The Arkansas River at Captain Zipline

Arkansas River in Salida, Colorado

During your zip line tour, your group will cross the canyon and then embark on a leisurely ascent up a windy path through juniper, scrub brush, and pinyon pine trees. When you reach the top of our zip line trail, we take a break to step onto the deck along the edge of the highest peak of the tour (500 ft. above the Arkansas River). The scenery couldn’t be better if hand-picked: stunning vistas of soaring mountains…the gurgling Arkansas River…and, on most days, cotton candy clouds dotting the great big blue sky.

The Arkansas River is a major draw in the region. It is also a major tributary of the Mississippi River. This ~1500 mile-long river flows in an east-southeast direction, through the states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and finally, Arkansas. It is the second-longest tributary of the Mississippi and the sixth-longest river in the United States. More importantly–at least to Colorado tourists–it is the most commercially rafted river in the country.

The river has its origins in Lake County, Colorado near the historic mining town of Leadville and winds its way to its mouth at Napoleon, Arkansas. It is the 150-mile stretch through Colorado where it is the most awesome. More than 500,000 outdoors lovers enjoy the river and its immediate surroundings every year. This river plays host to the usual hordes of rafters, kayakers, and anglers; campers and those out for wildlife viewing also enjoy the Arkansas and all it has to offer. It is purported to have some of the most incredible whitewater in the country.

Throughout Colorado, the Arkansas River can be accessed at hundreds of sites; a few of the most popular are located in Buena Vista, Salida, Pinnacle Rock, and Cañon City. Some of the more notable features of the river include: the “Numbers Rapids” just north of Buena Vista; Brown’s Canyon, possibly the most famous section of the river given the quality rapids and pristine beauty of the area; and the “Sledgehammer Rapids” sandwiched between the 1,000-foot sheer rock walls of the Royal Gorge. Anything from “wild-to-mild” rapids, Class IV and V to Class I and II, can be found along the Arkansas as it rampages through the Rocky Mountains.

Spring and summer are the best times to raft the river since there is usually considerable run-off from the melting snowpack, the “liquid fuel” of the river. These times are also great for zipping as well! In addition, the fall time of the year is a good choice to visit Captain Zipline since the temperatures are still very pleasant, in general, and the scenery and experience just as amazing!

In the first hundred-mile section of the river, it drops more than 4,500 feet while running through some fairly narrow sections. These factors create a violent, churning waterway, especially during times of greatest snowpack melt. Once the river reaches Pueblo in the eastern part of Colorado, it is a much different river. Here, it widens out into the Great Plains region and much of the fury from the steep descent through narrow Rocky Mountain channels is a mere memory.

The characteristics of the river throughout its Colorado route make it navigable by only small rafts, canoes, and kayaks. But once it spreads out into the Great Plains and is controlled by a series of locks and dams, the Arkansas becomes navigable by barges and large river craft (the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which originates in the Tulsa port of Catoosa and runs through Oklahoma and then Arkansas, allows navigation by commercial craft such as barges).

Besides its value as a major recreational site, especially in the state of Colorado, water from the river is heavily utilized in crop irrigation. So much so that flow (as measured in central Kansas) has dropped from an average of about 250 cubic feet per second during the years 1944-1963 to around 50 cubic feet per second from 1984-2003. Most of this “loss” of river water is due to pumping of groundwater for farming operations in the eastern part of Colorado and western Kansas.

Some of the cities along the Arkansas River include Pueblo, Colorado; Wichita, Kansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Little Rock, Arkansas. Of course, we folks at Captain Zipline maintain that the most important community alongside the Arkansas River is the multidimensional town of Salida, Colorado. Everything from historic red brick buildings, unique art, wonderful restaurants, and endless outdoors activities can be found in this beautiful yet “unpretentious” mountain town. And of course, the USA’s third zip line and one of the most touted national adventure activities is right in Salida’s backyard, Captain Zipline Adventure Tours.