How to use Denver Light Rail as a SUP Shuttle

After spending the first half of the summer traveling around, it was nice to spend a weekend in Denver enjoying the South Platte. This past weekend I did the local light rail run which entails parking your car at Evans Street and boating down to Confluence Park. This is a great workout run, that can be done with shuttle in under 3 hours.

You can take the Southwest Light Line back to your car to make the shuttle environmentally friendly and save time, gas, and parking costs too. The whole stretch is about 6.5 miles and can be paddled in 1.5 to 2 hours at recommended flows. Recommended flows are between 150 and 500 CFS out of the Chatfield Reservoir. I usually park on river left, just north of Evans Street.

A helmet, PFD, and knee, and shin guards are recommended if you are running the rest of the drops. You can skip the leg protection if you plan on just kneeling the non-portaged drops. With portaging the 3 or 4 drops mentioned below, this run can be easily managed by first-time beginners.

I like taking my Hala Nass for this run because it is fast and most of this section is flat water.

If the river is over 500 CFS (from recent rain), then this run isn’t recommended. All paddlers should portage the Mississippi drop and Gotham City drops.

Begin at the Evans Street put in. You paddle a short ways and come to the first portage at Florida Street. There is a clear horizon line, that you cant miss. You will also see a circular water intake sticking up just upstream of the drop on the left. You will want to go to the right on this drop to portage. Give enough space between each person, so they have enough time to get out. You get out right at the edge of the drop. 

There is a small dirt foot trail that connects to the bike trail. You will walk down the bike trail and put in under the bridge.

The next drop is the first drop that is easy enough to run on your knees without to much trouble. It is downstream from the Florida Street drop and has a small green pedestrian bridge that goes over the river, right before it. As with most drops on the South Platte, your line is marked by two rock formations, with the line down the middle of them.

After that, you will go a short way and pass under the southbound Santa Fe bridge. Keep paddling and make your way under the next bridge, Mississippi Avenue, and get ready for the next drop. The Mississippi drop is easy enough to run, but some people feel more comfortable portaging on the right. If you plan on running the drop, you will want to head left though and get ready for a fun dop with a small move. It is recommended that you run this on your knees a couple times to get used to it, as it can be shallow for paddleboarders.

There is a nice dirt beach with two rocks on river right if you would like to portage.

Paddle downstream a little ways and there is another drop with the boat chute on the right hand side of the river. This one is easier and most people are comfortable running it on their knees. It can create a nice surfing wave at certain levels.

You will then paddle a short ways and pass back under Santa Fe. You will then come up to a construction site on the river, where they are building a park. This will eventually house camps for the Greenway Foundation and will be a great lunch spot.

Paddle a little further down and you will come up to the Alameda Street bridge and the next optional portage. There is a good spot to get out on the left under the bridge if you want to portage the next drop. The bike trail is on the left hand side and it makes for an easy portage.

Looking upstream at the Alameda drop you can see how you enter the boat chute in the middle and then start heading river right to avoid skipping out on the next small shelf that is sticking out.

Depending on the flow, you will come across some small shelf drops just down stream of the Alameda drop. You will want to go through one of the slots that is easy to see. Make sure to paddle through these drops. A little speed and having a paddle in the water will make it much easier.

Just down stream of that small shelf drop, will be a fun rapid that should be run on the right, against the wall formed by I-25. This rapid is my favorite rapid on this stretch and it creates a small little wave train.

You will pass under the bike trail one more time before approaching the bridge to nowhere and a building that looks like it is straight out of Gotham City. The biggest and steepest drop on the whole stretch is after the bridge, it MUST be portaged. Because it is shallow, fast and deep this drop should be avoided by SUPers. Care should be made to get river right as you pass under the bridge to nowhere and approach this next drop to make the portage. You will want to give other paddlers enough room and time to get off the river before approaching to make the portage yourself.

You will cut through some bushes against the wall and pop out on the bike path. Take the bike path down past the bridge. There is a nice picnic table for a snack break and an easy access point to get back on the river.

Next you will paddle downstream and cross under 6th Avenue. Keep paddling and enjoy the small riffles until you get to a small bridge that carries the bike trail back across the river and the 8th Avenue bridge. You will then come up to the Sun Valley Riverfront Park. 

Next up is the fun Power Plant drop. The Power Plant drop should be run center right down the boat chute. After you go through that you will pass under 13th street and the light rail line.
There is another fun drop right after the light rail bridge, that one should be done in the middle. The next big bridge you go under will be Colfax. At that point you have some great views of Mile High Field before passing under I-25. Elitch Gardens will be up on the right and the Denver skyline comes into focus as you approach the end of the paddle.

Depending on your plans, you can take out above or below the Confluence park drops.

I had a lot of fun running the Confluence Park drops. The nice thing about this stretch is you can go in and say hi to everyone at Confluence Kayaks when you are done.

John Blackshire is a team rider for Hala Gear.

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