Frequently Asked Questions
Slow, flat, moving water. Few, if any, obstacles.
Class II: A bit quicker current. Small waves and maybe easily avoidable obstacles.
Class III: Fast, moving current. Large waves with some obstacles involved in successful navigation. Playful "holes". Well-defined lines, or routes. Typically there is ample recovery time after the rapid.
Class IV: Bigger, more powerful waves. Big "holes" sometimes best avoided. Many obstacles and confusing lines or routes, which may be complicated by powerful waves pushing you "off line". Excellent equipment and skills required. Recovery time, but usually not much.
Class V: Huge, irregular waves and must miss "holes". One line, if that, stay on it. Extremely technical and difficult. Expert skills required. Rescue or recovery difficult at best.
Class VI: Generally considered to be not navigable.
WAO is one mile west of Canon City, Colorado on U.S. Highway 50. We are about 2 hours south of Denver and 1 hour southwest of Colorado Springs. We are about 40 minutes west of I-25 in Pueblo. Visit our Directions Page for driving instructions, info & tips on finding us. Our office is easy to find.
First of all, our office is open year-round and reservations and inquiries can be made 7 days a week from 8 AM to 8 PM mountain time. WAO is open and running trips seasonally from mid-April through Labor Day, sometimes well into September, depending on river flows. The "peak" runoff period, or high water, occurs sometime between late May and late June, typically. The more snow in the mountains, the later the peak.
The river is the busiest from late June to mid August or so. Therefore, the best time to do an overnight trip is earlier in the season. (No crowds). July and August promise the warmest weather. If planning a half-day trip, mornings are generally less crowded and the sun is most likely to be shining. Afternoon trips, while usually warmer, are more likely to see a bit of rain or even a thunderstorm.
We do NOT cancel trips due to the weather. Early season can be cool, but the climate in Canon City and the immediate area is considered to be the mildest in the State. A friend of mine refers to Canon City as "Palm Springs, Colorado." Mid-summer highs often top 90 or even 100 degrees here.
Safety is paramount at WAO. We are fully licensed by the State of Colorado and hold an operating agreement (permit) from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. The AHRA are the "river rangers" and our regulating body. Their office can be reached by calling 719 539 7289 during normal business hours. They are very familiar with our operation and hold us in the highest regard. We employ only professional boatmen to guide our trips. The experience level of the guides at WAO far exceed the standards set by the State and those of most other rafting companies on the river. Our seasoned guides are THE REASON we continue to receive excellent reviews and many repeat customers. Most of our guides have many years of professional river experience. You simply cannot find a crew more worthy of your trust than our guides at WAO. All have been fully trained in First Aid, CPR and river rescue techniques. Some have credentials that exceed those required by law.
Overall, injuries are rare. Yes, people do fall out occasionally. I like to tell people that if you listen to your guide and do as they say, you're not going to fall in the river. Pay attention. Another key consideration is the type of trip you plan to undertake. As in skiing, all runs are not created equal. Different water levels can dramatically change the level of difficulty. Don't get in over your head, ask questions when you call our office and be honest with us and with yourself when we ask you questions. Always factor in the person in your group with the LEAST experience and/or ability, such as children or seniors. As with any activity which involves the outdoors and some level of participation, there are inherent risks involved. While we do consider risk mitigation & attempt to minimize risk exposure, the risks cannot be eliminated due to the very nature of rafting. Our guides will instruct you on what to expect and what is expected of you, the best thing you can do to minimize risk is to listen and follow instructions. A detailed "safety speech" and trip orientation is given to all participants before embarking on your raft trip.
You will be the most comfortable in things that dry quickly. If the weather is warm, and that is most typical, dress to get wet. Swimsuits, shorts and T-shirts are fine. Appropriate footwear is a must. Old pair of tennis shoes, "Chacos" or "Teva"-type sport sandals (the guides choice of footwear) is best. Wool socks or no socks. If it is expected to be a cool day, rule number one is NO cotton.... Cotton has a cooling effect on your body as it steals heat from you as it attempts to dry! A wool sweater or fleece jacket is good to have along on any raft trip. We offer a complete line of clean wetsuits, spray jackets and river boots in our office at no charge. Again, expect to get wet!
If you wear glasses or plan to wear sunglasses, a retaining strap such as a "Chums" or "Croakies" is the key to still owning your glasses at the end of the day. Sunscreen and/or a hat are also good to have. Please leave your phone in your car. The general rule is "if you don't want to lose it or get it soaking wet, don't bring it" (Whatever it may be). Don't forget your spirit of adventure.
No. We offer trips that are appropriate for those who cannot swim and for young children. Be sure you mention there is a non-swimmer in your family or group when you make a reservation. We also can accommodate special needs to a certain degree. Let our friendly staff in the office know of any special needs, requests or requirements when you call and we will do everything within our resources to accommodate you. We also appreciate knowing about any medical conditions that could potentially be a factor in planning the right trip for you.
While we do offer trips for the entire family, and over half the groups we take involve kids, there are limits to what is considered acceptable. On our beginner or family class trips we take young children, but they must weigh at least 45 lbs. The size restrictions are due to the proper fitting of a PFD, or lifejacket, that all participants must wear while on the river. The biggest people we can properly fit in a PFD have a chest size of about 55 inches. Folks larger than 300 pounds should reconsider going on a raft trip. Due to insurance and State Parks regs, you must wear one of our lifejackets. We cannot allow anyone to wear their own floatation device.
