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How Do the River Rapids Get Their Names?

a man riding on a raft in the river

Join a fireside chat on a river trip and you will hear about a named rapid and its story.  The rivers and rapids of the world have been named in a variety of ways over the centuries. Some of the names are derived from the landscape surrounding the river, while others come from the culture and history of the people who live nearby. In some cases, authors and explorers may have coined the name themselves or used existing names from other rivers or landscapes. This blog post looks at some of the fascinating stories behind the names of the most popular rapids.  You can even talk about rivers in terms of mathematics. For example, there are over 250,000 rivers in the United States that combine for a total of more than 3,500,000 miles.


Snaggletooth is one of the Dolores River’s most famous class V rapids in the world. The rapid itself is known for its treacherous class V whitewater. The Dolores River was first run by boat in May 1948, by O. “Dock” Marston, World War I submarine commander, noted swimmer and pioneer river rat. With him were Preston Walker, their wives and Ditty, a small black dog. They used a Nevills San Juan boat (wood, squared off at either end), making the journey with much joy and little difficulty except at the furious rapid they named Snaggletooth for the large rock shaped in the rapid for its namesake.   * As an aside, Bill Dvorak (owner of Dvorak Expeditions) holds a claim to fame that in 1981 he had more runs of Snaggletooth Rapid than anyone in a single day; (seventeen = 12 kayaks and 5 rafts).  


The Dolores River remains one of the most remote, beautiful extended rafting trips in the world. The river drains a rugged and arid region of the Colorado Plateau west of the San Juan Mountains. Its name derives from the Spanish El Rio de Nuestra Señora de Dolores, River of Our Lady of Sorrows. The river was explored and possibly named by Juan Maria Antonio Rivera during a 1765 expedition from Santa Fe.

Seidel’s Suckhole

Sidell’s Suckhole is one of the Arkansas River’s most popular rapids in the US. This rapid was named after a German kayaker, Eric Seidel who won several FIBARK festivals down river races.  He was the 1st boater to run this rapid in Browns Canyon, capsized and spent some time recirculating in the “suckhole” before escaping — thus the name “Seidel’s Suckhole” was born.  The rapid as one of many is now renowned for its raging waters and immense power, and whitewater thrill-seekers frequently swarm to run this section of the Arkansas River in Browns Canyon National Monument to put their skills to the test.

Skull Rapid

This rapid in Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River got its name during a high water year that had swept several Big Horn Sheep carcasses into the mid rapid eddy called the ‘Room of Doom’, After the water dropped one of the sheep skulls was wedged in the rocks high on the canyon wall where it stayed for many years as river rafters continued to reference the rapid and named it ‘Skull Rapid’.  


Skull Rapid is a heart-stopping experience as the river snakes its way to the left, forming a treacherous vortex. The entrance is a perilous passage with colossal waves that threaten to sweep everything over Skull Rock and plunge it into the monstrous hole below. Though being at the bottom of the pit is daunting, it’s the ascent that’s the true test. The ‘Rock of Shock’ looms ahead, a solid wall of stone, while on the right, a powerful back eddy propels unwary adventurers into the ‘Room of Doom’, a vast chamber hollowed out of the rock. 

Sunshine Falls

You would think from the name that it would be smooth sailing—but you’d be wrong. Arkansas Rivers rapid, Sunshine Falls  once named ‘Corkscrew’, had a name change after a high-water flood in the 1000 ft deep ‘Royal Gorge’ moved several rocks creating a Class V-Falls.  Its name changed because at the rapid location was a winter warming hut called Sunshine Hut, used by Canon City water works employees who had to repair the damage to the pipeline, due to the winter freeze, that runs along the river. This rapid was at a place where the sun reached into the Royal Gorge and the workers always referred to the hut and rapid as Sunshine Falls.  

It is one of the most dangerous rapids, known for its life-threatening high water on the Arkansas River in the famous Royal Gorge. People flock from all over the world for the fun, technical challenge of the Royal Gorge ‘s whitewater rapids. * The 145 miles of the Arkansas River offers something for everyone from first-time whitewater rafters to experienced paddlers.


Tootsie Roll and Stovepipe

Northgate Canyon is the North Platte River’s gateway north. The water follows the western flank of the Rocky Mountains in the North Park Region flowing from Colorado into Wyoming as it plunges over 20 ft/mile through the canyon. The high gradient produces some of Colorado’s and Wyoming’s best rapids including Class IV Narrow Falls, sometimes called OFA- ‘Outrageous Frickin Rapid’ and Tootsie Roll named for the two large, often submerged boulders here that created two extremely powerful swirling ledge holes that lead into the last long rapid Stovepipe, which is a large, but a clean wave-train.  The National Forest Service rangers named this whitewater run and its rapids in the early 70’s. 


If you are looking for a unique way to explore the beauty of Colorado’s rivers, look no further than Dvorak Kayak and Rafting Expeditions. We offer incredible guided rafting trips that take you through some of the most stunning rivers in the country. From the roaring class IV-V rapids of Arkansas River to the serene beauty of the canyons on the Dolores River, our one-half to eight-day rafting trips will let you experience the best of what Colorado has to offer. So, whether you are a total newbie, weekend thrill-seeker, advanced paddler, or a family vacation planner, we’ve rounded up six guided river rafting trips in Colorado you can—and should—book this month. Don’t miss the boat this summer for the memory packed adventure trip.