Your Brief Historical Timeline on Whitewater Rafting in Colorado

whitewater rafting

Colorado is known for its vast array of outdoor activities, and one of its most well known activities is whitewater rafting.

Whitewater rafting has been at the forefront of outdoor recreation for years, but where did it come from and how long have people been enjoying days on the river?

In order to look at the history of rafting, we need to look a little closer to the history of the Colorado River – which is one of the most rafted rivers in the US.

Colorado River:

  • 1500’s
    • At the start of the 1500’s explorers from Spain were in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. Which were believed to have been built by the Native Americans somewhere in the southwestern desert. 
    • In 1536 Francisco de Ulloa was the first explorer to discover the Colorado River.
    • It wasn’t until 1540-1542 when Francisco Vasquez de Coronado went looking for the Seven Cities of Gold when the Colorado river was Coursed and Mapped out.
  • 1800’s
    • The Colorado River was one of the last unexplored parts of america.
    • John Wesley Powell was the first man to attempt and raft down the Colorado river. He had planned a trip starting in Wyoming going through Colorado and down to Arizona. Powell was determined to discover what secrets the three hundred mile canyon of the Colorado river had to offer.
    • Powell had a crew of nine men and four boats the journey the men were about to make would be over nine hundred miles and none of the men had any experience whitewater rafting. 
    • Through the four month journey John Wesley’s team traveled across 4 states over nine hundred miles. They lost one of the four boats and four members of his crew bailed out two days before they reached the final destination of the trip.
    • Most of the data that they had collected was actually lost during the trip and John Wesley Powell had to make a second voyage to complete his geographical findings. 

Welsey Powell opened our eyes to the way we see adventure and was a frontier in exploring the great unknowns. His four month long journey to collect data and information about the Colorado River and the Infamous Grand Canyon shaped adventures of today and have forever changed.

Whitewater Rafting:

  • 1900
    • The rubber whitewater rafting raft was created and mostly used in military endevours, but this is when we begin to see the emergence of whitewater rafting as we know it.
    • In the 1950s a resort was opened on the Snake River in the Grand Tetons and about 500 people floated on the snake river in a rubber raft.
    • The first commercial rafting companies emerge in the 1960s and 1970s.
    • The gear continues to evolve and become and more and more popular summer sport every year.
    • Whitewater rafting appeared in the Olympics in 1992.

Breckenridge Whitewater Rafting started running commercial trips on the Arkansas River in 1998 and we raft over 300,000 miles each summer. Our love for whitewater rafting continues to grow and we want to share it with you!