Yes, a professional photography company shoots photos of all our boats on every trip. These photos will be made available at the end of your trip upon return to the office. They do quality work and offer excellent service.
At WAO, unlike many other companies, our guides are expert at both full participation (paddle boats) and oarboats. A paddleboat is where everyone is a participant and are reliant mostly upon themselves to get down the river. There is a guide aboard with you, but they act as instructors more than navigators. Paddleboats are for people who can effectively paddle as part of a team. Teamwork is key with this popular method of rafting. Paddling is an all or nothing option, if you have someone in your group who is not a willing and/or capable paddler the better option is an oarboat. Kids younger than 14 aren't often effective as paddlers. Our general rule is kids must be as big as a paddle. Paddles are 5' tall.
An oarboat is where the guide rows the boat and your primary responsibility is to hang on and enjoy. Oarboats often have two paddlers in the front helping at critical times, so it can be arranged where some participate and others don't. The actual boat itself is the same as a paddleboat, just rigged, or equipped, differently. The guide is in as complete control as is possible with this method. This is the preferred, and usually required, option for families with young children. It is also very popular with the "nervous novice." Either method can be requested in advance, but your guide makes the final call. These options are discussed at check-in time in our office to make sure there isn't a misunderstanding and that you are on the most appropriate type of trip. At extremely high water on a difficult section, oarboats may become mandatory.
We have a dog kennel on our property that rafting guests are welcome to use during your trip. There is no overnight boarding, this is a courtesy only during the time you are on the river. Our kennel is secure, but we cannot be responsible for your pet. If your dog is a known "escape artist" we suggest you make other arrangements. There is no charge to use our kennel, but we recommend you book it in advance so we can save it for you on the day of your trip.
Certainly we can accomodate those who are not travelling with a parent or legal guardian and we do so nearly every day. You will need to contact us prior to your trip to get our "youth waiver" which must be signed by a parent or legal guardian before you arrive at check-in time for your raft trip. Doing this in advance will assure a quicker, hassle free check-in.
We operate in a State Park and are mandated to collect a user fee in order for the Park to operate. We also access private land and/or vehicles on many of our trips and pay fees according to levels of use and impact. These fees are included in the cost of your trip. River boots are available in our office for a small rental fee. There are photos taken of each boat on every trip and those will be made available for viewing and purchase at the end of your trip. We also have a small retail store with drinks, snacks, T-shirts, hats, waterproof cameras, glasses retainers and other sundry items.
We try to be as flexible as possible by offering launch times that differ from our normal schedule; although at very busy times this may not be possible. We can add lunch to a half-day trip for an extra charge. Menus can accommodate special dietary needs or intolerances. We can split a group so some can simultaneously participate in an advanced trip while others enjoy calmer water. Visit our Packages Page to plan a complete vacation in the area inclusive of lodging and other fun activities.
Our reservation lines are answered 7 days a week, year-round, from 8 AM to 8 PM Mountain Time. While advance reservations are strongly recommended, we also take walk-ins on a space available basis. Weekends in June are typically the first days to book up and any day from July 4th weekend to mid-August is likely to be busy.
To reserve your trip we require a 50% deposit at the time of booking and the balance is due 72 hours prior to check-in time for your trip. For certain trips, such as Browns Canyon, or for our "Package" trips we require full payment at the time of your reservation.
Questions you should be prepared to answer when you call to make a reservation are: What date do you wish to go? How many people are in your group? What trip do you want to reserve? Some trips have more than one departure time. Do you prefer morning or afternoon? Are there kids going and what are the ages?
YOU WILL RECEIVE A FULL REFUND IF YOU CANCEL AT LEAST 10 DAYS PRIOR TO THE DATE OF YOUR TRIP, LESS A $10.00 PER PERSON, PER DAY CANCELLATION FEE.
50% IS RETAINED IF YOU CANCEL LESS THAN 10 DAYS BEFORE THE DATE OF YOUR TRIP, AND AT LEAST 72 HOURS IN ADVANCE OF YOUR CHECK-IN TIME. ANY CANCELLATION LESS THAN 72 HOURS PRIOR TO YOUR TRIP DEPARTURE TIME WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE FULL AMOUNT OF THE TRIP. THIS APPLIES TO THOSE WHO SHOW UP WITH LESS THAN THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE THE RESERVATION WAS MADE FOR, NO SHOWS OR THOSE WHO MAY BE LATE AND MISS THEIR TRIP DEPARTURE.
KEEP IN MIND THAT ONCE YOU RESERVE YOUR TRIP, YOU MAY BE CHARGED THE REMAINING BALANCE 72 HOURS PRIOR TO YOUR TRIP DEPARTURE DATE AND TIME. AT THIS POINT THERE IS NO LONGER AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A REFUND OF ANY KIND.
Yes. On a space availability basis. We try very hard to accommodate Walk-in customers and if we can’t do it, we will do everything within our resources to get you on a trip elsewhere although at very busy times this is not always possible.
Our trips run on a schedule. We operate in a Colorado State Park and there are times we can be, and times we cannot be, on the river. We have specific morning check-in times and afternoon check-in times for all our most popular trips. Full day trips are always a morning check-in time. One of our other considerations for scheduling is our “shuttle system” which is how we transport people to & from the access points along the river where our trips begin and end.