Yampa Whitewater Rafting Trips

Yampa River rafting is special because the Yampa is WILD. This is the last river in the Colorado River system that is not regulated by a dam. Despite continued attempts by the Bureau of Reclamation and Congress, the only major dam ever constructed on the Yampa River was built by Mother Nature. And even that was temporary. On June 9th, 1965, a massive flash flood and debris flow carried thousands of tons of rock down Warm Springs Draw, completely blocking the river channel. The river slowed upstream of the obstruction, and the current snarled and boiled and pushed against the debris. It took only 24 hours for the river to breach the natural dam, leaving in its wake Warm Springs Rapid, rated as one of the 10 biggest drops in the country. Dee Holladay was one of the first to run the newly formed rapid.

Every May and June this whitewater river rises to the occasion. The Yampa CRANKS with consistent rapids, fast-moving current, and plenty of full-bodied waves from the first day to the last. Like many wild things, the Yampa River also has a serene side: sheer, tiger-striped walls that rise over 1,000 feet to the canyon rim, the liquid darkness of the night sky strewn with stars, sandy campsites among junipers and ponderosa pines, side-canyon waterfalls, and indigenous rock art dating back over a thousand years ago. If you feel the need for something rare, something wild and free, the Yampa is waiting.

Read more: Insider’s Guide to Whitewater Rafting on the Yampa River

Vernal, Utah: Things to Do and Places to Explore

Featured Review:

“I have never been on a whitewater trip before and I took the Yampa River trip in June with my son as a graduation gift for him. Words cannot describe how impressed we were with everything. From the greeting/introductions we received at Vernal headquarters to the instructions prior to getting in the river, the guides were friendly and professional. We went to see soaring canyon walls and whitewater and we got that. But what we also got was gourmet food preparation (WOW) and informed guides—they knew about everything, trees, rocks, history, wildlife, all of it! Most important, it was clear that the safety of their guests was always on their minds. This is an excellent outfitter and there is no rival. We’ll be back.” (Victor Rodriguez)

The Yampa River flows through the traditional homeland of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) people. With great respect and appreciation, Holiday acknowledges the Indigenous people who lived in and cared for these lands long before the Yampa was set aside as a place only to be visited. You can read more about our land acknowledgements initiative here.
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Trip Overview

  • Type:

    Rafting

  • Location:

    Yampa River - Dinosaur National Monument

  • Length:

    4 and 5 Days

  • Dates:

    May–June

  • Meet at:

    Vernal, Utah @ 7:00 pm (night before the trip)

  • Difficulty:

    Intermediate

  • Min. Age:

    8

  • Deposit:

    400

Highlights

  • Truly wild rapids fed by seasonal snow melt
  • Endless winding bends of dramatic striped canyon walls
  • Abundant wildlife in a beautiful and healthy ecosystem
  • Many inflatable kayak-friendly rapids
  • Float through seldom-seen corners of Dinosaur National Monument
  • See the Milky Way in this International Dark Sky Park
Getting Here Before You Go Packing List FAQs

Rates & Dates

Itinerary

The Yampa River flows west out of the mountains near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and into the wild recesses of Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado. It winds through spectacular canyons and countless rapids for 47 miles before flowing into the Green River at Steamboat Rock. From there, the rivers flow together, across the state line into Utah and through the unique landscapes of Whirlpool and Split Mountain canyons.

Sample Itinerary

The night before your trip: Please arrive at Holiday’s headquarters in Vernal, Utah, at 7:00 p.m., Mountain Time for a brief pre-trip orientation meeting. You’ll pick up your waterproof bags and learn how to pack them. The pre-trip meeting is also the time to buy any last minute items from our on-site store (see our packing checklist for items you can find at our store).

Day 1:

Meet back our Vernal operation center early in the morning, packed and ready to go! We’ll load your bags up, and then it’s off to the river. From Vernal, it’s a 90-minute van ride to the put-in at Deerlodge Park in Colorado. After preparing the rafts and getting you oriented, we’ll push off and begin to move on river time. We’ll enter Yampa Canyon almost immediately, and encounter several fun, splashy rapids. Lunch may be on a beach near a historic cabin. After some more fun river miles, we’ll pull over for camp. You’ll learn how to help fire line bags from the boats, before choosing your campsite for the night. Marvel at your first camp dinner before falling asleep to the sound of rushing water.

