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Big Thompson River below Loveland

April 2005

Big Thompson River The Big Thomson River is known for disastrous flooding of 1976 rather than kayaking. Typically, it doesn't run a lot water. When water is high whitewater kayakers may paddle it in the canoyn below Drake (see Colorado Rivers and Creeks). However, I couldn't find anybody who paddled the lower Big T below Loveland. And to my surpize between March 17 and April 12 the river had a high flow - 100 cfs and more at Loveland - in comparison to a regular ~10 cfs. Obviously, it got to be a reservoir release, but it didn't look like the water was coming all the way from Estes Park.

March 27, 2005. I scouted the Big Thompson River by car starting at I-25 and driving east to Milliken. I found a lot of water flowing, an interesting technical river with some scenic meanders through cottonwoods and many barbed wire fences. You can expect a fence on each side of each road bridge. More comments from that trip in my paddling weblog.


11H Road to Simpson Ponds SWA (9E Road)
map | flow | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11


Simpson Ponds SWA (9E Road) to I-25
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16


I-25 to 3 Road
map2 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8


Big Thompson River April 7, 2005. My first paddling on Big T. I launched my Sisson kayak at Simpson Ponds SWA and paddled about 1.7 miles upstream to the next road bridge. Water was mostly deep enough and paddling upstream was not very difficult. A few shallow spots were hard on my paddle. Narrow channels with sharp turnings provided some challenge. There were fallen trees and stumps in water but all obstacles could be avoided. However, I had to make two short portages over "pipe" bridges typical for gravel pits.

Further upstream, the river was divided into several narrow channels and it looked steeper. Paddling down the river was a real fun but strainers and sharp turnings required attention


Big Thompson River April 11, 2005. My second paddling. This time I launched from a frontage road below I-25. The water was higher and faster. I didn't encounter any shallow spots. I paddled about 1.5 miles upstream to Hillsboro Ditch Dam. I had to portage around or rather under two barbed wire fences stretched accross the river. They may be dangerous if somebody unprepared is going donwriver. At both locations, the river was narrow and the current was really strong. Another hazard was created by the remains of a concrete bridge a few hundred yards below the dam.

It was another nice evening paddling, especially, that some snow was still laying on ground after the previous weekend snowstorm. The river crossing farmland with many cottonwood trees was really scenic, so I spent a lot time photographing. During my portages, I noticed that a thorny Russian olive is spreading along the river channel.


Big Thompson River April 20, 2005. Big Thompson River started to flow again, almost 100 cfs at Loveland, so I decided to try more exploration. I launched as before at I-25 (a frontage road) south of the Loveland exit, but this time, I paddled downstream first. I went about 2.4 miles to the next bridge on the county road 3 (map & pictures).

Below I-25 the river was flowing along a high cliff on the left shore and then through several cottonwood groves. It was really photogenic but I didn't have a good light for photography. The afternoon was dark and cloudy. The current was slower with many more obstacles in comparison to the river above I-25. I was afraid of fences across the river. Fortunately, it wasn't a problem. There were a few fences but with smooth wires high above the water starting from one just below my launching. One barbed wire fence was held down by logs and it was possible to push kayak over that jam. In another place the strong current went behind the fence that was parallel to the shore. That one required more attention.

I met many fallen trees in the water. Sometimes portaging was necessary, other times it was possible to push kayak around on wet grass. How to go over, under or around these trees may depend on water level. My tippy Sisson kayak with a high front deck is not the best boat to paddle through log jams and fallen trees, but it is my best boat to paddle upstream.

It was really nice as soon as I left behind me noise of the freeway. A lot of wildlife was visible along the river: blue herons, ducks, hawks, a coyote. There was a pasture with several horses above the road 3 bridge. A curious white horse with a gout friend followed me along the shore for a longer while. A cute couple!

When I turned around at the bridge it got even darker and started to rain. A sudden lightning almost blinded me. No delay between light and thunder! I immediately enter my racing mode. Next lightnings were somewhat further than just over my head. Nevertheless, I paddled upstream faster than I was going downstream! The rain was heavy and just before I reached I-25 it turned into pea size hail. I've learned that hail makes reading the river difficult ...


Big Thompson River April 24, 2005. This time Connie helped me with a shuttle, so I could paddle downriver. I launched at 11E Road bridge below Loveland and paddled the entire Big Thompson that I had already covered and a small segment of the river which I missed during my up and down paddling. The flow was only 75 cfs at Loveland. I hit several shallow spots, especially, above Simpson Ponds SWA. It was too shallow for upstream paddling. I finished at the 3 Road bridge below I-25 making 6:37 miles in 1:24 h of moving time and 0:34 stopping time (portages and shooting pictures).

The river was quite different at lower level. It was easier to go under some fallen trees. I found more fallen trees in the upper part that I paddled two weeks earlier.

Wildlife: blue herons, duck and geese as usual, also kingfishers and hawks. I had an interesting meeting, I believe, with a cormorant. First, something dark like a big fish jumped out of the water and, immediately, dived just in front of my kayak. Then, a few yards further, a black bird started from under water like missile and flew away. After my paddling I checked one bridge crossing further downstream and I had an occasion to observe a muscrat swimming across the entire river under water.

The trip was also my first occasion to try a new camera: a tiny and waterproof Pentax Optio WP. A dozen of pictures shot with the Optio are included in my slide show along the river. All other pictures were shot with my older Canon PowerShot S40. After some more shooting I will prepare a review of this new camera from a paddler perspective.




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