Upper Arkansas River map

Fishing Access

A. Hayden Meadows

The river here, above the confluence with Lake Creek and its augmented flow of transmountain water, is a small-volume meadow stream. It has a primarily cobbled bottom with overhanging grassy banks – home to some big browns and challenging fishing. The clear, slow, shallower water hosts fish that are more wary of people and do not respond well to pressure.

B. Granite Gorge

Like Hayden Meadows, this high canyon has a shorter summer season than much of the lower river. Also similarly, while winter midge fishing can be productive, the best action to be had is after runoff and into early fall. The Granite Gorge is by turns steep and bouldered, then more open and riffled. It has some excellent pocket water.

C. The Numbers and Wildhorse Canyon

The river continues a steep and rapid descent below the Granite Gorge, but there are more areas of gentle water and pocket water from which to choose. CR 371, The Tunnel Road, follows the river from Buena Vista upstream for about 8 miles. A significant portion of the land between the road and river is public. Camping is available at the Railroad Bridge site.

Once one gets downstream to Buena Vista, the riverbed is mostly in private hands, with the exception being lands on either side of the Midland Trail Bridge at the Buena Vista River Park. Below Buena Vista, the river is mostly bordered by private residences until the Johnson Village State Wildlife Area just below the U.S. 285 bridge.

D. Milk Run

Though technically defined as the float from Johnson Village to Ruby Mountain, for the angler this stretch should include the upper Browns Canyon Wilderness Study Area above the canyon itself. This reach of gentle water is ideal for floating and receives little pressure as the river passes through predominantly private land. The Champion Lease below Johnson Village provides some good wade access. Otherwise, the shorebound angler needs to get to the river on the east side in the Wilderness Study Area by hiking east behind Ruby Mountain and the residences below the Ruby Mountain Campground to regain the river about a half-mile downstream.

E. Browns Canyon

Browns Canyon is a pool-drop section of river that bounces through boulders of decomposing granite and into deep pools with long tail-outs. The fishing here is excellent from July through September and can often be good in the last weeks before runoff as well. Access to the canyon is best made by taking CR 194 into the Hecla Junction Recreation Site. A campground is available here as well. Summer rafting traffic is significant. The canyon quiets down after 5 p.m. and can provide some great evening fishing.

F. Big Bend

The Big Bend reach, from Stone Bridge through Salida, is home to a gentle gradient, a cobbled freestone bottom interspersed with glacial erratics and alluvial debris, and some of the largest fish in the Arkansas.

G. Upper Bighorn Sheep Canyon

From Salida to Howard, the river parallels U.S. 50 as it passes through a variety of geological strata, much of which produces excellent structure and habitat. Public access is generally pretty obvious and well marked along this reach. Anglers will find numerous highway pullouts as well as AHRA sites at Salida East and Rincon, where there is a campground.

The limestone section, from the Chaffee-Fremont County line through Swissvale, is undoubtedly the most productive section of the river in terms of insect life. Numerous warm springs feed the river here, and that, combined with the minerals and texture of the limestone, seem to have a significant impact on all forms of aquatic life. This section has the highest fish-per-mile count on the river.

H. The Middle River

Between Howard and Texas Creek, the river reaches the midpoint between Salida and Cañon City. The distance from both communities serves to minimize the pressure on this section. Though there is a fair bit of private land that lies between the highway and river, there are also miles of public water and, as with the canyon upstream, it is mostly well marked and obvious.

Some great fishing can be had in this section, and it is particularly underutilized as a float-fishing run. Because most of the river here lies in open country or low-walled canyons, this section of the river warms early in the spring and stays temperate well into fall.

I. Lower Bighorn

Below Texas Creek, the river enters a deep and narrow canyon. Much of the river here is sandwiched between the railroad and the highway, constricting the flow and producing the exciting whitewater of the Parkdale run. There are plenty of good reaches to fish though, with most of them beside frequent highway pullouts.

The depth of the canyon obscures direct sunlight for a lot of the river in winter, producing significant ice packs and generally slower winter fishing. Spring and fall produce the best days here, with summer evenings also worthwhile after raft traffic subsides each day during the peak of the rafting season.

River Runs

J. Granite Gorge

Put-in: Granite

Take-out: Numbers put-in

Difficulty: Class III-V

Length: 5.5 miles

K. The Numbers

Put-in: Numbers put-in

Take-out: Railroad Bridge

Difficulty: Class III+ <1,000 cfs   Class IV >1,000 cfs

Length: 5 miles

L. Narrows-Frog Rock

Put-in: Railroad Bridge

Take-out: Buena Vista River Park

Difficulty: Class III <2,200 cfs   Class IV >2,200 cfs

Length: 7 miles

M. Buena Vista Town Run

Put-in: Buena Vista River Park

Take-out: Johnson Village

Difficulty: Class III

Length: 2.5 miles

N. Milk Run

Put-in: Johnson Village Bridge

Take-out: Fisherman’s Bridge

Difficulty: Class II

Length: 6 miles

O. Browns Canyon

Put-in: Fisherman’s Bridge

Take-out: Hecla Junction or Stone Bridge

Difficulty: Class III-IV

Length: 12 miles to Stone Bridge

P. Pinnacle Rock to Parkdale

Put-in: Pinnacle Rock Recreation Area

Take-out: Parkdale Recreation Area

Difficulty: Class III-IV

Length: 7.7 miles

Q. Royal Gorge

Put-in: Parkdale Recreation Area

Take-out: Centennial Park, Cañon City

Difficulty: Class III-IV

Length: 11.5 miles

– Courtesy AllAboutRivers.com