Although Colorado is a landlocked state, we are fortunate to be surrounded by numerous bodies of water. There are hundreds of lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams, right outside our backdoor. In Steamboat Springs, nothing beats the summer heat like a relaxing float down the Yampa River, or an afternoon of paddle boarding at Pearl Lake.

Paddle Boarding at Pearl Lake

For most of the summer, the waters around Steamboat are cool, refreshing, and slow-moving. However, during the spring runoff, our local tributaries can reach flows of over 3,000 CFI (cubic feet per second) as the winter snow melts and fills our streams and rivers.

As a member of our local Search and Rescue team, I had the opportunity to participate in a swift water rescue training this past weekend. Hosted by the Steamboat Springs Fire Department, the training included both dry land skill review, and in-water scenarios. We spent the morning learning about different swift water hazards in our area, walked through a myriad of rescue techniques, and acquainted ourselves with the various pieces of rescue equipment. In the afternoon, we had a chance to don our dry suits and practice the rescue techniques we had gone over earlier that day.

Swift water rescue training with the Steamboat Springs Fire Department and Routt County SAR

Hopefully I will never have to use the skills that I acquired during the training, but I did learn a number of valuable tips that anyone can use to ensure a safe and enjoyable day on the water. No matter the season, it is always important to practice water safety.

Throw bag practice at Dr. Rich Weiss Park

During the spring runoff (May and early June), conditions on the Yampa River are prime for rafting, kayaking and SUPing. If you are less experienced, but still want the thrill of fast-moving water, there are a number of local outfitters that can help. Mountain Sports Kayak School is a household name in local river recreation, working on the Yampa River since 1980. They offer a variety of lessons, clinics and tours, for water enthusiasts of all abilities. Paddleboard Adventure Company offers 1.5 and 2.5 hour paddle board lessons on the Yampa River. You’ll start on the calm, flat waters of Fetcher Pond to review the basics, then hit the river to show off your newly acquired skills. If you are looking for a rafting adventure, but don’t want to travel outside the valley, Bucking Rainbow Outfitters offers “town stretch” rafting trips throughout May and June.

Paddle boarder surfing a wave on the Yampa River

5 Tips for Swift Water Fun on the Yampa River

  1. Get a Guide – If you are inexperienced in swift water recreation, or unfamiliar with the area, utilize a local outfitter to ensure a safe and enjoyable day on the water.
  2. Safety First – Always wear proper safety equipment, including a personal flotation device (PFD) and helmet.
  3. Stay Warm – Remember that the water you are playing in was snow not too long ago. Protect yourself against the cold by wearing a wetsuit or drysuit. Not only will they keep you warm, they will also help protect against minor cuts, scrapes and abrasions.
  4. Steer Clear – Stay away from trees, bushes, and other debris in the water and along the banks. If you happen to fall into fast-moving water, practice a defensive swimming technique (on your back, feet forward, facing downstream) so you can fend off obstacles and avoid entrapment.
  5. Buddy System – Never recreate on the water by yourself. Friends are always more fun anyway.


Yampa River Festival – Photo: Friends of the Yampa

In just a few short weeks, the spring runoff will end, making way for tubing season on the Yampa River. A must-do activity, tubing the Yampa offers a unique tour of downtown Steamboat. The float can be as long or as short as you make it, and there are plenty of riverside stops like parks, restaurants and bars along the way.

Kayaking the D-Hole in front of the Steamboat Depot

5 Tips for Summer Tubing on the Yampa River

  1. Use a Commercial Outfitter – This is the easiest and most reliable way to tube the river. It also saves you the hassle of parking and shuttling vehicles across town. Outfitters such as Backdoor Sports will provide you with a durable tube, safety information, transportation to/from the put-in and take-out, as well as a wealth of local knowledge to make your day on the river a memorable experience.
  2. Wear Proper Footwear – Make sure to wear sandals with secure straps (Teva, Chaco and Keen) or water shoes. Loose flip-flops rarely survive the trip, ending up as trash and polluting the river ecosystem.
  3. Rig to Flip – Know that you may end up in the water at any point during your float. Make sure that items such as loose clothing, water bottles and sunglasses are secure. Many outfitters provide or sell waterproof dry bags that you can store gear in and attach to your tube.
  4. Leave no Trace – Help keep the Yampa River beautiful by properly disposing of any trash you bring on the river. Mesh drag bags can easily be clipped to your tube, keeping your beverages cold, and your trash out of the river.
  5. Safety Gear – Life jackets are always recommended, especially when water levels are high and the water is moving fast. This doesn’t just happen during spring runoff, but can occur after a period of heavy rain. Small children and those who are not strong swimmers should always wear a life jacket.


Emily Hines is the marketing and special events coordinator for the City of Steamboat Springs. Emily was born and raised in the Yampa Valley and attended the University of Oregon, where she received a Bachelor of Science in business administration with concentrations in marketing and sports business. In 2013, after seven years working on the East Coast for a lifestyle and sports marketing agency, she found her way back home to Steamboat. She loves the outdoors and enjoys sharing her adventures and all that Steamboat has to offer.

Read more from Emily here.

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