Green River, Utah: Things to Do and Places to ExploreMarch 14, 2022
By: Susan Munroe
So, you’ve booked your Holiday river or bike trip, bought the plane tickets, and reserved the rental car: hooray! You’re off to a great start. If you have an extra day or two before or after your trip, you’re probably wondering how to make the most of them. We’ve assembled a list of some of the best activities and attractions within the town of Green River, Utah, and a two-hour driving radius beyond. Some of these make great half-day trips or are easy places to stop and stretch your legs on your way to or from Green River. Others require more time or at least more planning. We’ve highlighted hiking and mountain biking options, scenic drives, state and national parks, wilderness areas, and even a waterskiing park. Check out our suggestions, and go deeper into all that eastern Utah and western Colorado have to offer.
Right in town:
Prepare for your river trip by brushing up on river history at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum, right next to Holiday’s headquarters. There are excellent displays on natural and regional history, dinosaur bones, a historic boat collection, and the River Runner’s Hall of Fame, which includes Holiday’s founder, Dee Holladay. The gift shop also has an excellent selection of regional books and maps to enrich and guide the rest of your time in the area.
The Green River State Park includes a 9-hole golf course (and an 18-hole disc golf course!) along the banks of the river. There’s also a campground, with power hookups and flush toilets, and a boat ramp that’s a starting point for Labyrinth Canyon trips.
On the outskirts:
Get your base tan started with an afternoon at Swasey’s Beach, 10 miles north of town. Situated at the end of Gray Canyon, Swasey’s is a beautiful, white, half-moon beach on the Green River. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains a campground with fire rings and pit toilets there. The beach gets a ton of visitors, so please do your part to keep it clean and be considerate of other users.
Test yourself on the 6-mile Athena Trail, Green River, Utah’s first dedicated single-track trail for mountain bikes. It’s a fun, technical loop through purple and gray shale badlands and slick rock, just south of I-70, with plenty of challenging, rocky obstacles.
If you’re looking for an easier bike ride (or short drive), head out to Crystal Geyser, south of town and right on the eastern edge of the Green River. The geyser is a cold-water feature, created when drilling for a test oil well encountered a pocket of carbon dioxide trapped under the earth. The eruptions are infrequent, but the bright orange mineral deposits around the geyser are striking in the otherwise gray-brown landscape.
Where to eat in Green River, Utah
The classic: Ray’s Tavern
Burgers and beer, steak and salad, and walls of river running memorabilia (see if you can spot framed pictures of Holiday’s own Tim Gaylord and Tyler Jameson!).
The up and comer: Tacos La Pasadita Parked under the awning of a defunct gas station, Green River’s first food truck serves breakfast burritos, lunch tacos, and dinner quesadillas, plus horchata and the occasional tamale special.
The salad bar: The Tamarisk
With windows overlooking the Green River, The Tamarisk serves up a variety of hearty plates, from burgers to enchiladas, pork chops to Navajo fry bread. The soup and salad bar is a sure winner, and if you’re looking for a breakfast treat, bring a friend and split one of their famous oversized cinnamon rolls.
The grocery store: The Melon Vine
Open Monday through Saturday, this is the place to get staples for preparing your own meals, or snacks for your river trip. They also have a limited selection of beer.
The MELONS: Dunham’s Melon Stand
Green River is justifiably famous for its melons. 30+ degree temperature shifts from day to night during the growing season make for extra sweet melons. Dunham’s stand on the east end of town is where Holiday has been buying its melons for years: look for the big, smiling melon face and try one of their “exotic” varieties, such as a canary, crenshaw, Israeli, or lamkin.
Within a 1-hour drive of Green River, Utah:
Utah’s single-best rock art panel that is accessible by vehicle is about a 40-minute drive east of Green River in Sego Canyon, near the town of Thompson Springs. Pictographs and petroglyphs from three distinct Indigenous cultural groups (and some cowboy art) are represented on the walls of the canyon, including dramatic, red, alien-like figures in the Barrier Canyon style. Please respect the art and this sacred site: do not touch any of the images (oils on our skin degrade the rock art) and stay behind the constructed barriers.
Wander through the wild rocks of Goblin Valley State Park. This is a playground for the body and the mind. Explore the 7 miles of single-track mountain bike trails or hike among the goblins by day, and enjoy the unbelievable display of stars in this International Dark Sky Park by night.
