Lower Box - Piedra River

Piedra River

The Piedra is a beautiful remote wilderness run through two main canyons, the upper canyon known as the “second box” and the lower, known as the “first box. This early-season gem and elusive local favorite is being considered for a “Wild and Scenic” designation. The Piedra usually flows early and the prime runnable window is short.  You can usually scrape your way down from late April thru the end of June, with the peak happening during the second half of May. Trips on the Piedra are few and far between which adds to the pristine wilderness feeling.  Early season boaters have to run both boxes until the midway access road opens in early May.

Lower Box:  

Below Hunter Campground, there is about a mile of busy and technical and Class III water before you enter the lower box.  The first significant rapid “Preperation” or #1 drops into a pool with the vertical walls of the Piedra River canyon rising on both sides. This marks the start of several Class IV drops. "Initiation" or #2 is a steep drop strewn with big boulders and big holes below the horizon.  At lower flows, a short pool signals the approach to #3 “First Box Falls, but at higher flows these rapids flow together.  Things ease up a bit after First Box Falls with a class III boulder field called "Surprise" or #4 and the aptly named class III #5 “Up Against the Wall.  The next rapid is the first mudslide of two that have filled the river channel with boulders.  “Son-of-Mud” or #6 starts with a steep entrancthat drains into a long boulder strewn run out.  Next up is the second mudslide rapid called Eye of the Needle or #7.  It starts with a flat pool that leads into a steep and ever changing constriction created by huge boulders pushed into the channel by the mudslide. A scout of the Eye and rapid #8 immediately below called Lucifer's reveals a Class IV+ squeeze followed by a rock island that divides the current into a series of pour-overs and boulder sieves.  Many boaters have shouldered their boats around the “Eye” to improve their chances for a clean line thru “Lucifers.” About a mile and a half, and a few class III rapids, below Lucifer's is a welcome stop at the Sheep Creek hot springs.  Warm yourself in one of the pools and paddle the 6 miles of class III water to the takeout.  Just above the takeout there are a couple breaking waves in the center of the channel that provide great “on the fly” surfing.

Recommended Flows – down to 500 cfs. Over 2200cfs this section gets a pushy “big water” feel.


Put-in:  Hwy 160 crosses the Piedra river about 22 miles west of Pagosa.  Take First Fork road ,FR 622, 13 miles north to the dead-end at Hunter Campground.

Take Out : About a mile north on First Fork road, just before the seasonal closure gate, is a parking area.