Rafting Lodore Canyon in Utah's Dinosaur National Monument
With ancient, red cliffs looming above him and the Green River foaming violently at his boat, it's easy to understand why John Wesley Powell, Lodore Canyon's first explorer, christened the rapids in such ominous fashion: Disaster Falls, Desolation Canyon, Hell's Half Mile
Still, one man's desolation is another's dream, and the whitewater that gave Powell pause so many years ago now summons adventurers to test their limits. Start at the top of the world-renowned Dinosaur National Monument; weave through stark, Precambrian cliffs covered in petroglyphs; then drop over rapids that will leave you white-knuckled, wet, and itching for more.
Dinosaur National Monument was created in 1915, seven years after the first fossilized dinosaur bones were discovered there. Today, it stretches across the gorges of the Green and Yampa Rivers, covering 200,000 acres. Stand next one of the world's most comprehensive collections of dinosaur fossils, still embedded in the rock, at the monument's Quarry Visitor's Center. Breach the precipice of Harper's Peak to survey the surrounding landscape, or hike Desert Voice Trail, a modest two-mile loop that affords sweeping views of the region's mountains.
Once you've built up a sweat, head for the river. The 44-mile, four-day paddling trip first passes through the 800-foot Gates of Lodore, standing on either side of the Green River like timeless sentries, their red walls flecked with pine and fir trees. At dusk, pull to the sandy shoreline and sleep next to river's edge, then wake to the sun reflecting off the canyon walls as your guides cook breakfast over an open fire. Intense Class II-III whitewater awaits as you cut through the canyon, then cruise into the calm expanse of Echo Park, where the Green and Yampa Rivers meet. Count the millions of years in the striations along the surrounding cliffs as you cross over a geological fault, then paddle toward the rainbow-colored rock faces of Split Mountain Gorge. Finish up your journey at Split Mountain Campground, where the camping trip can be continued, or head on to nearby Jensen, Utah, to find a place to sleep that isn't on the ground.
The Green River is one of Utah's best for learning the ropes of whitewater rafting. None of the more than 60 Class II-III rapids are technically difficult, but they will still prove challenging for novice paddlers. The sandy beaches offer easy stop-off points for hiking excursions, concerts, and instructional seminars, which some outfitters offer in conjunction with their rafting packages.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication