UTAH = WHITEWATER. Utah's rivers offer some of the most incredible whitewater rafting, kayaking, and boating in the country. Rivers, which have carved gorges that, at places, rival the depth of the Grand Canyon. Majesty, it graces every twist and turn, days on end. Some of the most famous runs include the wild whitewater of Westwater and Cataract Canyons (class IV-V) on the Colorado River, the Gates of Lodore and Desolation Canyon (class III-IV) on the Green River, and the Upper and Lower stretches (class III) of the San Juan River. Wildlife like elk and bighorn sheep galloping through mountain meadows or looming in desert cliffs mark your experience with an indelible memory. Utah means whitewater wonderment.
But it's not just the whitewater that Utah's rivers are famous for. There are also flat water stretches of these rivers that access secluded canyons like Labyrinth Canyon (Canyonlands National Park), Ruby & Horse Thief Canyon, the lower Provo River, the Little Grand Canyon, and many more. For multi-day trips on both whitewater and flatwater runs, sandy beaches beneath colorful, sculpted canyon walls miles from anywhere make beautiful settings for pitching a tent and spending the night beneath an amphitheater of shining diamonds. Being home to some of the most remote places within the lower 48 means some of the darkest star-filled skies anywhere. Most of these river runs also include numerous opportunities for hikes to petroglyphs, pictographs and other remnants of the ancient Fremont and Anasazi cultures that once thrived here many hundreds of years ago. Professional river guides often delight participants with their knowledge of river lore about outlaws, whitewater pioneers, and more.
There are many excellent guides and outfitters available in Utah for your river experience. They include professional river guides, many of whom are also accomplished chefs prepared to make delightful meals, especially on multi-day trips. A guided river trip ensures that all safety precautions have been taken and all necessary equipment for a safe, enjoyable trip is included.
The following descriptions are meant only as a taste of what Utah's rivers have to offer. They are in no way intended as guidelines for planning your own river experience. Rafting, kayaking, or boating on the tamest of rivers is hazardous. ALWAYS wear an appropriate PFD whenever you are either on or near any river.
Northern Utah Rivers
The Weber River - Henefer to Taggart Falls
From the Salt Lake City International Airport, you could be floating on the Weber River in just an hour drive. Known by locals as the Weeb, it's not like a rafting trip on the mighty Colorado or Green Rivers, but it's definitely fun. The 5-mile float through Weber Canyon starts on a meandering and brief flat water stretch of river before the first riffles appear. Rock Garden, a class II+ rapid and navigation challenge, appears shortly after. This section gets really big during high water, and some big holes form on river right. Following Rock Garden, the entertainment continues with a nice mix of rapids and flat water stretches, which provide time to take in beautiful views of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains. Three noteworthy features along this run include a snug pass beneath the Croydon Bridge, Devil's Slide, an unusual geologic rock formation consisting of two parallel bands of limestone running down a steep mountainside, and Slalom Rapid, which passes a series of concrete pillars supporting the freeway above. The run concludes with its biggest rapid, Taggart Falls, a class III- rapid, which can become a little beast during high water.
There are several guides and outfitters who offer daily trips on the Weber River throughout the summer season.
Central Utah Rivers
Green River - Green River Daily
This 9-mile section of the Green River begins at Nefertiti Access Point, flows through Gray Canyon, and concludes at Swaseys Boat Ramp. Fantastic desert, canyon country scenery surrounds the entire float. A great run for first timers and families, it's mellow enough to include floating, paddling, and water play. All the while, there are just enough rapids to keep you on your toes. Keep an eye out for desert big horn sheep, which roam the surrounding cliffs. A short hike from the river's edge leads to ancient petroglyphs, evidence of the area's prehistoric residents.
Many guides and outfitters offer trips on the Green River Daily.
