Whitewater Wanderlust: Paddling Utah's Colorado and Green Rivers

The Rocky Return: The Colorado River as it weaves through Utah's Canyonlands  (Corbis)

Utah's southeastern corner pinpoints the convergence of the Colorado and Green Rivers, the two architects of the region's staggering landscape. Both rivers flaunt unparalleled views of their geological handiwork—canyons and massive rock formations, drenched in deep yellows and reds, pierce the royal blue sky and dwarf the paddlers below. Along the flanking canyon walls, cliff dwellings and Anasazi petroglyphs offer evidence of the area's early human habitation.
The Green River is the gentler waterway. Mild Class I to III rapids begin well before the confluence of the two rivers, but you don't head to the Green for big water. The 84-mile stretch along Desolation Canyon rolls leisurely through the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and into the shallow cradle of Gray Canyon, channeling past colorful rock strata that tower 5,000 feet above the river's edge. The river is also a refuge from the arid heat for an array of wildlife; spot bobcats and bighorn sheep along the riverbanks, while red-tailed eagles soar high above.
As the waters of the two rivers unite, the less boisterous Green defers to its more adventurous twin. With as many as 67 Class IV+ rapids, even seasoned river rats will experience their share of paddle-pounding thrills along the Colorado. Several miles downriver from the junction of the two rivers, twelve-mile-long Cataract Canyon—with some of the fiercest rapids in the West—awaits those with courage, a paddle, and a permit. Those thirsting for less-extreme whitewater will still find plenty of more moderate challenges on the Colorado; the town of Potash, 49 miles north of the confluence, provides access to the river's calmer stretches as it threads alongside the dramatic landscape of Canyonlands National Park.
Paddling expeditions are launched at various points along both rivers, depending on skill level and desired length of adventure. Multi-day outings on both the Colorado and Green let you camp on sandy beachheads by night and explore hiking trails within side canyons by day. Alternatively, day trips can make for an invigorating introduction to the region's spectacular geography and some of its Class IV+ rapids. Green River paddlers with an interest in the area's rich archaeological heritage should start 100 miles north of Desolation Canyon at Dinosaur National Monument, the largest quarry of Jurassic-period bones ever discovered. Outfitters serving the Green River offer gourmet food, geological lectures, and riverside concerts, while the Colorado, in keeping with its adventurous spirit, offers big whitewater and easy access to hiking, biking, and rock climbing in Canyonlands, Arches, and Moab.

Published: 26 Sep 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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