Yampa River – South Beach to Duffy Mountain

The word Yampa means wild carrot. The Yampa River is in northwest Colorado, running from the Flat Tops area near Steamboat Springs and flowing generally west into Utah, where it finally joins the Green River. We chose to float the Class I section near Craig, Colorado, putting in at South Beach and taking out at Duffy Mountain. The BLM has some info and maps here: http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/lsfo/programs/recreation/yampa_river.html . Water flow is critical when floating the Yampa as it can drop quickly after winter snows have melted from the mountains. We monitored the daily stream flow in cfs (cubic feet per second) here: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/co/nwis/uv?site_no=09247600 and, based on info found on the web it seemed that good flows were above 600 cfs. When we began the trip it was around 1200cfs and dropped down to 1000 cfs by the time we took out.
The put-in at South Beach, about 3 miles southwest of Craig, is part of the Yampa River State Park system and fees are associated with the use of State Parks. A parking area and bathroom are near the sandy boat launch.
Note that the site does not have anything more than a symbol-type boat-ramp sign at the highway and can be easily missed if you’re looking for something with the words “South Beach”. The three drivers, drove the  hour-and-forty-five minute round-trip shuttle to and from Duffy Mountain take-out.
(SIDE NOTE: The shuttle between South Beach and Duffy Mountain take-out is 36 miles and some of the available online tools say it is 56 minutes travel time. We found that it took 40 minutes.)
Just before we arrived back at the put-in the final two members arrived increasing our group size to six. We had two canoes, one Mad River and an Old Town Penobscot and two Chesapeake Light Craft, Mill Creek 13 kayak/decked canoes. Mine is the one with the cedar-strip deck. We shoved off around 1PM and paddled downstream for a bit, found a sand bar, and stopped for lunch. Seems like everything is better on the river.
I had some cold chicken pasta salad from the cooler. The Mad River boat and I shared the use of the cooler in their boat. I brought the cooler and some block ice and they carried it and used it for their food as well.
After lunch we passed a bald eagle, high in a cottonwood tree, being harassed by some much smaller birds. Given the size of the bald eagle it was rather comical. We paddled until about 6PM, passing some campers on river left just past RM126. We camped on an island with some small trees. It was a beautiful evening with a light breeze and perfect temperatures.
I use an old Coleman Feather 400A backpacking stove and a Lodge 6 1/2″ cast iron skillet when in my kayak and used them to cook some chicken fajitas. Fresh air, tasty food, the sound of the river and a cold beer. A very nice evening. Periodically, we could hear cows mooing across the river, but fortunately, it wasn’t very distracting. After dinner we started a fire in the required fire pan and stayed up until midnight.
The second day began with a low-flying Piper Super-Cub flying over the river. It was following the course of the river heading down-stream and didn’t have any identifiable markings. A little while later it flew back up-stream. Not sure what that was all about. Anyway, a breakfast of eggs, Canadian Bacon and cheese on a bagel was on the menu. Some cranberry juice followed and we packed up to get back on the river.
The river . . . the first paddling day had us working against the wind. The water was a bit choppy, but overall, not so bad that we couldn’t make progress towards our destination. When I began floating rivers 5 years ago, and the wind began blowing upstream, I had a tendency to paddle harder. A lot harder. The harder the wind blew the harder I fought against it. Now, I kind of take it easy and try to be patient. Just moving along at a modest pace and keeping the boat pointed into the wind. It makes for a less stressful paddling experience. In contrast to yesterday, this second day on the river was very calm.
The scenery was not quite what I expected. Though called the Little Yampa Canyon, it wasn’t exactly canyon-like. The landscape was probably more similar to the White River float west of Bonanza, Utah.

The second night on the river . . . most people float this section in two days, one night. We added an extra day and night so we could take it easy. As we traveled further downstream we got to the last designated campsite on the BLM map. It was loaded with cattle. Fortunately, the BLM employee at Craig told us that there were a couple more sites down past RM112 which were not on the map. At one site, I landed at the shore, stepped out and sunk in mud up to my knee. I walked up and down the shore looking for a better landing but could not. So we found another site at about RM111 1/2 and just outside some private land, with a nice open area, no cows and a large area to go hiking/exploring. Today wasn’t much work but for some reason I was feeling exhausted. Perhaps it was the heat. I emptied my pockets and plopped myself down in the river, cooling down for about 20 minutes. Wow, that was nice! I watched as crayfish scurried along the bottom and a two-foot long garter snake came swimming by. Refreshed and re-energized by the cool river, I changed into dry clothes, fixed my sausage grinders and went for a hike.
We woke on the third day to a light breeze. But, by the time we got on the river it was quite windy. We paddled, no floating today, for about 2 hours reaching the Duffy Mountain take-out around noon.
Overall, this is a very pleasant float, especially at the 1000 cfs to 1200 cfs water level. There are some nice places to camp, but it’s important to check for cattle before you settle on a site. The wind can be an issue, especially if you’re in a canoe and one of the paddlers is not a strong paddler. I could have easily taken my sea kayak or my tandem Mill Creek 16.5 on this trip. Drift boats, canoes and rafts will do fine. There was even a power boat near the put-in. We only saw two groups of people on the river, which isn’t bad considering it’s late June.


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