Desolation Canyon River Rafting
About This Trip
The Tavaputs Plateau and Desolation Canyon are among the most remote areas of the continental United States. This area was home to the Fremont Indians for thousands of years and later became a hideout for some of America’s most notorious outlaws. You’ll find a remarkable array of flora and fauna in this area accented by tall rainbow colored cliffs sculpted by centuries of wind and water.
Desolation Canyon is actually anything but desolate. Instead, this amazing area is teeming with Bighorn Sheep and Birds of Prey. As the Green River flows through Desolation Canyon, it is surrounded with groves of cottonwood trees and white sand beaches. These canyons abound with caves and ancient petroglyphs, and archaeologists have been visiting the area for many years uncovering it’s amazing history.
One of the advantages of a river trip is the flexibility of the daily itinerary. It can vary widely from one trip to the next based on group desires, Mother Nature, and courtesy for other groups on the river. This typical itinerary illustrates a five-day trip through Desolation and Gray canyons. In August, we lengthen the Desolation Canyon trip by one day and follow this general itinerary; an addendum below digs into the variations to expect.
Day One: Fly into Sand Wash put-in from Green River. There is a 30-minute downhill hike from canyon rim to the rafts waiting at river bottom. Plan ahead to wear appropriate shoes for the hike. Guests who are apprehensive about the hike can be transported by vehicle to the river. View a historical marker at head of Desolation Canyon before entering the vast canyon passing Sumner’s amphitheater with incredible natural acoustics. Camp that night near Jack Creek.
Day Two: Hikes to Fremont cultural or an abandoned moonshiner’s cabin interspersed with sections of playful whitewater. Encounter Steer Ridge and Surprise rapid, some of the more memorable thresholds. Camp in a cottonwood grove or on a mile-long sandbar.
Day Three: Enjoy a tour of abandoned Rock Creek and later McPherson Ranches, where Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch slept. End your day with the wildest rapid in the canyon, Cow Swim. Born of a recent 2008 flash flood, it marks the former location of a historic cattle ford.
Day Four: Today brings continued whitewater fun with Wire Fence, Three Fords, and Coal Creek rapids. You will also cross over from Desolation to Gray Canyon.
Day Five: We will run a half dozen more exciting rapids before lunch and then take out near Swasey’s beach. Short trip back to Green River and our headquarters.
If you are on a 6-day Desolation Canyon trip, you can expect a similar itinerary to this 5-day. However with lower late-season river flows and an extra day to play, you can expect to see a whole new set of campsites than your 5-day counterparts. Day 1 could leave you near Gold Hole, across from a historic Powell campsite where wild horses often play; night two could find you settling in below massive cottonwoods at Cedar Ridge; Day 3 typically brings you back to a more typical camp schedule seeing similar camps to the 2nd day of a 5-day trip.
As mentioned earlier, this is a sample itinerary and should not be thought of as the trip you will experience. It is intended to give an idea of what the trip will be like. It could also be exactly what you do. Keep an open mind, be flexible, go with the flow, and enjoy!
When you arrive in Green River the day before your trip, there will be a pre-trip orientation meeting at 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). A Holiday representative will give you a short orientation on all aspects of river travel. At this time we will issue your waterproof bags, answer any questions you may have, and finalize your flight departure time for the trip. If you plan on buying any last minute items from our accessory’s store, please plan to do so at this time see our packing check list for a list of items you can find at our store). Special Note: Due to the limited space and weight on the aircraft. If you have any specialty sodas, beer, wine or other extra heavy items, please bring items to our headquarters by 2:00 p.m. the day prior to your trip (see beverages).
Beginning of the trip: On the morning of your trip, plan to arrive promptly at the pre-determined time established at the pre-trip orientation meeting. We will then take you to the local airstrip. Our pre-scheduled flight will be waiting to take you to the embarkation point (30 minutes). The flight is on a small single engine type aircraft.
