Road Trip Day 15 – Adventure in the Rocky Mountains

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I don't think any bout of travel would be complete without getting the adrenaline pumping at least a little bit. (This coming, of course, from someone who has been bungy jumping 3 times!)

So when my sister and I decided to add Colorado to our road trip plans, we knew we'd have to have some fun in the Rocky Mountains. And, staying in Keystone meant we had a lot of activities to choose from.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

On Day 15, we woke up early to drive roughly an hour to a little outpost near Buena Vista, Colorado. The drive twisted and turned through the Rockies, and included at least one mountain pass that was above 10,000 feet. Did I mention I love mountains?


From the outpost, Arkansas Valley Adventures operates all sorts of adventure activities, from zip lining to whitewater rafting. We were booked on a full-day zip lining and rafting tour, and arrived early so we could check in and start getting our gear.

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

We began the morning with a couple of hours on the zip lining course, which is relatively brand new (this is its first season in operation). There are currently 5 zip lines on the course — all with fantastic views out over the valley.

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado
You can't beat these views.

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

It was the first time my sister and I had been zip lining, but our guides for the morning were great, and we had no problems catching on. In fact, nobody in our group had any major issues on the course, though we did get a bit of training beforehand on what to do if we found ourselves in trouble (the term “self-rescue” was used a lot). Thankfully, though, nobody needed any sort of rescuing, and the morning was a lot of fun. (Though I will say that the short hike up the mountain to the first zip line made me acutely aware of how high up in elevation we were! I was out of breath in like a minute.)

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

After zip lining, we were fed lunch, and then given about 2 hours to relax before we would yet again gear up for more adventure.

Zip Lining, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Melissa and I took a short drive to Buena Vista so we could check out the nearby range of “Fourteeners,” or mountains with summits that are above 14,000 feet. There are an abundance of them around this area, and they really were a sight to see. Some even still had traces of snow on them, even in mid-August.

Returning to the AVA outpost in the afternoon, we donned life vests and helmets and clambered into an old school bus with about 16 other people in preparation for whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

AVA offers a variety of rafting options on the Arkansas, from relaxing float trips to challenging Class 5 rafting. My sister and I — being beginners — were signed up to raft about 11 miles of the river with Class 2 and 3 rapids. (Though, we were later told by a guide that, since the river level was so low, the rapids were all closer to being Class 2.)

It was about a 20 minute ride out to the launch point a few miles upstream of Browns Canyon, where we divided up into smaller groups and met our raft guides for the afternoon.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Our boat's guide — Brandon — went over all the safety instructions with us and taught us all the commands we would need to know to successfully paddle our way through all the rapids. Right away, I knew Brandon would be a great guide. Not only did he know the river well (this was his second season working with AVA as a guide), but he was young, excited, and seemed to have a good sense of humor (for example, he told us that while he did not encourage trying to push each other out of the boat, he did encourage both crying and heckling/splashing other boats).

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

The first few miles of the river were fairly calm, so we used the time to get our paddling down right and get to know each other a bit better. It wasn't until we were entering Browns Canyon that the water started getting rougher.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado
Heading into the “Zoom Flume” rapid.

Let me be upfront and tell you that whitewater rafting can definitely be dangerous. You are not strapped into your boat, and people DO fall out. Rafting also will probably make you sore if you're not used to wielding a paddle for hours at a time.

But it's also incredibly fun.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Once we started hitting the rapids, the time seemed to fly by, and we had a blast on the river. Sure, the rapids weren't very huge, but it was still a rush diving through them and bouncing off rocks. Since our boat was full of (relatively) physically fit adults, Brandon had some fun with us and took some lines down the river that he doesn't normally take — including going through a few rapids sideways, or even backwards.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

We definitely had the best guide.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

As we approached each rapid, Brandon would tell us its name (or sometimes its nickname, like “Hemorrhoid Rock, because it's a real pain in the ass“), and tell us which way to swim if we fell out of the boat. There was always that anticipation before each rapid to see if anyone was going to become a “swimmer.” But, everyone stayed in the boat. Brandon was actually a little disappointed by this, and attempted to flip us all over during the last 100 yards or so of the river. We, however, had other ideas — like staying out of the chilly water. We threatened to throw him in instead.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado
The Arkansas River

The only people who got wet were those who decided to cliff jump into the river at the only stop we made during the trip. One of the guides even launched himself off the cliff in a tiny kayak (see the video), though I would not recommend anyone else trying it!

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

So, was rafting the adrenaline-inducing activity I hoped it would be? Yes and no. It was a ton of fun, but it would have been much scarier had the river been higher (we were rafting at the very end of the season, when all the snowmelt had already gone). But, thanks to some great guides and fun companions, Day 15 stands out as one of my favorite days during this road trip.

White Water Rafting, Arkansas Valley Adventures, Colorado

Each day, I’ll be cutting together a quick video to show you what we’ve been up to. Here’s Day 15:

Tomorrow, it's on to Denver!

Dislcaimer: We were given what amounted to a 50 percent discount on our zip lining/rafting day tour with AVA. But, as always, all opinions are my own. (And, to be honest, this day trip was worth plenty more than the full price of $160 per person.)

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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35 Comments on “Road Trip Day 15 – Adventure in the Rocky Mountains

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  1. My son and I are planning this same trip for 2020, Not sure of the month yet but thinking may or june,

    what river guide would you recommend, what is the name of the raft rental company and the location?

      The company we went with is linked in this post – it’s called Arkansas Valley Adventures, and they have trips all over the state of Colorado depending on which river you’re interested in. We did their Rafting + Zipline package.

    […] I’ve been white water rafting before, so I more or less knew what to expect. Except that rafting the Soča is quite different from rafting other rivers. First of all, the water color is UNREAL. And second of all, the water is FREEZING year-round. We had to wear thick wet suits and deal with numb appendages for the hour or so that we were on the water. But it was SO worth it. (Photo taken by our guide.) And we’re off! (Photo taken by our guide.) Look at that setting! (Photo taken by our guide.) […]

    […] After all, you may never get the chance to visit some of these places again. If you want to go whitewater rafting in Colorado, on a hot air balloon ride in Monument Valley, or to every museum you pass, do it. I’m sure your […]

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