Cañon City: Down the Arkansas River

After seeing the gorge from on high, our next plan was to travel through it by rail and by raft. 

The Royal Gorge is eight miles long and the first recorded Europeans that saw the gorge was in 1806. By 1878 the gorge was the focus of a bitter battle between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The company that built a rail line through the gorge would benefit from the mining industry so prevalent in the area. The gorge is narrow and not large enough for two lines. That battle was eventually won by the Denver and Rio Grande.

Many years later, it is the Royal Gorge Route that operates the line through the gorge.

We look for these old trains when we travel and always enjoy them.

We had seats in the dome car that included a variety of lunch options.  We had excellent burgers with fresh potato chips.

We rode out from Cañon City and then through the gorge next to the Arkansas River. This river begins in Colorado and makes its way through Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas before joining the Mississippi River.   We had never heard of the Arkansas River before….but we aren’t as familiar with rivers that go east as we are with those that go west.

Aside from the natural beauty, we saw remnants of an abandoned water pipeline that follows the train route on the south side of the river for eight miles.   It carried Cañon City’s water supply for 70 years.

It was built by territorial prisoners and we were told 96 of them died in the process.  The pipeline was made of redwood and wrapped like barrels.

This was the caretaker’s cottage, about midway through the gorge.  We were told he walked the entire pipeline everyday to do inspections.

Overtime, some sections had been reinforced with concrete.

The obvious question to me was why? Since the river flowed the same route, why go to the trouble to make an adjacent pipeline? The answer had something to do with the high alkaline levels in the river and running the water through the pipeline solved that problem.

In the winter of 1974, the pipeline froze and Cañon City was without water for three weeks.  They sought a different solution for their water needs after that.

There are colorful yurts and airstreams rentals available along the river.

We saw the bridge from the train.

It rained during much of our train ride and we sympathized with the rafters.  We were rafting the next day and hoped for better weather!

At the end of our ten mile journey, the train reversed and went back the same way, just in reverse. With the gradual decline in grade, the engine was now our brake.

The next day we had perfect weather for an afternoon raft trip! We traversed the very same route we had the day before but this time on the water.

We were in a raft with a family of four and our guide Brian.   He told us that this river is in the top three for number of rafters in the US.  


In the background you can see the bridge and the gondolas crossing the gorge.    Also in this picture you can see a person in a blue kayak.  He was the company photographer and the action shots are his. Unfortunately these are just pictures of pictures so don’t show his true talent.

Our guide, Brian, kept us busy with instructions to stroke Forward 2, or Back 1.    We went over class 2, class 3 and class 4 rapids at 900 CFS (cubic feet per second).  They run the river when the CFS is between 200 and 3400.

It was plenty of fun at 900 CFS! I can’t imagine 3400!

Randy is in blue in the front and I am immediately behind him.   He was supposed to shield me from more water than he did!  We were all wet in the end but it was a marvelous afternoon.  

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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5 Responses to Cañon City: Down the Arkansas River

  1. Kim Goehring says:


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Mark McClelland says:

    Well you guys did did Royal Gorge just about every way possible! Looks like a good time.

  3. Catie says:

    Once again thank you for sharing your travels. What fun that would have been. Something Gord and I would do for sure.

  4. Ann M Shadiow says:

    Love reading your journal of adventures

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