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Steamboat Magazine

Spring on Water

04/05/2014 10:51AM ● By Christina Freeman

Kayaker Dan Piano navigates the Elk River. Photo courtesy Sarah Piano


Beginners: Practice rolling your kayak in Fetcher Pond, then try the Class I section of the Yampa River from River Creek Park to Fetcher Pond. The river is calm and the views are gorgeous. 

Intermediate paddlers: Paddle the Yampa River from Fetcher Pond to the Rabbit Ears Motel for Class II to III water, then continue downtown through Class III rapids to the manmade whitewater features including the C and D holes.

Experts only: One of the most difficult runs is the Class V Fish Creek. The upper section, which starts at the base of Fish Creek Falls, is the hardest. Other favorites include Cross Mountain Canyon west of town, past Maybell, which offers Class III to V rapids through a scenic gorge in the middle of the wilderness, and the Elk Box on the Elk River starting high up Seedhouse Road.

Backdoor Sports, | 970-879-6249 and Mountain Sports Kayak School, | 970-879-8794 for kayak rentals and lessons.


Take the whole family down a river with a guided rafting trip. Local guiding operations offer a range of trips from mellow floats to Class IV adventures, starting in mid-May. Beginners and intermediates will enjoy rafting through the heart of downtown Steamboat along the Yampa, experiencing whitewater in the Elk River, or driving a bit further for a ride through the canyons of the Colorado River south of Steamboat. Intermediate to advanced boaters can try the whitewater in the Elk River, North Platte, and Eagle rivers, and the most adventurous and experienced can head to Cross Mountain for intense whitewater.

Bucking Rainbow Outfitters: | 970-879-8747 Backdoor Sports: | 970-879-6249


The fish bite year-round in Steamboat Springs, and spring is no different. Be prepared to reel in some big ones.

Feb.-March: On sunny days, the weather is comfortable and fish are hungry. Ice on the Yampa River is thawing out, and fish haven’t seen flies all winter. At the tailwaters at Stagecoach and Sarvis Creek, large fish enter shallow water to spawn, and are eager and aggressive.

April-May: An excellent time to fish the Yampa. In late spring, fish in the morning and mid-afternoon to avoid runoff water that is cold and muddy. Also try Steamboat Lake, Stagecoach Lake and Pearl Lake, where melting ice along the edges draw big fish to the surface. Nearby creeks are also good as large rainbows move in to spawn.

June: The sun is shining, temperatures are warm, and the Yampa River through town is still a favorite, especially from morning until noon. Try a float trip west of town for another adventure.

Local Knowledge: Paddling in the Yampa

Dan Piano has been paddling for more than 20 years and teaches river kayaking and swift water rescue at Colorado Mountain College.

1. With beginner to expert runs and world-class play features, Steamboat Springs is a totally unique destination for kayaking. That’s why I moved here. Plus, you can make a run, get out of the river and head straight to happy hour.

2. Be heads-up for wood in the water. In smaller creeks like Fish Creek, wood can be dangerous.

3. Prepare for the water to be cold. Wear a drysuit with appropriate layering underneath – just like you’d layer up for a day of skiing.

4. The learning curve for kayaking is steep, but once you get it, there’s no other sensation like it.

5. Take a lesson. And when you roll, keep your head down. It’s instinctual to lift your head up, but that creates incredible momentum against the roll and will flip you back down.

6. Entering a Class V river is like being on a roller coaster with no brakes. Once you commit, there’s no stopping ‘til the rapid is complete.

7. Any time between April and June, go down to the river behind the library downtown at 4 p.m. You’re guaranteed to meet local paddlers. We have a tight, small community of paddlers here, and we love helping people get involved with this awesome sport!

Local Knowledge: All About Stand-up Paddleboarding

DannyTebbenkamp is the owner and lead instructor of Steamboat PaddleboardAdventures,which brings one of the fastest-growing water sports – stand-up paddleboarding – to Steamboat Springs. ► Steamboat offers great places for stand-up paddleboarding. Fetcher Pond, local lakes or the upper stretches of the Yampa River are good for beginners. More advanced paddlers can head for the whitewater through downtown, or try a day trip to the upper Colorado River. 

► One challenge for beginners is paddling straight without switching your paddle from side to side. The key is to keep the shaft of the paddle straight up and down: if it’s at an angle, the board turns. 

► To get on a paddleboard, start on your knees and look forward, not down, when you stand. Keep your knees slightly bent and start with your feet parallel to each other, centered on the board. 

► Stand-up paddleboarding is a great workout, and can take your balance and core strength to a new level. 

► Paddleboards are super stable, so most paddlers stay upright on lakes. When you’re ready for the river, know you’ll fall in. The river is ever-changing and powerful, so it will get the best of you some days. Just try to conquer a section at a time. For instruction and rentals - Steamboat Paddleboard Adventures: | 970-846-5926 Bodhi SUP: | 303-859-3784 Backdoor Sports: | 970-879-6249 Mountain Sports Kayak School: | 970-879-8794 Ski Haus: | 970-879-0385

Local Knowledge: Flyfishing Pro Tips

Johnny Spillane – owner of Steamboat Flyfisher and three-time Olympic silver medalist

1. We’re fortunate in the valley to have one of the premier big-fish rivers in the country. The Yampa River offers one of the best opportunities to catch a fish of a lifetime. We see fish bigger than 25 inches, sometimes up to 30 inches.

2. For beginners and visitors, guided trips are a great way to learn techniques and understand the local rivers and best fishing areas. Stop in a local fly shop to ask what flies and hatches are working.

3. Bring layers and don’t forget sunglasses and a good hat.

4. One of my favorite spots to fish is the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife area. This fishing is always good and it’s quiet. You drive a couple miles out of town and feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.

5. Bring the kids. Fishing is a sport the entire family can enjoy. I bring my daughters (ages three and one) all the time. I’ll catch the fish and hand the rod to my 3-year-old, then she takes it from there.