In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Union veteran of the Civil War, led the first expedition down the Colorado River, including the first passage through the Grand Canyon. Today, just to see this river is a bucket-list item for many.
The Moab Information Center has a special exhibit celebrating the 150-year anniversary of Powell’s historic journey.
pulse of the desert
More than just a river, the Colorado is the heart and soul of Moab. Whether you’re on a peaceful float or a thrilling rafting trip, the massive sandstone spires and redrock walls provide an awe-inspiring backdrop for this aquatic playground.
Recreation is central to this stretch of the Colorado River. As the only part of the river reachable by paved highways in Utah, the area around Moab and the Colorado River is one of the most beautiful in the United States. To experience this unforgettable scenery, we recommend driving Utah Hwy 128, a scenic byway.
The early morning or afternoon light are like a painter’s palette of texture and color. As the Colorado River passes Moab, the water is calm and the river valley wide before it becomes a mix of rapids and canyon waters. From the family-friendly Fisher Towers float to the technically challenging Westwater Canyon section, the Colorado River has something for everyone. Rafting, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and boating can all be experienced on Moab’s slice of the river.
water brings life
The Colorado River and the use of its water has shaped the history of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming, which depend on it and its tributaries for life-giving water. In these states, the Colorado River supplies water for 40 million people and has transformed desert land into four million acres of irrigated farmland. These seven states, plus Mexico, and 23 Native American tribes share water rights to the river under the Colorado River Pact of 1922.
It all starts as a trickle of snowmelt high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. From there, it begins a 1,450-mile journey through mountain canyons and three major deserts.
More water is distributed from the Colorado River’s 250,000-square-mile basin than from any other river basin in the world. Every drop of water in the river is fully allocated.
Controversies over water rights have long raged, giving meaning to the saying: “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” The Colorado is easily the most depended on river of the southwestern United States.
by the numbers
- The river passes through 11 different national monuments and parks including Rocky Mountain National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park.
- The average width is 300 feet across with an average depth of about 20 feet.
- The Colorado irrigates around 4 million acres of farmland and has transformed 3.4 million acres of desert land into cities and recreational playgrounds.
- The water passes through 33 reservoirs, 188 pumping plants, 345 diversion dams, 50 power plants, and 14,590 miles of canals.
- The river supports 234,000 jobs across Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.
- The river supports a $26 billion river-recreation industry; an estimated 5.36 million people use the Colorado River for recreational activities each year.
- In Moab, running the Fisher Towers section of the Colorado is the most popular one-day river trip in Utah. More than 80,000 floated it in 2019.
Don’t let this river flow by without letting it be a part of your stay.
take only what you need
The seven Western states and Mexico have agreed to take less water from the Colorado River beginning January 1, 2020. A drought contingency agreement was signed in May after lengthy negotiations and multiple warnings from the federal government that if the seven states didn’t reach a deal, the federal government, which controls the levers on the river, could impose sever water restrictions.