Is floating down the Colorado River on your must-do list? The adventure of whitewater and the rare beauty of desert canyons make the trip both exciting and spectacular.
As the only major Utah city located on the banks of the Colorado, Moab specializes in river play. The Colorado River is a majestic river with incomparable desert scenery. It offers rapids for the adrenaline junkie or a scenic float for those who wish to enjoy the tranquil beauty surrounding the river.
Respect the River
Even when the water looks calm, there is a strong undertow in the Colorado River. Beware. Never dive into the river, or any river, without checking what is below the surface. Rocks and other debris can pull you under. Always wear a PFD (personal flotation device), and stay alert, even when swimming!
What to Take
Playing on the river means you will inevitably get wet. Wear lightweight synthetic fibers that have a wide temperature range and dry quickly. Wear footwear that will stay on and are designed for the river, such as Chacos or Tevas. Tennis shoes will do, but avoid flip flops that will likely be lost in the current.
Wear a snug-fitting hat with a wide brim, sunglasses with a strap, waterproof SPF 30 sunscreen, and SPF lip balm. Try wearing something made of UPF protective fabric. They come in short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirts, pants, and hats that incorporate up to UPF 50 factor protection. Wearing these fabrics drastically reduces the need to pile on sunscreen. The fabric is great around water as well.
Leave rings and other jewelry behind to avoid blisters or loss. Keep car keys, wallet, and other valuables in a zippered pocket (or better yet, don’t take them on the river at all). Don’t forget a bandana, swimsuit, towel, and waterproof camera. Have a set of dry clothes in the car.
Always have a reusable water bottle, and start with it full. Outfitters often bring coolers for refills. Avoid bringing bottled water; your empty plastic bottle is added trash in the boat. Everything should be attached to you or the raft in case you fall out or the boat turns over.
Outfitters are required to provide safety equipment such as flotation devices and first aid kits, and some also supply waterproof bags for storing equipment, and watertight boxes for cameras, food, and non-alcoholic beverages. Check with the outfitter for specific information since requirements vary by trip and season.
Options for Running the River:
The most popular place to play on the Colorado River in Moab is “The Daily” (some may refer to this as a Fisher Towers trip). This section is east of Moab and an excellent rafting trip for first-timers and families. This 13-mile stretch features seven rapids mixed with calm-water sections and follows Utah Hwy 128 as it floats past iconic Fisher Towers and Castle Valley. Half- or full-day trips are offered. For the best value, go on an all-day trip as lunch is provided. If you want a half-day trip, mornings usually have calmer weather, but afternoon trips sometimes include lunch.
If you are looking for more of a thrill, try Westwater Canyon. Named “The West’s Best Short Whitewater Trip” by National Geographic, it is a 17-mile river stretch that contains eleven Class III to IV rapids, plus numerous less-challenging rapids.
Westwater begins near the Colorado-Utah border and runs through deep canyons surrounded by towering walls of black, gold, and red.
This is an exclusive day trip—only 25 people go on a trip, and usually only three companies can launch per day. This is because the BLM manages this stretch of river as a “wilderness study area” in order to protect the resources within it. Another great thing about Westwater is that rafters are very likely to see some great birds, including great blue heron, bald eagles, and other raptors. There are also occasional river otter sightings. It’s as popular as it is exclusive, so book early. This trip is well worth it.
Cataract Canyon is considered to be among the best whitewater rafting in the country and is at the top of all river runners’ lists.
“Cat” is offered as a day trip by NAVTEC, with their Zodiac-style boat. This is a big water experience.
If you want to really experience the pace of the river, consider a multi-day trip. You will need to do a bit of planning and make advanced reservations. Multi-day trips are offered on rafts, sea kayaks, or standup paddle boards.
Trips out of this area include the calmer Labyrinth/Stillwater Canyons on the Green River, Westwater Canyon, 112 miles through Cataract Canyon, or on the San Juan River south near Bluff.
Contact our outfitters to see the various trips that they offer.
Standup Paddle Boarding
Standup paddle boarding (SUP) is the fastest-growing water sport in the world. People everywhere are taking to lakes, rivers, and the ocean on paddle boards.
All you have to do to paddle board is stand on a board and use a paddle to steer and propel yourself forward. The boards used by most outfitters in Moab are fairly big and wide for more surface area which makes them more stable.
Paddle boarding is a sport the entire family can enjoy. With the right instruction, you can paddle board down the Colorado River your first day. If the river is too intimidating, then Ken’s Lake, south of town, is a perfect place to go for a paddle. Some boards are large enough to accommodate an adult with a small child. Wherever you go, always, always wear a PFD (personal floatation device)!
There are several excellent stretches on the river for paddling, whether you want a calm float or to learn new skills in riffles and rapids. The outfitters know the best places to go based on needs and water skill levels.
Shuttle companies can help get you there or pick you up (see below).
If you fall in love with this sport and want to buy your own board, you can try before you buy. Both Canyon Voyages and Wild West Voyages rent and sell boards. Try out a few and then buy the one for you.
For a fun standup day, contact Canyon Voyages Adventure Co., 435-259-6007, canyonvoyages.com; or Moab Adventure Center, 435-259-7019, moabadventurecenter.com; or Moab Watersports and Gear Rentals, 435-355-0343, moabwatersports.com; or Wild West Voyages, 435-238-4257, wildwestvoyages.com.
Canoeing & Sea Kayaking
Sea kayaking on the calmer parts of the Colorado River is a beautiful way to see the sights. Novices and experienced paddlers alike can paddle in solo or tandem sea kayaks.
Most guided day trips are on the section of “The Daily” to the Moab bridge where the water is calm. During high water, trips also go from the Moab bridge to Gold Bar.
If you want to venture out on your own, rental boats are available. South of Moab, Meander Canyon is calm, beautiful, and a perfect place to go. Paddle down to Gold Bar (10 miles downriver from the Moab bridge) or to the Potash boat ramp (about 11 miles from Moab). This is the last boat ramp so don’t paddle beyond here unless you have arranged a jet boat shuttle to pick you up.
Due to the current in the Colorado River, if you are canoeing, it is best to have experience.
Canyonlands By Night & Day offers canoe rentals. A shuttle to your drop-off point is included in the rental rate. They also provide jet boat shuttles for trips down river.
Canyon Voyages offer canoe rentals and half-day tours. They also offer inflatable kayaking trips.
NAVTEC and Moab Watersports and Gear Rentals offers kayak rentals. These outfitters will know the water levels and conditions.
Several shuttle companies are available to help with the logistics of getting to or from the river (see below).
If motoring along is more your pace, then a powerboat trip is for you. Some trips are fast and adrenaline pumping while others show you calmer parts of the river, and the boat does all the work!
Canyonlands By Night & Day offers a jet boat tour down the calm stretch of the Colorado River to the boundary line of Canyonlands National Park in a large, stable jet boat. This is one of the most comfortable ways to see the beauty of the backcountry from the river. With large windshields and shade awnings, jet boats are specifically designed for sightseeing cruises on the Colorado River.
They also have a new tour called “Spin & Splash” where they head up river to the rapids with a soundtrack of classic rock songs that gets peoples’ hearts pounding. 435-259-5261, canyonlandsbynight.com.
Moab Jett offers Adventure (wet), Scenic (dry), and Custom Tours for the ultimate experience on the Colorado River in Moab’s only New Zealand Style Jet Boat. The boats are open air with stadium seating holding up to 10 passengers so every seat is exceptional. All tours are scenic, informative, and fun for the whole family.
Scenic tours depart morning and evening for optimal lighting on the canyon walls. Relax as you travel through a maze of canyons. This tour is great for photography. The three-hour tour includes a short walk through a petrified forest.
The most popular tour is the signature two-hour Adventure Tour. In this wet and wild ride your adrenaline will flow with moves like the “Hamilton Spin,” sliding turns, and rapids.
Then they slow it down to float and take in the beauty and learn about the area. Splash jackets and beverages are provided.
