Rafting and Boating
Even a visitor with a tight schedule can get out and enjoy the canyon country on rafts and other watercraft. Outfitters offer both laid-back and exhilarating day trips, which usually require little advance planning. Longer, multiday trips include gentle canoe paddles along the placid Green River and thrilling expeditions down the Colorado River.
You'll need to reserve well in advance for most of the longer trips, because the BLM and the National Park Service limit the numbers of trips through the backcountry, and space, especially in high season, is at a premium. Experienced rafters can also plan their own unguided trips, although you'll need a permit for all areas except for the day-long Fisher Towers float upstream from Moab.
The rafting season runs April through September, and jet-boat tours run February through November. Most do-it-yourself river-runners obtain their permits by applying in January and February for a March drawing; the Moab Information Center's BLM ranger can advise on this process and provide the latest information about available cancellations.
Rafting and Kayaking Trips
For most of the following trips, full-day rates include lunch and beverages, while part-day trips include just lemonade and soft drinks. On overnight trips, you'll sleep in tents in backcountry campgrounds.
The Colorado River offers several exciting options. The most popular day run near Moab starts upstream near Fisher Towers and bounces through several moderate rapids on the way back to town. Full-day raft trips from Fisher Towers to near Moab generally cost $50-60 per person. Half-day trips run over much the same stretch of river (no lunch, though) and cost around $45-50 per adult.
For a more adventurous rafting trip, the Colorado's rugged Westwater Canyon offers lots of white water and several class III-IV rapids near the Utah-Colorado border. These long day trips are more expensive, typically $155-160 a day. The Westwater Canyon is also often offered as part of multiday adventure packages.
The Dolores River joins the Colorado about two miles upstream from Dewey Bridge, near the Colorado border. The Dolores River offers exciting white water in a narrow canyon during the spring runoff; the season is short, though, and the river is too low to run by mid-June. With plenty of class III and IV rapids, this trip usually takes two to four days and costs around $400-650 per person.
The Cataract Canyon section of the Colorado River, which begins south of the river's confluence with the Green River and extends to the backwater of Lake Powell, usually requires four days of rafting to complete. However, if you're in a hurry, some outfitters offer time-saving trips that motor (rather than float) through placid water and slow down only to shoot rapids, enabling these trips to conclude in as little as two days.
This is the wildest white water in the Moab area, with big, boiling class III and IV rapids. Costs range $500-1200, depending on what kind of craft, the number of days, and whether you fly, hike, or drive out at the end of the trip.
The Green River also offers rafting and canoeing opportunities, although they are milder than those on the Colorado. Trips on the Green make good family outings. Most trips require five days, leaving from the town of Green River and taking out at Mineral Bottom, just before Canyonlands National Park. Highlights of the Green River include Labyrinth Canyon and Bowknot Bend. Costs range $650-900 for a five-day rafting trip.
Rafting or Kayaking on Your Own
The Fisher Towers section of the Colorado is gentle enough for amateur rafters to negotiate on their own. Canyon Voyages and Navtec Expeditions are two local rafting companies that rent rafts and kayaks for those who would rather organize their own river adventure.
A popular one-day raft trip with mild rapids begins from the Hittle Bottom Recreation Site, 23.5 miles up Highway 128 near Fisher Towers, and ends 14 river miles downstream at Take-Out Beach, 10.3 miles up Highway 128 from U.S. 191. You can rent rafts and the mandatory life jackets in Moab, and you won't need a permit on this section of river.
Experienced white-water rafters with permits can put in at the BLM's Westwater Ranger Station in Utah or at the Loma boat launch in Colorado. A start at Loma adds a day or two to the trip and the sights of Horsethief and Ruby Canyons. Normal takeout is at Cisco, although it's possible to continue 16 miles on slow-moving water through open country to Dewey Bridge.
Daily raft rentals begin at $60 (for a small raft); kayaks rent for $35.
Moab Rafting Outfitters
Moab is full of river-trip companies, and most offer a variety of day and multiday trips; in addition, many will combine raft trips with biking, horseback riding, hiking, or four-wheel-drive excursions. Check out their many websites from www.discovermoab.com/tour.htm.
The list below includes major outfitters offering a variety of rafting options. Most of them lead trips to the main river destinations on the Colorado and Green Rivers as well as other rivers in Utah and the West. Inquire about natural history or petroglyph tours, if these specialty trips interest you.
- Western River Expeditions
435/259-7019 or 866/904-1163
- Tag-A-Long Expeditions
452 N. Main St.
435/259-8946 or 800/453-3292
- Navtec Expeditions
321 N. Main St.
435/259-7983 or 800/833-1278
- Canyon Voyages
211 N. Main St.
435/259-6007 or 800/733-6007
- Adrift Adventures
435/259-8594 or 800/874-4483
- Sheri Griffith Expeditions
503/259-8229 or 800/332-2439
Canoeists can also sample the calm waters of the Green River on multiday excursions with Moab Rafting and Canoe Company (497 N. Main St., 800/753-8216, www.moab-rafting.com). It runs scheduled trips to four sections of the Green and to calmer stretches of the Colorado River. Guided trips run about $150 per person per day. Red River also rents canoes for around $35 per day, including necessary equipment.
Another good source for DIY canoe and kayak trips on the Green is Tex's Riverways (435/259-5101 or 877/662-239, www.texsriverways.com), which specializes in rentals, shuttles, and support.
Jet-Boat and Motorboat
Guided jet-boat excursions through Canyonlands National Park start at around $75 for a half-day trip. Tag-A-Long Expeditions (52 N. Main St., 435/259-8946 or 800/453-3292, www.tagalong.com) and Adrift Adventures (435/259-8594 or 800/874-4483, www.adrift.net) both offer half-day trips and full-day combination jet-boat/jeep excursions.
Canyonlands by Night tours leave at sunset in an open motorboat and go several miles upstream on the Colorado River; a guide points out canyon features. The sound and light show begins on the way back; music and historic narration accompany the play of lights on canyon walls ($65 adults, $55 ages 4-12; boats run Apr.-mid-Oct). Package tours with chuck wagon dinners are available. Reservations are a good idea because the boat fills up fast. Trips depart from the Spanish mission-style office just north of Moab, across the Colorado River (435/259-5261, www.canyonlandsbynight.com).
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition