2016 was a banner year for the Colorado rafting industry as the year saw a record number of rafters paddling through its waters, as well as a record in amount of money spent in the Colorado rafting industry.
How good were the numbers? In 2016 Colorado rafting companies hosted 550,861 commercial guests on 29 different stretches of the river across the Centennial State. Those half a million guests spent more than $70 million in Colorado that analysts say equates to an economic impact of approximately $180 for the towns and communities that surround Colorado’s popular waterways. This data comes from the Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA.)
Rafting has become more popular every year in Colorado, and 2016’s numbers mark the highest on record since 2007 before the economic recession took its toll on all industries. Colorado tourism as a whole saw a large jump in spending in 2016, with many resort towns posting historically high revenue numbers. But the rafting industry was the real winner as their numbers skyrocketed.
Head of CROA remarked on the soaring popularity of the rafting industry stating, “When people come to Colorado to spend their vacation, we are seeing more people thinking, ‘Hey, we ought to raft before we go home. Fifteen, twenty years ago, people didn’t think about rafting as much. They thought maybe it sounded a little bit too far beyond them. Now outfitters are catering to a larger demographic and more families, and they are pushing into gentler water.”
The rafting industry has seen a shift in which waterways and areas people are choosing to tackle with the increased numbers. Traditionally, routes along the Arkansas River made up the bulk of Colorado rafting trips and accounted for 40% of rafting in 2016, but more people are exploring smaller streams and more remote rafting locations.
Clear Creek, the Eagle, Roaring Fork, and streams from the San Miguel River all saw increased rafting in 2016. This trend stays consistent with numbers since 2007. “When we started we had to talk people into coming up and trying Clear Creek,” said Dale Drake, general manager of Clear Creek Rafting. “Now it’s recognized as a quality whitewater destination.”
Most across the state are excited about the exponential growth and ready to meet the demand. “We certainly have room to grow,” said Wilderness Aware Rafting owner of 32 years Joe Greiner. “As the population increases in Colorado and other rivers reach capacity, we have not hit ours. We are just going to rise with the tide.”