Boulder Creek - Lower Boulder Canyon



As a Boulder local, I have a love hate relationship with Boulder creek.  It's Boulder's main artery and so much fun at elusive high flows, but so rocky and poor quality at low flows.  Why people insist on dropping everything to run this stretch of "almost" whitewater at 200 cfs is beyond me, especially since there are almost always better options with just a little extra driving.  Maybe it's the hords of slightly intoxicated college girls in bikinis tubing through the sticky whitewater park in town.  For me, the run gets good when the tubing ban goes into effect for the creek (about 500 cfs).

Lower Boulder Canyon describes the section of Boulder Canyon from Fourmile Canyon to the Boulder playpark.  This is a short but fun run above Boulder.  Most of the run is singletrack boating with one distinct rapid at the Elephant Buttress.  At low flows this run can be quite easy, but at higher flows it's fast and continuous.  Always be on the lookout for wood, overhanging trees, and bridges.  From the put-in, follow the flow, punch every hole, and dodge anything that looks like a rock.  At low flows expect a lot of mank.  At high flows the run will go by in a blink of the eye. 

When you see the Elephant Buttress climbing area and cross under a bridge, you're close to the Elephant Buttress rapid.  This is class IV at most water levels, but at higher water it's big and pushy with a consequential swim and is probably in the class V range.  It's a good idea to scout this long rapid.  At lower water it requires some technical moves to avoid protruding rocks.  At high water the goal is to stay in the middle as you fight big lateral waves trying to throw you off line. 

Some people do this run extremely low, presumably because it's close to town but my tolerance for a fun minimum is closer to 350cfs.  At higher flows it's best to combine this run with the stretches higher up the canyon.

An excerpt from an anonymous friend who ran the canyon for the first time:

"Here's the interview mid canyon from a first d- "..we've been on this creek for what feels like...30 minutes...I have no idea what's around the next corner...but there's no escape from this canyon...except in the Audi that just passed...and I'm almost out of filtered mineral water...sufferfest.  You feel so disconnect, you feel it in your soul when you realize that you're at least 10 minutes from a Starbucks..." Go pro to follow."

Put-in: The obvious pull-off at Fourmile Canyon road.

Take-out: Boulder playpark or anywhere in town

A note on flows: As a result of the Fourmile Canyon fire in the summer of 2010, Fourmile creek can contribute a significant amount of runoff during a rain event.  Check the gauge in the external link list for contributions.


Class IV- to V-
Current Flow 255.0 CFS
05-18-2024 13:35
Alternative Flow
81.1 CFS
05-01-2015 21:01
Recommended Flow Minimum: 250.0
Average: 550.0
Maximum: 1300.0
Typical Season Begins: April
Ends: July
Recommended Use Kayaking: Yes
Rafting: No
Canoeing: No
Packrafting: No
Fishing: No
Length Mile(s)
Gradient FPM