Why go now: Catch the South Platte River’s highest flows in late spring.
River miles you’ll float: 15 (from Chatfield Dam in South Platte Park to downtown Denver’s Confluence Park).
Go with the flow: Confluence Park rapids were designed for kayak playboating (performing maneuvers in one spot).
Practice your kayak-speak: Boof (a stroke to navigate whitewater drops) and huck (going over a waterfall).
Total river miles: 450
Where the river starts: The Continental Divide in Park County, Colorado.
Where it ends: In Nebraska at the North Platte River.
French connection: “Platte” comes from the French word for “flat,” the name given by early French explorers.
Bring your binocs: June is the best month to spot warblers and orioles.
Pints with river views: Try the new Celtic Tavern at Riverside Downs ($; closed Sun; 303/308-1795).
Waterfront culture: Confluence Concerts are in July; River Flicks in August (free; greenwayfoundation.org/home/events).
3 OTHER WAYS TO ROCK THE RIVER
Take a gondola trip
Ride the river like a Venetian, soaking up the city’s evening vibe from a pole-propelled flat-bottomed boat called a punt. Modeled after Italian gondolas, the boats glide down Cherry Creek from Larimer Square to Confluence Park and back. 5–9:30 Jun 4–Aug 23; rides from 35 minutes; from $15 per person, $50 for a private boat; reservations suggested; veniceonthecreek.com
Relive the Gold Rush
Check out the miner’s cabin at Grant-Frontier Park, just downstream from where gold was discovered in 1858, during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. The leafy riverside site marks the historic location of Montana City, the area’s first Anglo settlement, which later became Denver. Free; just south of W. Evans Ave. at the South Platte River; denvergov.org/parks
Try a river roast
Get a caffeine kick from Paris on the Platte, an indie-style espresso cafe that serves up all the gourmet coffee beverages you can think of (try the chocolate and cinnamon Café Mexicano). Before your river reconnaissance, grab a to-go breakfast sandwich like the Heather: fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato on a toasted bagel. $; 303/455-2451.
Confluence Park lies between Speer Blvd. and 15th St. From I-25, take the 23rd Ave./Water St. exit. Confluence Kayaks is at 1615 Platte St.
1. Jump in a kayak
Part from the South Platte River's parade of bikers and joggers, and get a new perspective from the water. Pick up a kayak downtown at Confluence Kayaks, right near Confluence Park. You can take a tour with a guide, or go out on your own. Guided tours $129 full day, $89 half-day; rentals $50 full day, $30 half-day; confluencekayaks.com
2. Find the river's wild side
Confluence Kayaks will shuttle you to the put-in below Chatfield Dam in South Platte Park, 15 miles upstream. Push off, cruise down the river 1.5 miles, and make your first stop at the South Platte Park and Carson Nature Center (pictured), where you can join nature walks or take classes like intro to tree climbing. Park entry free, classes from $5; in Littleton; 303/730-1022.
3. Cruise to a garden
Two miles downstream from the nature center, visit the 30-acre Hudson Gardens ($5; in Littleton; hudsongardens.org) to walk among a conifer grove, waterfalls, water lilies, and even a Hobbit Hole garden. If you need a break, pull into the Platte River Bar and Grill ($; 303/798-9356) for a beer and burger with river views.
4. Refresh on the riverside
Back at Confluence Park, make a beeline for My Brother¹s Bar, the oldest still-operating bar in Denver, and the notorious Beat Generation hangout of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. Kick back on the shaded patio, and try a Twisted Pine Brown Ale and the Johnnyburger slathered with jalapeño cream cheese and grilled onions. $; closed Sun; 303/455-9991.