Stand Up Paddle

Get to Know our Local Rivers


When you think of river running destinations in Colorado, towns like Salida, Durango or Glenwood Springs come to mind. Classic runs like Browns Canyon, Shoshone, and the Royal Gorge have been taking clients to the edge for years. “Sledgehammer” (IV/V), “Raft Ripper” (III/IV) and “Upper Death” (VI) are etched into the minds of river running enthusiasts around Colorado. But who has ever heard to “The Ledges” (III) or “Paul’s Falls” (III)? Who has ever heard of Anthracite Creek?

The little town of Hotchkiss, Population 907, is relatively unknown outside of Colorado’s Western Slope. But as traditional vacation destinations around Colorado are becoming busy and crowded, more people are discovering our small, sunny town. One thing they are discovering here are the rivers: The Gunnison, North Fork of the Gunnison and Anthracite Creek. These three rivers offer the full gamut of experiences that river runners seek. From heart pounding whitewater on Anthracite Creek, to beginner level rapids on the North Fork, to a lazy float through the Canyons of the Gunnison, Hotchkiss has it all.

So far this year, Western Slope SUP has helped over 360 first timers discover these local rivers. The consensus is unanimous. There are some real gems here in Hotchkiss. Here are their bios:

The Gunnison River: The ultimate “not-so-lazy” river cuts an 8 mile desert canyon below the town of Hotchkiss. The water is predominantly calm and smooth, with a few fun splashy class I/II rapids thrown in. Fishing, tubing, kayaking and now stand up paddle are become popular in this natural playground.

Our stand up paddle tour on the Gunnison River. Great for first timers!

Our stand up paddle tour on the Gunnison River. Great for first timers!

North Fork of the Gunnison: This 33 mile long river begins in the pine forested West Elk Mountains and ends in spectacular desert canyons. It flows through the towns of Somerset, Paonia and Hotchkiss. Along the way it features continuous gradient, which means exciting class I-III rapids from start to finish, including the half mile long “Ledges” section between Paonia and Hotchkiss. The scenery in the North Fork Gorge, below Hotchkiss cannot be beat. The gorge is home to dripping springs, waterfalls and fascinating geologic formations.

High water on the North Fork of the Gunnison River

High water on the North Fork of the Gunnison River

Anthracite Creek: This raging creek is a tributary of the North Fork. The six mile section which we raft, features continuous class II/III whitewater. There is no adventure in our area, on or off the river, more extreme than a raft trip on Anthracite.

A wild ride on Anthracite Creek.

A wild ride on Anthracite Creek.

Western Slope SUP offers guided tours on all three of these local rivers. The North Fork and Anthracite Creek generally run during the months of May and June only, while the Gunnison is boatable every day of the year. Though our tours are suitable for beginners, only experienced, highly competent boaters should attempt to run these rivers without a guide. Want to learn more about our rivers? Call or email WSSUP any time!

Standing on Water

I remember the first time I stood on a paddle board. Five years ago I unstrapped my mom’s board from the roof of my Subaru and carried it across the sand of Goleta Beach. I was visiting home for a week. Most of my friends had moved away , my parents worked during the day and I was left with the task of entertaining myself for the majority of my visit. My 50 year old mother had recently developed a passion for paddling and bought a board. So one afternoon with time to kill I decided to get out of the house and try it out.

 In Santa Barbara, California the most accessible body of water is the Pacific Ocean and I though the calm waters of Goleta beach would make a great place to try SUP. I spent my childhood here body-surfing the shore break and browning my skin on the warm sand. On this evening a gentle breeze rustled the palm fronds above, and the sun, low on the horizon invited me out to sea.

Standing next to the crashing surf, I realized I had no idea how to maneuver a paddle board so I went back to my surfer roots and got on my belly to paddle through the crashing waves. Fifteen minutes later, the board, paddle and I successfully made it past the breakers. Getting my footing on the tippy fiberglass board was a challenge, but the reward of paddling out into the setting sun, rocking on the gentle swell made it all worthwhile.

A seal surfaced beside me as I became aware of the kelp forest I was standing above. Minnows swam below me between its giant vines. Somewhere down there small sharks chased bigger fish through the maze of kelp. Phosphorescent plankton began to glow in the wake of my board. I smelled charcoal and Tri-Tip smoke from a barbeque far off on the beach. I heard the hollow thud of footsteps on the pier above me as I followed it a quarter mile out to sea.  

It wasn’t the board, the paddle or the balancing act that drew me to stand up paddle boarding. It was new vantage point it provided me. Much like riding a motorcycle or an airplane for the first time, experiencing life from a SUP was a whole new way to see the world. The environment around me and the calm that came over me turned a familiar beach into a new world of wonder. Since that day, SUP has provided me a new amazing way to experience beaches, rivers and lakes across the country. I continue to enjoy experiences I could not duplicate without standing above the water. I am forever thankful for Mom and her fiberglass board, and I never go on a road trip without mine. 

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