the piedra

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The Piedra is a sweet free-flowing river in the heart of the San Juans in Southwest Colorado. The scenery is amazing and you are likely to see more animals than people. The rapids are good but I wish there were more of them. One rapid in particular stands out as a real class V that makes many people shoulder their boats.

picture of Eye of the Needle Rapid on the Piedra
Sam below The Eye of The Needle.

I have personally seen more carnage on this river than on any other. I have found two abandoned kayaks and a raft, not to mention many other pieces of lost and broken equipment. I think many people must get in over their heads on this one, even though it is not as hard as the Upper Animas overall.

vital statistics

detailed description

when to go

Go when its high. The guage is located pretty far downstream so you need it to read at least 1000 cfs for any reasonable chance of water. I personally prefer above 2000 cfs but that doesn't happen too often.

camping

There is a campground at the put-in, the halfway point (if the lower road is open), and across the river from the takeout. There are numerous places to stop and eat or camp on the upper run also.

put-in

Drive 16 miles up the Piedra River Road from the top of the hill West of Pagosa Springs. When you get to the river, you can put in on either side of the bridge on the upstream side. GPS: N 37°25.671' W 107°11.725'.

picture of Piedra put-in
Team 4 Corners at the put-in

takeout

Drive about half a mile up the dirt road to the East of the Highway 160 bridge over the Piedra. Stop when the road starts to leave the river proper past a gate. GPS: N 37°14.425' W 107°20.486'.

the run

The run is fairly narrow in the first mile or so. You will soon get to the ice cave area with waterfalls cascading around you and a good feeling about the day.

picture of waterfall on the Piedra
Piedra Waterfall

Beyond this you will face many miles of easy water, but the scenery is interesting enough. Finally after what seems forever you will reach the first real rapid, a steep boulder garden with a far right side line then back to center. Its pretty hard to scout. GPS: N 37°22.806' W 107°16.842'. The next big one comes soon enough in the form of a class IV squeeze and pourover to a big hole. Just stay off the left side and you should be gold. GPS: N 37°22.359' W 107°17.523'.

The half-way point should just a couple miles below this rapid. You will see the road cross the river and a campground on river left. More water joins the Piedra with a large tributary, making the lower box possible at lower water when the road is open. GPS: N 37°21.207' W 107°19.482'.

The rapids come in quick succession within a mile of the lower canyon. There are boulder gardens, steep drops and good sized holes requiring heads up boating. You should be able to pull over and scout anything you aren't sure about. Its always a good idea to scout both mudslide rapids and keep an eye out for wood.

The first mudslide drop has some very large boulders in the main channel with the only reasonable option to go left, then work your way right. I have found two abandoned kayaks in this rapid so maybe its harder than it looks. Second mudslide is just around the corner so don't screw up here. GPS: N 37°20.070' W 107°20.146'.

picture of First Mudslide Rapid on the Piedra
Team 4 Corners in the zone

Second mudslide, also known as The Eye of the Needle, is always worth a look and seems to be changing every year. You will see why its called The Eye of the Needle when you look at it, cause you gotta make a move through a small opening. This is an especially difficult rapid for any kind of oar boat and I am the only person I know to have rowed it (not too successfully). Trust me on this one, stick with a kayak or paddle raft if you are going to run it, and whatever you do, don't go left. GPS: N 37°19.913' W 107°20.273'.

picture of Second Mudslide Rapid on the Piedra
Looking the Beast in the Eye

The runout to the Eye is known as Lucifers and is solid class IV, making running the Eye less appealing since a screwup could cost you. Beyond this point you are home free, but still a long way from home. At low water, you can enjoy a dip in the hots springs on river left just a mile or so down from Lucifers. After that its no harder than class III but there is some good surf waves in this section.

We can usually do the entire run in 5 or 6 hours, but we know it pretty well. Start early, anything can happen.