Ranked one of the “The 25 Best New Trips” in the World by National Geographic Adventure and one of the “Best Whitewater Rafting Trips in America” by Outside Magazine, a 5-day rafting journey down this legendary canyon with Western River Expeditions in 2023 is something to seriously consider.
And this may be the year to do it. The snowpack covering the watersheds of the Green and Colorado rivers is 143.59% of the historic March 28th average. The best it has been in over ten years.
Whether a seasoned rafter or a first-timer, this 84-mile stretch of the Green River provides an unforgettable journey through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the American West. Here are 11 fun facts about Utah’s Desolation Canyon.
- Utah’s Desolation Canyon, carved over millennia by the 730-mile Green River (spawned by glacial melts on the Continental Divide in the wilds of northern Wyoming), was traversed first in its entirety by the Smithsonian Institution that sent Major John Wesley Powell in 1869 to explore the canyon.
- Nearly 100 years later, Desolation Canyon, one of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states, was named a National Historic Landmark in 1968 as part of the centennial celebration of the Powell expedition. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
- Desolation Canyon and the surrounds of its accompanying Green River compose one of the most remote (no roads, towns, cell service) destinations in the continental United States.
- At 290,845 acres, the Desolation Canyon Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the largest WSA managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the contiguous 48 states.
- At its deepest point, a relief of over 5,000 feet (1,500 m) exists from river level to the unseen rim of the Tavaputs Plateau. This display is a result of Nature’s handiwork over 40 million years.
- The entire eastern side of the river and canyon (river left on descent) sits entirely on Ute Tribal Lands of the Unita-Ouray Reservation, the second largest Indian Reservation in the U.S.
- There are around 75 discovered archaeological sites throughout the canyon. Fremont (people foraged and planted corn here from the 7th to the 13th centuries) and Ute pictographs and petroglyphs are abundant.
- Fremont granaries, as well as several abandoned homesteaders’ ranches, testify to the agricultural potential of riparian alluvial fan landforms sited between steep slopes and valleys. The landforms are larger in Desolation Canyon than in any other canyon of the Colorado – Green River system.
- Over 60 named class two and three rapids challenge boaters. The gradual increase in size and difficulty of rapids make it an ideal place for beginner to intermediate boaters to develop their skills.
- Elk were transplanted into the area in 1988. Today, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep frequent the WSA. Other inhabitants are cougar, black bear, mule deer, endangered bald eagle, and peregrine falcon.
- David McPherson started ranching with his family up Florence Creek in 1889. The McPherson homestead sat right along the path of the Outlaw Trail, used by the infamous robbers Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. Cassidy, George “Flat-Nose” Curry, Ben Morrison and Josie Bassett all spent time in the canyon hiding from the law.
A rafting adventure through Desolation Canyon is ideal for families with children as young as 5. There are weekly departures June through August, with availability on many 2023 dates. A 5-day/4-night adventure begins and ends in Moab, Utah, and includes a scenic flight that lands atop a dramatic desert plateau where the group begins a short descent on foot to the river put-in.
Guests may choose to paddle themselves in two-person, inflatable kayaks or to relax in a guide-powered oar boat. They enjoy deluxe camping on broad, sandy beaches along the river bank after savoring delicious meals prepared by trained guides. Whether on the river, enjoying a hike, or chatting by the campfire, the absence of digital access to the outside world mandates that attentions focus on what’s real and natural. It’s a time to disconnect from the chaos of daily life and reconnect with what matters most.