Rafting a river can take you to some of the most remote places on Earth, filled with 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 cultures that once thrived across Utah.
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.
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.
Meet Utah's Rivers
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River adventures require a commitment. Multi-day trips call for sleeping and eating outdoors, a very relaxed dress code and a tolerance for temperatures — ice-cold water and sun-baked heat. Many of the difficulties of planning can be alleviated by taking a guided river tour.
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. (Read:"The Perks of Going with a Guide").
DISCLAIMER: 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.
Henefer to Taggart Falls
From Salt Lake City, you could be floating on the Weber River near Ogden 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.
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.
Central Eastern Utah
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. Green River State Park makes a great base camp. Learn more
The Moab Daily
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. Learn more
This float is a great family adventure and good for first-time passengers and last-minute schedules. This can be a half-day or full-day trip on the Colorado River. Many trips include rides in small inflatable kayaks. Several major movies have been shot along this section of river.
The Little Grand Canyon
San Rafael River
This 17 mile float through the "Little Grand Canyon" of the San Rafael Swell is sublime (Read: The Undiscovered Swell). 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.
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.
Desolation and Gray Canyons
This section of the Green River features several Native American ruins and historical sites, including abandoned ranches, one a hangout for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It’s a great family trip with long sections of calm water. But it also holds 60 class I to III rapids (with VI being too high to run.) Learn more
This is a popular one or two day trip that beings at the ranger station and ends at Cisco Takeout, roughly 17 miles of rapids that includes several Class IV rapids. It's a great ride at any water level. Not recommended for children under 12. Travelers can tailor their trips to their time tables. Great hikes, petroglyphs, caves and history along the way
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. Learn more
Sand Island to Mexican Hat
San Juan River
Head out on the San Juan River’s 26-mile stretch from Sand Island near Bluff to Mexican Hat for such watery bliss. You can hire a guide service, like Wild Rivers Expeditions, or get a permit and head out on your own in a canoe or kayak. Either way, make sure you see all of the wonderful sites as you make your way downstream. This complete section of river can be run as a single day or multi-day trip at an easier pace. This river is one of the few places in the world where a long string of large rolling sand waves appear and then disappear. It is considered one of the most exciting rivers but draws few passengers. The river feeds into Lake Powell and has several class II and III rapids. Learn more