Kayaking in Denver: Assessing Rooftops and Racks to Transport Your Boat

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Confluence Park in downtown Denver, where Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River, is a popular spot to take a kayak on an 'urban adventure.' Photo by: Jessica Reeder, via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Confluence Park in downtown Denver, where Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River, is a popular spot to take a kayak on an 'urban adventure.' Photo by: Jessica Reeder, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

This Is Kayak Country

The headwaters of nearly 20 rivers begin here, high in the Rocky Mountains, according to Colorado Tourism. These rivers are classified as Class I through Class IV, offering a range of experiences for newbies and hardcore paddlers alike — from meandering, downstream drifts to rock-strewn, whitewater- rapid runs.

You can even paddle within the Mile High City itself. Believe it or not, kayaking in Denver involves shooting the South Platte River rapids where it meets Cherry Creek, right in the heart of downtown. Visit Denver says that running the whitewater chutes at Confluence Park is one of the city’s top urban adventures.

According to Colorado Tourism, the state’s kayaking season officially runs from May to September. Depending on the year’s snowmelt, the best whitewater months tend to be May and June, with July and August proving to be ideal for those seeking more laid-back excursions. Plenty of outfitters stand ready to assist if you don’t have your own equipment or if you need professional guide services.

When most people think of Colorado, they think of snow-capped peaks and gnarly bump runs, backcountry camping and Fourteener summit-bagging, four-wheeling and mountain biking, with the occasional Broncos or Nuggets games thrown in for good measure. Water doesn’t always come to mind.

It should. Turns out, the Centennial State is a haven for kayakers.

If you do own a kayak, you know that loading, securing and transporting your vessel is an important part of your adventure — and you’re likely familiar with the strength, time and ingenuity that these processes can require. In this first installment of a two-part series on car-topping kayaks, we’ll share a few tips with you regarding the gear you’ll need to get your boat from point A to point B.

Ask the Right Questions

While there are kayak carts for paddlers who live near their favorite launch sites, and kayak trailers for those who routinely haul multiple vessels, the reality is that the vast majority of us are going to car-top our boats. An important first step is to make sure that you choose the rack system that’s right for you.

Before you start looking at rooftop rack systems, take a close look at your car. You’ll want to choose a system that will work well with the vehicle. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • How tall is the roof, and am I going to be able to reach it without a stepstool or a ladder?
  • How many kayaks do I want to carry? Vehicles with low, flat roofs can handle more boats.
  • What type of roof does my car have — short/rounded, flat/wide, pickup-truck bed?
  • Does my car have a naked roof, or does it have factory-added mounts such as roof rails or crossbars? Factory roof rails are one of the easiest ways to attach roof racks, according to the experts at Gokayaknow.com.

A Rack for Every Car

Once you can answer the questions about your vehicle’s roof, you can choose a rack system that will suit the type of car you plan to use.

Traditional roof rack: This incorporates a set of bars that attach to your vehicle with door clips or rain gutters, and they come with an array of attachments (such as kayak saddles). You’ll need to make sure the racks are padded; once you place your boat upside-down on the rack, strap it down and tie the straps to the bars. If you want to haul multiple boats on top of your vehicle, stackers allow you to line them up on their sides so they won’t fall over.

Soft rack: This works with almost any type of vehicle. It comprises a set of pads that sit between the boat and your car’s roof. To tie your boat down, run the straps through the car doors, and tie the boat to the roof and to your car’s bumpers, fore and aft. Make sure you don’t over-tighten the straps, which can dent the roof.

Bed-mount rack system: If you have a pickup truck, you can get a rack system that consists of posts and rails to mount over the pickup bed. You may need to carry a ladder in your vehicle to work with this type of system.

In our next post, we’ll discuss tie-downs, tips for transporting your kayak safely and how to load and unload that tricky boat on your own.

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