Moab, Utah, is an hour’s drive away, and has almost as many attractions as it does visitors! There are some great mountain biking trails on the north side of town, which can be easier to access from Green River because you don’t have to drive through downtown Moab to get to them. Use Trailforks or the MTB Project to figure out which networks suit your fancy. Klondike Bluffs, Bar M, Navajo Rocks, and Magnificent Seven all feature awesome, flow-y single-track trails. Not a biker? Take a short walk from the Klondike Bluffs trailhead to see some dinosaur tracks preserved in the deep red mudstone. If you venture further into town, don’t miss the Moab Rock Shop and its incredible collection of fossils and minerals, or Back of Beyond Books, Moab’s independent book store. The Moab Visitor Center can offer even more suggestions for activities and attractions.
Within a 2-hour drive of Green River, Utah:
Horseshoe Canyon is a detached unit of Canyonlands National Park and is famous for “The Great Gallery,” an enormous series of rock art panels painted and carved into the canyon walls. The canyon is a 1.5-hour drive south of Green River, Utah, and visiting the rock art requires a strenuous 7-mile round trip hike down into the canyon, along its sandy bottom, and then back up. The Park Service recommends NOT hiking during July and August unless you start very early or wait until late afternoon (and bring a headlamp). Bring at least 3 liters of water per person.
If you really want to commit to the Moab experience, Arches National Park is a must-see, although it will take some forethought and planning to make the most of a visit. The park is experimenting with a timed-entry system to mitigate long wait times at the entrance station. Visit the National Park Service website to plan your visit.
The Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park is the easiest part of the park to access by vehicle. You could drive the scenic loop road and do short walks to overlooks, or plan for full-day hikes such as the Syncline Loop and the Murphy Wash Trail. Visiting the farther-flung Needles or Maze Districts is more complicated, and worth planning a special trip just to experience their labyrinthine terrain.
Dead Horse Point State Park is an easy 1.5-hour drive from Green River, Utah (and is another International Dark Sky Park, along with Arches, Canyonlands, and Goblin Valley). High above the Colorado River and surrounding landscape, the park’s main attraction is the view! There are also a few short mountain biking trails that access the park’s spectacular panoramas as well.
Heading east on I-70 into Colorado offers a number of attractions. The Rabbit Valley exit offers a 1.5-mile interpretive trail along which you can view dinosaur fossils, as well as access to the Western Rim Trail, 6 miles of winding single track overlooking the Colorado River. This is also the access point for McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area. The towns of Loma and Fruita, Colorado, also feature some of the region’s best mountain biking trails: the Kokopelli Loops near Loma, and 18 Road, north of Fruita.
Grand Junction, Colorado, a 1.5-hour drive (100 miles) from Green River, is the biggest “city” in the area, and in addition to more mountain biking (the Lunch Loops), there’s also access to the Colorado National Monument. Take a scenic sunset drive along Rim Rock Drive, or hike along the monument’s 40-plus miles of trails. For something totally different, check out the Imondi Wake Zone, where you can water ski and wakeboard without a boat!
Rising from the desert to the west of Green River, Utah, is the San Rafael Swell, a massive uplifted area that features incredible geology, slot canyons, mountain biking, ATV trails, and dispersed camping opportunities. It’s too large (and too special) a place to give away all of its treasures here, but a few good places to start are Black Dragon Wash (rock art and a beautiful canyon to hike, bike, or 4-wheel through), the Good Water Rim mountain biking trail, and Chute and Crack Canyons.
This is just a selection of all the attractions to be explored in this incredible part of the country. If it’s your first trip to the region, picking one or two of these places will be a great introduction to the area. If you’re a veteran visitor, these should serve as helpful jumping-off places for going beyond the beaten path. Or perhaps they’ll spark a memory of a place you’ve always wanted to explore more in-depth. Here at Holiday, we think these are some of the most fascinating places on earth. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
Susan Munroe is a reader, writer, traveler, and river guide. She moved to Utah from New Hampshire for the mountains, but it was the allure of the desert and its rivers that have truly kept her transfixed. More than ten years after she first came to work for Holiday River Expeditions, she still can’t get enough of life on the water. Susan spends her winters skiing and working in Salt Lake City, Utah, with frequent trips to southern Chile to run the Río Baker and support the work of the educational kayaking exchange program Ríos to Rivers. See more of Susan’s work here: www.susanmunroe.com