The Wild Yampa River; The last free flowing river in the Colorado Basin


Words can hardly describe the magnificence of Yampa River in Northwest Colorado yet few people in Colorado much less the country know of its existence.  The Yampa River is the last remaining wild free flowing river in the Colorado River Basin and one of the last free flowing rivers in Western United States.  It rises in the Flat Top Mountains above the town of Steamboat and flows for approximately 250 miles to it’s confluence with the Green River in Utah. 

I recently had the opportunity to float this free flowing national treasure through Dinosaur National Monument with a group of people concerned about protecting the wild Yampa River for future generations.  The trip was organized by Friends of the Yampa as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project Representatives from the Colorado River Conservation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, American Whitewater, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, Colorado Mountain College, and the river recreation industry participated in the trip.

The purpose of the trip was to have an on-river dialogue about the unique qualities of the wild Yampa, to create awareness about the river as a state and national resource, and to discuss threats the river faces.  Because the Yampa remains a wild river, it is the target of water developers both within the Basin and on the Front Range.  In 2006 a massive trans-mountain diversion project was proposed that would pump significant water from the Yampa 200 miles to water cities on the Front Range. The oil and gas industry has also sees the Yampa as a source to provide water for future oil and gas development.

While ample water is available for development in the Yampa Basin, it should be developed in a way that protects the wild and free flowing values of Yampa River while ensuring the future viability of the ranching community and economic development in the Yampa Valley.  If we do not work together to protect one of the last free flowing wild rivers in our country we will profoundly regret it.

Recently three sections of the Yampa River were found suitable for Wild and Scenic designation.  The three sections; Little Yampa, Duffy, and Juniper Canyons are upstream of Dinosaur National Monument.  The permanent protection of these sections would protect the natural, recreational, and agricultural values of the region.  It is because of rivers like the Yampa that the Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created in 1968.  Unfortunately, the current political climate suggests that designation is unlikely in the near future but who is to say that it won’t be best tool to use in 5, 10, or 15 years.  Suitability for Wild and Scenic designation should remain on the table.

Back to the trip…  We set out on our trip just as the river was hitting it’s peak flow at over 23,000 cubic feet per second.  We all had an opportunity to experience the Yampa do its thing during runoff as it has for tens of thousands of years; over bank flooding, huge water, and big pulsing waves that seem to come out of nowhere. We filmed the trip and video should be complete in a couple of months.  The video is the second part of a two part series.  The first video can be watched below or on this page.  

Adrift Adventures generously donated the trip and a representative of OARS, another top notch outfitter that runs trips on the Yampa, came along as well.  If you want to experience the Yampa in all it’s glory before it is too late, check out Adrift Adventures or OARS.

Wishing I was still on the river.