After the trip: We will return you to Green River, Utah (30 minute van ride). Our expected time of arrival back at our headquarters is 3:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Medical emergencies: Our guides are trained in first aid and carry first aid supplies only. REMEMBER to bring your own prescription medicines. ALERT our guides to any medical problem you might have such as diabetes or allergic reactions. Wilderness expeditions are a long way from hospitals, doctors, and pain-relieving medicines. Evacuations to modern medical care are uncertain, and protracted. In case of evacuation and/or medical treatment beyond first aid, expenses incurred are the responsibility of the participant.
Cancellation Policy: If cancellations are made prior to 90 days before the trip, monies will be refunded less a $50.00 service charge per person. If cancellations are made within 90 days and outside of 45 days of the trip date monies will be refunded less a $100.00 service charge per person. Cancellations made within 45 days of the trip date are non refundable. Prior to 45 days to the trip date we will transfer reservations to another trip in the same year with a $25.00 service charge per person. All policies will be enforced and we strongly recommend trip cancellation insurance. Cancellation of a trip is very unlikely, but we reserve the right to cancel any trip due to river or weather conditions or the lack of sufficient reservations. A full refund will be made if such is the case.
Insurance: Medical Evacuation and cancellation insurance on a vacation plan can be obtained from numerous insurance companies. You should be aware that medical evacuations in the backcountry can easily cost $10,000 and up. You are responsible for these potential expenses and we strongly encourage all guests to have this coverage. We offer plans by TRAVEL GUARD that cover evacuation, baggage and cancellation claims. It is available to American and Canadian citizens, as well as citizens of another country as long as you have a U.S. address. For a quote or questions give us a call or include Your Names, Birth Dates in an Email and we will send a quote. Also, if you are bringing expensive cameras, binoculars, or other items we suggest you have insurance coverage for them (commonly available through Homeowners Policies). In the event of a loss, our insurance will not cover those items.
Tipping the guides: If you feel the guides have been instrumental in your enjoyment of the trip, you may choose to direct a gratuity to the trip leader in the form of cash or check. He/She will then distribute it evenly to the other crewmembers. The average contribution amount ranges between $20.00 and $30.00 per guest, per day. Cash is the preferred method of tipping.
Beverages: We provide ice water, lemonade, one soda per day per person and ample cooler space. If you choose to bring any specialty sodas and/or alcoholic beverages, we have no problem taking whatever you want to bring – within reason. However, because of the limited space on the charter flight we must control the amount of extra beverages you carry with you on the plane. If you intend to bring 1 case or less, then please bring the beverages with you the morning of the trip and carry it onto the plane. For quantities greater than this we request that you contact our office three weeks prior to your trip to make arrangements in getting your beverages to the river. Don’t bring beer, wine coolers or sodas in glass containers. Wine packaged in a box is ideal. Mark beverages that you bring so they are packed on your boat. The liquor store in Green River, Utah is located in the back of the West Winds restaurant. In Utah, wine or liquor is not sold after 7:00 p.m., before 11:00 a.m., or on Sundays and holidays.
If you have any questions prior to leaving for your trip, we welcome you to call our Salt Lake City office, Monday through Friday at 800-624-6323 (outside Utah) or 801-266-2087 (inside Utah). We’re happy to take the time to answer your questions. You may also contact us by email at [email protected]
IN THE EVENT OF EMERGENCY CIRCUMSTANCES THE NIGHT BEFORE THE TRIP, OUR GREEN RIVER HEADQUARTERS NUMBER IS 435-564-3273
Bugs, snakes, etc. are generally no problem. In fact, the lack of pesky insects is one of the reasons wilderness camping on the river is so pleasant. Any river trip, however, is subject to an occasional localized insect hatch. During these hatches (most common in June to mid-July) mosquitoes can be bothersome. Be sure to bring long sleeve clothing and a generous supply of repellent. Insect repellents that contain “deet” are by far the most effective during heavy hatches. Citronella-based products work only in light hatches. We rarely see any snakes, but if the thought of them bothers you, try sleeping on the beaches or in a tent instead of rocky or bushy areas.
Hiking is a highlight of the trip, however, it is strictly an optional activity. There are many interesting short hikes available. Hiking can be done in durable sneakers or lightweight hiking boots. Remember that hiking and other activities vary widely pending time, and what other plans are ahead for the day on the river.
