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Steamboat Magazine

Do the Duffy

09/27/2022 07:00AM ● By Eugene Buchanan

Duffy Canyon offers a Class I-II float through a sagebrush-covered desert canyon. Photo courtesy of Kent Vertrees.

Steamboat Springs, CO - Get off your duffs and head to Duffy Canyon.  

Yep, everyone’s heard of world-class Yampa Canyon through Dinosaur National Monument. But with only a 5 percent chance of landing a private permit, the opportunities to run it are slim, or expensive if you go with a commercial outfitter. So, head somewhere closer and free that doesn’t require a permit: the Yampa’s unsung and unheralded Duffy, or Little Yampa, Canyon. 

Little Yampa/Duffy Canyon is located just downstream of Craig and is home to one of the most family-friendly and wilderness flatwater stretches of the Yampa – a section that has been deemed suitable, even, for Wild & Scenic designation. Unlike Yampa Canyon, which requires a permit from Dinosaur National Monument, Duffy is managed by the Bureau of Land Management as a Special Recreation Management Area and doesn’t require one. Just show up and go. 

Solitude, scenery and convenient proximity to Steamboat Springs make Duffy Canyon an appealing rafting option. Photo courtesy of Kent Vertrees. 

“It’s a hidden gem offering solitude and scenery, and it gives floaters a perspective of working agriculture alongside the nature that relies on the Yampa,” says Jackie Brown, who chairs the Yampa-White-Green Basin Roundtable. “It is a testament that the Yampa Valley Curse is running strong up and down valley.” 

While its 32-mile length discourages day trippers (that’s a bit long, unless you’re up for an all-day paddle in a sea kayak or canoe), the section is gaining popularity, thanks to Friends of the Yampa — in partnership with the BLM’s Little Snake Field Office, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Yampa River State Park, Mission Continues and Craig’s Parrotheads — building five riverside campsites on the stretch in 2018, complete with signs, fire rings, grilling grates, picnic tables and tent sites. The five campsites include Antlers (Mile 7.6), Friends (Mile 14.5), Railroad (Mile 14.8), Bubba’s Beach (Mile 25.5), and Charlie Mike (Mile 30.4). If those are full, look for other areas on the stretch’s cobblestone bars and banks. 

Run it at the right time and you’re in for a wilderness treat, floating Class I-II flatwater past large stands of old growth cottonwoods, sage-brush-covered hills and a sweeping desert canyon you never even knew was there.    

“Little Yampa Canyon is a magical place,” says Kent Vertrees of Friends of the Yampa. “It’s remote, super scenic, and carries the allure of being in a truly wild place. And it’s great for boaters who are looking for a mellow, non-permitted, multi-day river trip – especially if you have kids, love to bring your dog, or enjoy paddleboarding.” 

Photo courtesy of Kent Vertrees.

Helpful Hints

Put-in: The South Beach put-in is located 3 miles south of Craig, off Colorado 13 (just after the bridge over the Yampa); no camping allowed. 

Takeout: The takeout is located at mile 32. To get there, take U.S. Highway 40 west of Craig for 19 miles to Moffat County Road 17. Drive 10.2 miles to BLM Road 1593 and turn left. The river access site is 1 mile farther on the right. From the river, it’s on river left. Toilet and camping available.

Shuttles: Contact Good Vibes River Gear in Craig for shuttle services:  (970) 367-3627; 
Flows: Visit to check on current flow levels (look for station “below Craig”). 

Weather: Check the weather forecast before your float and bring appropriate shelter and gear.

Camping: With no official sign-up for campsites, talk with other floaters at the put-in or once on the river to figure out where others are camping.

If you go: Bring a firepan in case the official campsites are taken (bring your own wood, or use only driftwood); a groover (portable toilet); practice Leave No Trace principles (pack out all trash); and respect the private property. Also, beware of mosquitoes after peak runoff (usually best before the end of June).