For larger parties they have three boats for a holding capacity of up to 30 people at a time. Look for their little blue boats. 435-259-5538, moabjett.com.
NAVTEC Expeditions offers a half-day tour to explore the beauty and geology beneath the 2,000ft canyon walls. Traveling in a rigid hull inflatable boat, the guides will stop to see Native American rock imagery and cruise around the Goose Neck of the Colorado River. 435-259-7983, navtec.com.
Packrafts are lightweight, one-person inflatable boats that are commonly used for backpacking and canyoneering. They can also be used to run “The Daily” section of the Colorado River.
The rafts roll up and fit into a backpack for ease in carrying them around. They are easy to blow up and are quite stable on the river.
Check them out by contacting Moab Watersports and Gear Rentals, 435-355-0343, moabwatersports.com.
River Tube Rentals
A fun way to really cool off is to float down the Colorado River on a river tube. Canyonlands By Night & Day rents river tubes for floats from 2 to 10+ hours, depending on where you put-in.
The tubes have a mesh bottom, two handles, and are made of a sturdy fabric. Canyonlands By Night & Day will shuttle you to one of their four drop-off points. You can rent an extra tube to carry a cooler and extra gear. Rental costs are $20/day and include a PFD and shuttle.
For more details, 435-259-5261, canyonlandsbynight.com.
Who Can Float Your Boat
Please check with each company for all of their trip options.
Canyonlands By Night & Day rents canoes and water tubes. Shuttle trip included. 435-259-5261, canyonlandsbynight.com.
Canyon Voyages Adventure Co. offers guided, calm-water kayak trips, rafting, or paddle boarding trips past Fisher Towers or down Westwater Canyon. They also rent oar and paddle rafts, canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and gear. 435-259-6007, canyonvoyages.com.
Moab Adventure Center’s choices are half- or full-day rafting on the Colorado, two- or four-day raft/camp adventures in Cataract Canyon, multi-day trips down Desolation/Grays Canyons, or paddle board tours on mellow water. They stop at Red Cliffs Lodge if your tour includes lunch. 435-259-7019, moabadventurecenter.com.
Moab Watersports and Gear Rentals rents paddle boards, inflatable kayaks, packrafts, and water trampolines. 435-355-0343, moabwatersports.com.
NAVTEC Expeditions will take you on a one- or multi-day Cataract Canyon trip or a float on “The Daily” section of the Colorado. They also offer Westwater trips and tours down Meander Canyon. They rent oar and paddle rafts, kayaks, and gear. 435-259-7983, navtec.com.
Sheri Griffith River Expeditions offers a variety of trips on the Colorado, Green, and Yampa Rivers for solo travelers, groups, or family trips. 800-332-2439, griffithexp.com.
Wild West Voyages offers raft, kayak, and paddle board trips on the Colorado and Green Rivers. Half-, full-, or multi-day trips are available. They offer late-afternoon raft trips down “The Daily” and often build custom trips to suit guests’ needs. 435-238-4257, wildwestvoyages.com.
Wild Expeditions in Bluff offers one- to seven-day trips on the San Juan River. They also rent rafts, inflatable kayaks, and paddle boards. 435-222-5708, riversandruins.com.
If you have your own floatation device, or are renting one, you might need a lift to the river put-in of your choice.
If you float down the Colorado below Moab to the Potash boat ramp, the only way back is a jet boat shuttle. For reservations, contact Canyonlands By Night & Day, 435-259-5261, canyonlandsbynight.com.
Taking a multi-day hiking, biking or river trip? Redtail Air Adventures can fly you to your remote starting point, and meet you at the end of your adventure and fly you back to Moab. River shuttles are offered to various river destinations including Sand Wash, Mineral Bottom, and Hite. 435-259-7421, flyredtail.com.
Caught in Action
Moab Action Shots is on the riverbank on “The Daily” every day in high season snapping shots. After your day of play, you can purchase your digital images by stopping by their downtown Moab store or by going online. 435-259-8086, moabactionshots.com.