The best place to eat in Green River is Ray’s Tavern. Ray’s is a true small western town bar rich in atmosphere and good food. They serve incredible hamburgers, pork chops, small salads and steaks. The Tamarisk Restaurant offers family dining with riverside seating.
Things to see in the area: John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, Utah. Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Fisher Towers, Colorado National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, San Rafael Swell, Capitol Reef National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and the La Sal and Henry Mountains.
Reading material, you may enjoy:
Exploration of the Colorado River – Powell…………………………………………. $12.95
Desolation River Guide – Belknap (waterproof)…………………………………… $19.95
Life in Stone – Christa Sadler……………………………………………………………. $11.95
The Educated Outlaw Harvey – Lay Murdock (Grandson)…………………….. $10.95
The River Knows Everything – Aton/Miller………………………………………… $34.95
Desolation and Gray Canyons- Felix E. Mutschler………………………………. $10.95
These books can be ordered online at www.bikeraft.com, or by sending the appropriate amount listed above plus $5.60 priority shipping to Holiday River Expeditions, 544 East 3900 South, SLC, UT 84107. This is available within the U.S. only. If outside the U.S. additional shipping and handling charges will be added. You can call 801-266-2087 for rates. These books can also be purchased at our headquarters in Green River.
Lodging before and after your trip can be booked at one of six locations:
- River Terrace Inn 435‑564‑3401 (locally owned, pool, hot tub, full breakfast, riverside rooms available) *10% discount
- Comfort Inn 435‑564‑3300 (inside pool, hot tub, continental breakfast – in front of our headquarters) *10% discount
- Holiday Inn Express 435-564-4439 (inside pool, hot tub, continental breakfast – west of our headquarters)
- Super 8 435-564-8888 (inside pool, hot tub, refrigerator, microwave)
- Motel 6 435‑564‑3436 (pool, kids free, lower rates)
- Sleepy Hollow 435-564-8189 (clean with lower rates)
*When making advance reservations at the River Terrace Inn or Comfort Inn, mention that you are on a Holiday River Expedition trip and you will be extended a discounted rate on your room (see above). You will need a trip invoice at check-in.
BE SURE TO MAKE ADVANCE RESERVATIONS!
If you are camping out, there are two campgrounds in Green River: the Green River State Park (no pool, lower rates and may have mosquitoes – call 435-564-3633 to make reservations), and the KOA Campground (435-564-8195 – across from our headquarters).
Air Service to Salt Lake City (SLC)
- Air Canada 888-247-2262
- Alaska Airlines 800-252-7522
- American Airlines 800-433-7300
- Delta Air Lines 800-221-1212
- Frontier Airlines 800-432-1359
- JetBlue Airways 800-538-2583
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 800-618-0104
- SkyWest Airlines 800-453-9417
- Southwest Airlines 800-435-9792
- United Airlines 800-241-6522
Transportation Options from Salt Lake City to Green River, Vernal or Blanding, Utah:
Once in Salt Lake City most of our guests rent-a-car and drive to our meeting points.
All rental cars are located in both terminals of the Salt Lake City Airport.
- Alamo 801-575-2211
- Avis 801-575-2847
- Budget 801-575-2821
- Dollar 801-575-2580
- Enterprise 801-537-7433
- Firefly 801-531-3563
- Hertz 801-575-2683
- National 801-575-2277
- Payless 801-322-6330
- Thrifty 801-265-6677
- Salt Lake City to Green River 180 miles
- Salt Lake City to Blanding 300 miles
- Salt Lake City to Vernal 180 miles
To Green River Only (Bus has limited schedule and is not as convenient as rental cars)
Shuttle Service to Green River or Blanding, Utah from Salt Lake City or Moab (Vernal is on a Charter basis only)
|Location:||Green River Wilderness|
|Length:||5 and 6 Days|
|Dates:||May – August|
|Meet At:||Green River, UT 6:00 AM|
Adult – $1,125
Youth – $925 (18 & under)
Senior – $1,030 (65 & up)
Group – $1,030 (10 or more)
Adult – $1,200
Youth – $1,000 (18 & under)
Senior – $1,105 (65 & up)
Group – $1,105 (10 or more)
*Plus $25 BLM fee per person
2017 Trip Schedule
5 Day Trip Dates
May 8, 15, 22, 29
June 5, 12, 19, 26
July 3, 10, 17
6 Day Trip Dates
July 24, 31
August 7, 14, 21
Large Waterproof Bag
Eating Utencils & Plates
Full Course Meals: Lunch the first day through
lunch the last day
Drinks: Ice Water, Lemonade, Juices, One pop/person/day-mix of regular & diet
The day bag 8″ diameter x 20″ high is for items you will need access to during the day. For your sleeping gear and clothing, we will furnish you with one bag 16″ diameter x 2 feet high. When properly sealed, bags are usually waterproof. Once in a while, one could develop a leak, so we always recommend packing important items in ziplock bags and leaving expensive electronics at home. Separate storage is provided for tents and beverages. Please remember to keep your gear light and compact. The less you bring, the happier you will be. Please limit gear to no more than 15-20 lbs.