Day 2:

River mornings start early! But don’t worry, the guides will have coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to help you get moving. Before packing up camp, we’ll enjoy a hot breakfast and learn the itinerary for the day. Once the boats are loaded up, we’ll begin our journey downstream, most likely starting off with a bang with Teepee Rapid. Try your hand at paddling the inflatable kayak through Little Joe Rapid and Five Springs Rapid before lunch. There may be a big hike to a breathtaking overlook to enjoy in the afternoon, or you can choose to relax and camp and unwind with a good book. The guides will cook up another gourmet feast before we all settle in for an evening of stargazing.

Day 3:

After yet another delicious breakfast, we’ll load up the boats and float downstream. We’ll stop to hike to a wide cave where ancient indigenous people left signs of their presence. Follow the river’s entrenched meanders past the 1,200-foot Grand Overhang. Listen for the screech of hunting peregrine falcons that nest on the canyon rim. Count bighorn sheep as they come to the waters edge to drink, or dance their way along cliff lines. Carefully kiss the Tiger Wall: it’s sure to bring good luck for your run through Warm Springs Rapid, the biggest of the trip.

Day 4:

This morning may include a silent float as we approach the confluence with the Green River at Echo Park. Silent floats are the perfect way to activate all your senses and become one with this magical canyon. Dip your toes into the place where the rivers meet and watch the different colored-waters flow side by side for a surprising distance. The geology changes dramatically as we float through the Mitten Park Fault and into Whirlpool Canyon. Spend the afternoon at Jones Hole Creek: fishing, hiking, petroglyphs, big horn sheep, and waterfalls are all possibilities!

Day 5:

Choose to paddle an inflatable kayak through the last several miles of calm water in Island Park. We’ll follow the river as it makes a sharp left turn and cuts its way into the aptly named Split Mountain. The river drops an average of almost 20 feet per mile for the last eight miles. Enjoy your last several rapids before we pause for lunch and finally arrive at the boat ramp. We’ll load the boats and then transport you the final 25 minutes back to our warehouse in Vernal. We typically plan to arrive back at our headquarters by approximately 4:00 p.m.

Please remember that this is a sample itinerary, not an exact description of your trip. Our goal is simply to give you an overview of what the trip may entail. We invite you to embrace the inherent changeability of a wilderness river trip and come prepared to have fun and go with the flow!

Yampa Boats Parked

We say the Yampa is WILD, and it is. Each trip will be different depending on weather, the interests of our passengers, assigned campsites, and the need to be considerate of other river users.

Our five-day Yampa River trips follow the same general itinerary with minor changes depending on assigned campsites and water flows. Your second day may not yet find you at an ancestral site but rather on a hike to a stunning overlook or historic cave. You’ll encounter the Tiger Wall and Warm Springs Rapid on the third day, and meet the Green River on the fourth. Day five will take you through Island Park and finish with Split Mountain.

Reviews

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Holiday River Expeditions
Average rating:  
 118 reviews
 by Sarah Klingenberg

I was incredibly stoked about everything. As a gluten-free vegetarian, I was prepped to not have a full tummy most days, and instead, I was taken care of beyond any restaurant I’ve been to. I had more food than I would normally eat which was amazing to keep up energy levels for the hikes and daily activities. The flavors and variety were wonderful!



The guides need a raise cause they went above and beyond for us all. Far exceeded my expectations.



Cloud, Mary, Brennan, and London were such a rad team!!! Cloud kept us safe and organized — she was a perfect team leader.



Everyone was attentive, kind, fun, respectful, and professional.

 by David Hering

Guides, Cloud, Mary, London, and Brennan were exceptional. The food was great and their teamwork and skills were amazing.



I had a wonderful time on the trip. This was my first and was talked into it by my grandkids who had been before. I cannot say enough good things about the guides and the overall experience.

 by Chris Hoehn

All aspects of the trip were excellent. There was enough information provided to feel confident about the trip but not so much to be overwhelming.

We were blessed with amazing weather on the Yampa. The guides all worked together really well to create an amazing experience for us.

 by Cindy & David French

The high Yampa River flow rates made for an exciting trip, and I personally appreciated the attention to safety on the crew’s part. They kept us informed of possibilities, daily schedule re-arrangements, and campsite plans. Not to mention the really great food!

 by Janet & Matthew Buttenwieser

The guides were top-notch. They went so far beyond guiding us down the river and cooking meals. They were friendly, knowledgeable, and really felt like part of the group while still giving us space to be together. The hikes were all great, with Butt Dam Falls as a standout highlight. The food was tasty and I appreciated the dietary restriction accommodations.

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