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Little Yampa Canyon: South Beach to Duffy Mountain

Floating the Yampa River Through Duffy Mountain | Average CFS: 14,140
Saturday & Sunday, May 20-21, 2023

With the big snowpack in the mountains of Colorado this year I decided to take a little break from hiking and backpacking during the months of May and June so that I could try to get out onto the rivers as much as possible this season. This weekend Jackson and I were looking to get out on an overnight trip and were initially thinking about trying to catch some of the ephemeral desert rivers in Utah, but that wouldn’t logistically work out for us this weekend and we turned our attention back to the Yampa River in Colorado’s Great Northwest. After looking over maps of the area we settled on trying out a section of the Yampa that is just west of Craig and known as Little Yampa Canyon or Duffy Canyon. This 33 mile stretch of the Yampa River carves it’s way through Duffy Mountain and is all flat water. Since we were unfamiliar with this section of the river we were a little concerned that it’s easy nature might change at the high water levels it was currently seeing, but we decided to check it out anyway.


Little Yampa Canyon CFS, May 2023


On Saturday morning I was up early and met Jackson at his house so he could load all his gear into my Jeep before we headed up to the Yampa River. I made a quick stop in Rifle for breakfast and gas, and then Jackson had to stop in Meeker to buy a hat since he realized he had forgotten his at home. After those short detours we made our way over to the Duffy Mountain Boat Ramp and left Jackson’s car there. Then we drove back over to the South Beach Boat Ramp and started rigging our boats for the weekend float.

Here are our inflatable kayaks rigged and ready to go. We got on the river just a couple minutes after noon, which is a later start than I’d typically prefer, but I wasn’t too concerned about it today since the water was high and moving fast.

South Beach

Hills and clouds across from the put-in and Johnson Gulch.

Hills & Clouds

The river was wide as we floated across the expanse of Big Bottom alongside tall cottonwood trees. As you can see, Jackson brought his son Ken along on this trip.

Big Bottom Cottonwoods

We saw quite a few bald eagles plus many other birds, but these were the only two I was able to get a halfway decent photo of. All the smoke in the air from the wildfires in Canada didn’t help much either…

Two Bald Eagles

Ken relaxing with his feet up as we floated down the Yampa.

Feet Up

After passing through the confluence with the Williams Fork the scenery started to change a little as the surrounding started to get a little more canyon-like.

Yampa River View

High Water

Yampa River View

The water was high and swift, but it stayed flat and there were not even any riffles the entire way. Aside from all the improved campsites being under water, I’d say this was a good level to float this section.

Flat Water

Floating The Yampa

Jackson & Ken

Jackson & Ken

As I stated previously, there are a couple improved campsites along this stretch of the river that have picnic tables and fire rings. We stopped to check out the two we had passed today and both of them were either swampy or underwater, so we had to find some flat higher ground to spend the night. Luckily we found a pretty decent site after floating about 20 miles in five hours.

High Water Camp

After dinner I went for a walk along the river bank in the late evening. You can see our campsite off in the distance in this shot.

Walking Along the Yampa River

We were having a nice evening in camp until about an hour before sunset. Although we had not encountered any bugs all day, it seems the mosquitoes came out in full force at this time, but they seemed to disappear again shortly after sunset.

Evening at Camp

The Yampa River at Dusk

Yampa Evening

As usual, we all went to bed early and then woke up with the sunrise on Sunday morning after a good night of sleep.

Duffy Mountain Camp

There were some nice clouds in the sky this morning, so I went for another walk along the river to take a few photos.

Yampa River Clouds

Morning in Little Yampa Canyon

Little Yampa Canyon Morning

Duffy Mountain

Duffy Mountain

There were quite a few of these wildflowers around, so I stopped to take a few photos. I believe these are lupine.


Wildflowers II

Wildflowers III

After packing up camp we were ready to get back on the water for day two.

Ready for Day Two

We got an early start and were on the river by 8:15am. Thankfully, the smoke wasn’t as bad this morning.

Down The River

Little Yampa Canyon actually started to look like a real canyon in a couple of places.

Little Yampa Canyon

Downstream View

After floating around a couple large meanders of the river we soon reached Signal Butte and travelled beneath it for a while.

Signal Butte

Under Signal Butte

Floating Below Signal Butte

Here we are rounding the last large bend in Duffy Mountain.

The Last Bend

My typical view while on the water in my ducky.

IK View

We stopped to check out the Charlie Mike Camp, which while wet was the only improved campsite that might have been useable at this level, so it’s too bad that this site is only about mile from the take-out.

Tomcat Tandem

Floating down the final stretch before we got off the river at Duffy Mountain.

The Final Stretch

After reaching the take-out we packed up our gear into Jackson’s car and then drove back to South Beach to get my Jeep. From there it was a two and a half hour drive back home and I arrived just in time for an early dinner. Little Yampa Canyon is a really nice stretch of flat water and I’m glad we finally got to spend some time there!

>> Little Yampa Canyon Photo Gallery



Little Yampa Canyon River Map

South Beach to Duffy Mountain


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