Colorado River Rafting

The Colorado and Green rivers have played a significant role in shaping the landscape of Canyonlands, and seeing the park from the bottom up affords a unique perspective. Above their confluence near the heart of Canyonlands, the rivers offer miles and miles of flat water perfect for canoes, sea kayaks and other shallow-water boats. Below the confluence, the combined flow of both rivers spills down Cataract Canyon with remarkable speed and power, creating a fourteen-mile stretch of Class III to V white water.

Thanks to this confluence of natural forces that produce some of the West's best rapids and its perfect proximity to southeast Utah's national park experiences, Cataract Canyon is an extremely popular destination and must-hit run for fans of white water. In fact, it's an official entry in The Salt Lake Tribune's Utah Bucket List. As a result, guides and/or advance private permits are both required and limited in number.

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

According to the Canyonlands National Park website, the highest recorded flow in Cataract Canyon was 114,900 cfs in 1984. Scientists have estimated a possible flow of 225,000 cfs in 1884 by dating driftwood piles in the canyon.

The ever-changing flows make running the rapids a challenge. Some rapids get washed out during high flows but can be difficult to maneuver at lower-water levels. Guides and private groups stop at many of the 30 rapids to scout out the safest route through Cataract.
The night sky

A river group takes up residence for the night in Spanish Bottom before taking on the first rapids of Cataract Canyon the following morning in July of 2012.

Private and commercial-rafting permits to float the 47 miles of the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon are required and available through Canyonlands National Park, but most river runners launch at the Potash ramp about 20 miles southwest of Moab and take in a couple of days of leisurely floating the 48 miles to the confluence with the most action coming from water fights.

Hikes to petroglyphs, pictographs and ancient dwellings are scattered in the first days and help visitors establish a sense of the place in which they are suddenly immersed.

There is no evidence the ancient people of the area attempted to run the rapids, but it is obvious they depended on the river for life.

While people still depend on the Colorado River for life — just far away from Cataract Canyon — the major water artery of southeastern Utah still draws folks to its banks. They come for the thrills of floating like a cork through some of the wildest rapids in the world, but increasingly they are showing up to get far away from civilization and technology.

Permits are required to float Cataract Canyon. Private parties can obtain permits by contacting Canyonlands National Park. There are 18 contracted concessionaires that provide outfitted and guided trips through Cataract. Most Cataract Canyon river trips start at the Potash boat ramp about 20 miles southwest of Moab and float 48 miles on the Colorado River before reaching the confluence with the Green. The official start of Cataract Canyon begins shortly after the confluence and runs for 47 miles to the Hite Marina on Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

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