San Rafael River - The Little Grand Canyon
This 17 mile float through the "Little Grand Canyon" of the San Rafael Swell is sublime. Ideal for canoes, or inflatable or hardshell kayaks, it's primarily a flat-water float through towering canyon walls and cozy cottonwood groves. Being quite narrow, very serpentine, and with surprisingly fast water, it does require paddlers to be on their toes with regard to navigation. A few miles from the put-in at Fuller Bottom, watch out for an old barbed-wire fence that juts several feet over the river from the right bank. It's easy to avoid by staying river left. Ideal flows for this run are 150 cfs and above. The inviting scenery and solitude of this special place make it a great choice for planning a night beneath the dazzling star-filled Utah skies. Along the journey, be aware that there are a number of hiking trails and keep your eyes open for petroglyphs and pictographs found throughout the area. This float is an oft overlooked and/or unknown gem, and could be just what the doctor ordered.
The take-out is at the San Rafael Bridge. Do NOT continue down the river past the San Rafael Bridge as the water becomes increasingly swift, unpredictable, and dangerous (class III-V). It's important to remember that on most years, there is a short window of opportunity to run the San Rafael, and on some years, none at all. As a general rule of thumb, the best time to consider a float on the San Rafael River is late May through early June. Check the current flow conditions at waterwatch.usgs.gov, click on the state of Utah, and then find "San Rafael River Near Green River, UT," on the map and click for approximate current flows.
While this section of the San Rafael River presents no major hazards of significance to competent boaters, ALL river boating is inherently dangerous. There are no outfitters or guides and services available for the San Rafael River, so be prepared with your own shuttles and everything you need. Anyone considering this run should absolutely consult guidebooks and outfitters for complete information.
Eastern Utah Rivers
Green River - Desolation and Gray Canyons
Standing proudly atop the podium as one of Utah’s premier multi-day river trips, Desolation Canyon serves up a delectable cornucopia of experiences, scenery, rapids, and geologic and anthropological interests to delight river runners, from strong beginners to seasoned veterans. In 1869, John Wesley Powell led an expedition through Desolation Canyon to chart these unknown wilds, an area still considered to be one of the most remote places in the lower 48. At its deepest point, this canyon rises 5,000 feet from the river to the unseen Tavaputs Plateau overhead. Desert bighorn sheep, elk, deer, black bear, mountain lions, and many other species call this canyon home. Prehistoric evidence abounds throughout the run, ancient Fremont petroglyphs and pictographs are found within short hiking distance from the river's edge. Of historical note, notorious outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, found refuge here.
For most river runners, the average time to complete this 84-mile journey, from the put-in at Sand Wash to the take-out at Swasey’s Landing, just north of Green River, is six to seven days. However, it can be done a few days more quickly, or increased to 12 or more days for boaters who want to experience all this run has to offer.
During the first 26-miles of the run, be prepared to relax and enjoy the serenity and scenery of the flat water stretch, typified by wide-open skies and surrounded by desert canyon country and towering cliffs. It’s during this part of the journey, you’ll be glad you brought along your insect repellent. From late-May through July, the mosquitoes can be absolutely ravenous. Then, for the following 58 miles, the canyon walls constrict, insects become much less of a problem, and the rapids come at the pace of one or more a mile. In all, there are 60 named class II and III rapids. The most significant of which, Joe Hutch Rapid, can elevate to a solid class IV or V- during high water.
Beautiful beaches and camps beneath groves of cottonwood trees abound. The east-side of the river is off-limits except for those who have obtained a permit from the Ute Indian Tribe, as the land there is part of the Ute Indian Reservation. There are many guides and outfitters who offer river trips through Desolation and Gray Canyons. Those interested in running Desolation privately, can obtain a permit and information from the Price Office of the Bureau of Land Management at (435) 636-0975.
Southeastern Utah Rivers
Utah's most popular river trip, the Moab Daily, is a 13-mile stretch of the Colorado River from Hittle Bottom to Takeout Beach along Highway 128. This float can be easily done in a day. With breathtaking canyon country scenery and fun class II and III rapids, it's a great trip for first timers and families. While some of the runs' rapids are easily enough to get the adrenaline pumping, all are fairly easy to navigate.
Many guides and outfitters offer trips on the Moab Daily.
More coming soon...