River of the Month | April, 2019

Yampa River

The Yampa is the last great free-flowing river on the Colorado Plateau, its course interrupted only by a pair of small dams in the upper basin. Near the end of its 250-mile journey to the Green River, it carves one of the most spectacular river canyons in the world at Dinosaur National Monument. With its wild character, verdant riparian corridors and spectacular red-rock canyons, the Yampa is hands-down one of the truly great rivers of the West.

xIn 2012, WRC purchased a 920 acre ranch on Colorado's Yampa River, at the very entrance to Cross Mountain Canyon (foreground). Acquisition opened new public access to tens of thousands of acres of surrounding public land.
xIn 2012, WRC purchased a 920 acre ranch on Colorado's Yampa River, at the very entrance to Cross Mountain Canyon (foreground). Acquisition opened new public access to tens of thousands of acres of surrounding public land.
Photography | Rob Hanna

Why It Matters

The least dammed of the major Colorado tributaries, the Yampa River is critical for endangered warm-water fish, and its waters nourish one of the finest cottonwood forests in the West. The Yampa is forever enshrined as the launch point of the river conservation movement in the 1950s, when citizens blocked construction of Echo Park Dam, which would have flooded the Yampa and Green River Canyons.

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The Yampa is key to the survival of four native species of warm-water fish: Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail chub, and razorback sucker (pictured), which have suffered elsewhere from nonnative fish competition and habitat degradation. The upper Yampa, the Elk and Little Snake River tributaries have superb habitat for imperiled Colorado cutthroat trout.


Cottonwood and box elder forests that line the Yampa River provide a rare haven for a diverse array of birds and mammals, including colorful songbirds, osprey, beaver and otter. The basin is also home to large mammals like bighorn sheep, pronghorn, black bear and cougar. Near Cross Mountain Canyon, the basin has one of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain elk (pictured) in the Lower 48.

How to See It

While the Yampa has extensive private reaches, there is ample public recreational access in the Flat Tops Wilderness, BLM-managed areas like Little Yampa Canyon, the Yampa River State Wildlife Area, Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area and, of course, inside the incomparable Dinosaur National Monument.

  • Paddle


    Paddling the Yampa River through Dinosaur National Monument is the trip of a lifetime, a multi-day float with vast horseshoe bends, towering hoodoos, ancient fossil sites and splendid isolation. Permits are issued through an annual lottery. Higher up, the river offers more than 60 miles of gentle canoe water between Craig and Cross Mountain Canyon. Then it explodes through Cross Mountain Canyon offering extreme Class IV-V rides for expert paddlers.

  • Fish


    The upper Yampa has some exceptional trout fishing, especially the tailwater section from Stagecoach Reservoir, through the Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area, to just above Lake Catamount. At Sarvis Creek, you’ll find four miles of public, catch-and-release trophy trout water. Even the stretch that flows through the town of Steamboat Springs has great fishing. The headwaters in the Flat Tops Wilderness offers spectacular, small-stream trout fishing.

  • Hunt


    Northwest Colorado is elk country, and the Yampa flows through the heart of it. Two of the best known hunting areas in the state are Cross Mountain Wilderness Study Area, home to one of the largest elk herds in North America, and the Sarvis Creek Wilderness. WRC’s efforts at Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch and Sarvis Creek created new access to these vast public lands.

The WRC Story

In 2013, Western Rivers Conservancy protected the 920-acre Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch, permanently conserving 2.5 miles of the Yampa River at the very entrance to Cross Mountain Canyon. In the process, we opened new access to more than 88,000 acres of hard-to-reach public lands that backcountry hikers, backpackers and hunters can now access without trespassing on private land. The ranch is now owned and managed by the BLM. In 2015, WRC protected 45 acres at Sarvis Creek to create new public access to a coveted stretch of trophy trout water on the Yampa, just 13 miles from Steamboat Springs. Together, these projects are connecting people to the Yampa’s natural wonders while protecting prime habitat for fish and wildlife.

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Go Deeper

  • Floating One of the Last Wild Rivers: Yampa Journal

    (National Geographic)
    Learn More
  • How northwest Colorado rallied around the Yampa River to create a lasting legacy

    (Great Outdoors Colorado)
    Learn More
  • Wildlife image gallery

    (National Park Service)
    Learn More
  • Yampa Hiking

    (Step Outside)
    Learn More

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