Green River Floating and Rafting

Flaming Gorge   |  Ryan Kelly
  • Weather: Slight Chance Rain Showers, 76F
Fun for families, couples, and solo explorers, the West’s iconic Green River beckons to be discovered. From its beginnings in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming to its terminus at the confluence with the Colorado River, this waterway winds hundreds of miles and provides the perfect spot for an abundance of recreational activities.

River trips can become logistical Olympics, so make your life a little easier by hiring a commercial outfitter (try our guides and outfitters search). Whomever you choose, they will generally provide all of your equipment, a shuttle service, and expert knowledge and stories about the river and surrounding landscape. Just remember, you’re on “river time” and little else matters while you’re out there, whether it’s a few hours or several days.

If you do decide to stake out on your own, permits and advance planning are often needed. Inquire with the Bureau of Land Management for more information. And remember, temperatures are most ideal in summertime; in the spring, there are higher water levels with bigger rapids, but colder water; in the fall, the water is warmer, but flows at lower levels.

Favorite Floats

The 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. Green River State Park makes a great base camp.

Many guides and outfitters offer trips on the Green River Daily. 

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 the town 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.

See the article Lost and Found in Desolation Canyon, below.

Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur National Monument

The Green and Yampa rivers carve out great adventure in the area near Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur National Monument. This area offers incredible scenery, great basecamp towns (such as Vernal) and a wide range of rapid classes for all abilities. Popular stretches include following the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument from the Canyon of Lodore to Split Mountain Gorge. The Green and its largest tributary, the Yampa River, meet at Steamboat Rock in Echo Park. The Yampa River offers great adventure during run-off season in the spring. 

Routes to check out include:

  • Gates of Lodore and Yampa River (multi-day trip)
  • Split Mountain Daily through Dinosaur National Monument (single-day trip)
  • Flaming Gorge Dam to Dinosaur National Monument (multi-day trip)
  • Flaming Gorge Dam to Little Hole (single-day trip)

Find a guide to learn more about river trips and routes. See the article Remote Adventure on the Green River below and read 5 Reasons to Hire .

About the River

Spanish and Mexican explorers called this river the Rio Verde, or Green River, and some think that this is because of the verdant vegetation along its banks. What’s more, the river actually achieved its green hue more recently, after it was dammed; the color is a product of silt.

Even with one dam on its length, the Green River is still largely a wild river, and boaters and floaters flock to its cool waters annually for play. The options are many — from the Gates of Lodore two hundred miles north at the beginning to famous jaunts through Canyonlands to the south— but when using the town of Green River as your river base camp, however, there are a few really outstanding settings for your trip. Their names are Desolation, Labyrinth and Stillwater.

Petroglyphs, wildlife, scenery, sunsets, soaring cliffs — you name it, and Green River provides. Three of the most popular areas near Green River include Desolation, Labyrinth, and Stillwater canyons (in order from upstream down). You can enjoy incredibly calm water in the latter two canyons. These are ideal for multi-day rafting trips or for mellow single-day canoe and kayak trips; there’s no better way to experience the solitude and beauty of such lovely canyons. Desolation Canyon is for the more serious adventurers, totaling 84-miles from the put-in at Sand Wash to the take-out at Swasey’s Boat Ramp. It’s typically done as a six to seven-day trip to allow ample time for its 60 rapids, which come at the rate of one per mile for 60 miles, and to allow for ample time to enjoy maximum solitude and exploration. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the canyon’s abundant wildlife, including wild horses, desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, mountain lions and black bear. Take advantage of the many hiking opportunities to view native american rock art, skiffs abandoned by early river-explorers, abandoned ranches, including one where Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch often swapped horses with owner, Jim McPherson, and even a prohibition-era whiskey outpost. Beware of the common afternoon canyon winds, which can be fierce and make downstream travel seemingly impossible. Most importantly, plan for a rare opportunity to unplug from the pace of everyday life and to receive one of the most memorable experiences of your lifetime. 

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