafts too), good at any level and a wee bit trashy above 1500 cfs. The take out is a mile or so after the Ledges and just before the bridge on river left.

    Put In: Beaver Creek, (turn off easy to miss) turn left off of Hwy 145 approximately 9.5 miles after Specie Creek. If you cross Norwood Bridge turn around - it's behind you.

    Take Out: From the Beaver Creek put in drive on Hwy 145 over the Norwood Bridge, up the Norwood Hill, through the town of Norwood turn right on Hwy 90 shortly after the junction of Hwy 141. Pinon Bridge located approximately seven miles later at confluence of Cottonwood Creek - Hwy 90 leaves the San Miguel at this point. Not easily bicycled or hitched. It's a doosey of a shuttle, though quite scenic, offering simultaneous views of both the La Salle and the San Juan Mountains, with the desert in between - Abbey's country.



    Teresa Pfifer, Acting Field Manager

    Phone: (970) 240-5300  |  TDD: (970) 240-5366  |  FAX: (970) 240-5367

    2465 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO  81401

    Office Hours: 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

    Click on the address above for a map showing the location of

    BLM Uncompahgre Field Office administrative headquarters

    UFO San Miguel River Landscape