What’s NOT Included
Plastic mugs work well
Not included in the rental kit
Compact and warm
high quality important for Dinosaur & Desolation trips.
Sleeping Pad/Air Mattress
Compact, must fit in the provided bag
Back packer style, not the bulky, heavy types
You can rent most of the items listed above in our sleeping rental kit. We offer two varieties, our basic sleeping kit which includes a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rain gear and cup for $40.00, or the same basic sleeping kit with a two-person tent for $65.00. Rentals must be reserved in advance, especially on the San Juan trips where we meet away from our headquarters. Rentals requested the morning of the trip are subject to availability. Cups and water bottles available for purchase at our stores in Green River and Vernal Headquarters, or online.
Submit your review
Guides and all staff at the warehouse were friendly and helpful. The guides had very positive dispositions and took all challenges in stride. I don't know who was in charge of the weather but they too should be commended. The food was excellent throughout the trip. The baked goods were fabulous as well.
Desolation canyon is a beautiful trip and the experience was most worthwhile. I really enjoyed all aspects of the trip and plan to do so again.
The guides were very professional but also very open to share and be personable as well. The trip exceeded my expectations and the food was amazing.
Everything about our experience was perfect! Holiday River Expedition's tour exceeded all of my expectations and then some. The front office was helpful and patient and the guides were professional, knowledgeable and friendly. I recommend Holiday River wholeheartedly to anyone planning a float trip.
Susan was truly amazing. She is knowledgeable, confident, and fun. She handled a potential health issue with great judgment. Her passion for river guiding as a profession really sets her apart from any other guide I have used in the past. Coulter was also a very good guide with an engaging personality. Victoria was friendly and helpful and ready to learn. The six day trip down Desolation Canyon exceeded my expectations in every way. I would jump at the chance to re-live this trip again!
The week was awesome. Our guides, Susan and Larkin, were amazing. I referred to them as the "Swiss Army Knives" of women as they seem to be able to do ANYTHING! They were great hosts for the trip and went so far out of their way to make sure the guests were enjoying the trip. It was truly outstanding service.
We had an amazing trip, a perfect honeymoon experience with a mix of relaxation and adventure.
The guides were all excellent... They worked from sun up till sun down. The food was much better than I expected! The hikes were educational and a good change of pace as well as a form of exercise. The flight to the starting point was breathtaking. We are fortunate as a family to have travelled to Europe, Mexico and Hawaii and this was certainly one of our best and most fun family vacations! Enjoying nature in the company of family and friends is hard to beat! Thank you for an experience we will never forget!
The tents were very easy to set up. Our guides: Alex, Josh, Max and Emily were fabulous. They were always ready to help in any way possible. Alex is a great leader and excellent chef. He made sure everything went according to plan and made sure all gear, pfd's, etc. were in place as required for safety. All of the guides were very knowledgeable. We were a group of 10 adults, some with camping and rafting experience but others with none. Our guides made it easy for everyone. We could not have had better guides, food, equipment, etc. We all loved our time on the river and would heartily recommend it. We plan to do it again in a year or so!
The river was great, the plane ride was incredible, the rapids were awesome, the food was amazing and the weather was cooperative.