Retro River Rafting through Desolation Canyon with Roy Webb

Retro river rafting? Is this just some kind of alliterative joke? Does that mean we’re going to be running rapids with bucket boats and cooking over a fire? Just how retro are we going? Back to the days of John Wesley Powell’s heavy oak boats? Or way back to the time when mountain men were trapping beavers in buffalo boats?

Well, we probably won’t be going quite that retro. However, this trip is an homage to the founders of this crazy river rafting thing that we all love. We’ll probably lace up our Chuck Taylors, hike up our cut-off jean shorts, dust off the Sierra cups and drink a toast to the people like Dee Holladay, who made a trip like this possible. And we’re bringing along Roy Webb, renowned river historian, to teach us all a thing or two about those who came before us.

To top it all off, we’re doing this Retro Rafting Trip through Desolation Canyon on the Green River – a place with oodles of river history around every bend. Let Roy regale you with tales of boaters of yore in one of the most remote parts of the continental United States: The Tavaputs Plateau. This region was home to the Fremont Cultural group over 1,000 years ago and is the traditional Ute homeland to this day as the river delineates the border of the Uintah & Ouray Ute Tribal Nation. The rich history of the canyon continues as homesteaders and ranchers also eked out a living along the river, and some truly notorious outlaws found refuge inside Desolation’s deep canyon walls.

Floating through a rainbow-colored canyon gorge, you’ll find a dizzying array of history and wildlife.  This trip has it all: river history, playful waves for inflatable kayaking enthusiasts, and some of the best sandy beaches with shady cottonwoods you’ll find on the Colorado Plateau. Come join Roy on this retro, reunion in the wilderness of Desolation Canyon.

Read more: Insider’s Guide to Rafting the Green River through Desolation Canyon

Green River, Utah: Things to Do and Places to Explore

The Green River through Desolation Canyon flows through the traditional homeland of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) people. Today, the Uintah and Ouray Reservation borders the east side of Desolation and Gray Canyons, and the Ute people continue to protect the river. Holiday acknowledges and respects the long history of these traditional inhabitants. We appreciate our own long-standing relationship with the modern-day tribe. Learn more about our land acknowledgments here.
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Trip Overview

  • Type:


  • Location:

    Desolation Canyon - Green River Wilderness

  • Length:

    5 Days

  • Dates:

    May 27-31, 2024

  • Meet at:

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

  • Difficulty:


  • Min. Age:


  • Deposit:



  • Renowned river historian Roy Webb shares his tales of boating history
  • White sand beaches and plentiful cottonwood trees
  • playful & regular Class I–III rapids
  • Ideal river to enjoy time in an inflatable kayak
  • Open starry skies to gaze at while considering those who've come before you
Getting Here Before You Go Packing List FAQs

Rates & Dates


The Green River snakes through eastern Utah cutting through the Tavaputs Plateau, one of the largest wilderness areas in the Lower 48. Starting at the Sand Wash boat ramp, truly off any beaten path, Desolation Canyon is as remote as it gets. We will float southwest for more than 80 miles through some of the youngest rocks on the Colorado Plateau, eventually exiting from the canyon, a stones throw from our hometown of Green River, Utah.


Sample Itinerary

The day before your trip:

There are a few considerations when planning your arrival in Green River, Utah ahead of your Retro Rafting trip departure. If you have any bulky gear beyond our standard large and small river bags, please drop that and any personal beverages off at our warehouse no later than 1:00pm Mountain Time the day before your departure.  The scenic flight to our remote put-in, while striking, has logistical capacity limitations for baggage. Rest assured your belongings will be safely shuttled to the put in with your river guides.

Regardless of dropping off extra items, please plan to attend the pre-trip meeting at our Green River warehouse at 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time. A Holiday guide will provide you with waterproof bags, and give a brief orientation on how to pack and prepare for the flight. This is also a great time to pick up any last minute items from our store (here is our packing checklist to see what we carry).

Day 1:

Please arrive promptly the morning of your trip at the time established during the pre-trip meeting the night prior. We’ll take vans for the 15 minute drive to Green River’s small airstrip. You’ll travel in small, four- to nine-passenger planes, and get a good view of the Green River as we fly over the Tavaputs Plateau and Desolation Canyon. It’s about a 35-minute flight. Your guides will be waiting for you at the airstrip, and will lead you on the first hike of the trip, a 45-minute descent to the rafts waiting at Sand Wash boat ramp. If you’re not physically up for the hike, the vans carrying your river bags have a few seats to ride down to the put in. Once we’re all settled on the boats the river trip begins! Watch as the canyon walls gradually rise up around you as cliff swallows explode out of their nests. Take a short hike to see a turtle fossil or petroglyphs, and make camp on a sandbar or in a grove of cottonwood trees.

Day 2:

River days start early, but don’t worry – hot coffee and tea will be ready for you! Take in a few more miles of calm water as we row around a large oxbow with dozens of geologic “amphitheaters” to peer up into. Lighthouse Rock, named by John Wesley Powell, alerts us to the whitewater just around the next river bend. Try out an inflatable kayak and splash through our first rapids. Hike to ancient cultural sites or explore a side canyon.

Day 3:

The rapids continue to come! Take a short stroll through the historic Rock Creek Ranch, where Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch hid from law enforcement. Then get ready for some of the larger rapids of the trip such as Chandler Falls and the biggest of them all, Cow Swim. Forged from a flash flood in 2008, this rapid will be new to any “retro” river-runners indeed.

Day 4:

Desolation’s walls deepen, red and rugged coming up out of the earth; a colorful finale as we transition into Gray Canyon. Today brings even more fun whitewater with Wire Fence, Three Fords, and Coal Creek rapids. Look for evidence of a planned dam site on the hike to scout Coal Creek Rapid, and check out the ruins of a surveyor’s cabin just downstream. Settle in on a large, sandy beach for our last night on the river. Dinner will certainly not disappoint tonight!

Day 5:

With a variety of rapids still to come, spend the last day listening to the song of the canyon wren as we approach the end of the canyon. We’ll have lunch and maybe squeeze in one more interpretive stop before arriving at the take out at Swasey’s Beach. We will return you to Green River, Utah (via a 20-minute van ride); our expected time of arrival back at our headquarters is 3:00 to 4:00 p.m.

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 rafting Desolation Canyon!

Desolation Canyon Guests Cool off in the River from Camp

The nature of all river trips is extremely variable. This itinerary is only one possibility! Availability of camp sites, water levels, weather, and the interest of the group can all impact the daily schedule of a river trip. That’s why we love to say, “Go with the flow!”


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Holiday River Expeditions
Average rating:  
 6 reviews
 by Michelle & James Nealon

Holiday River Expeditions had consistent and clear communication from day one. Documents, links, reminders, and follow-ups were spot on. Helpful and kind as well.

The gear was great! Easy to use and the staff was so helpful and nice explaining how the gear worked.

There are not enough words to describe how absolutely fabulous the guides were, the food, transportation, and activities. Let me just say, that I have been on several adventures in my life and I can honestly say that this is in my top three. Bucket list experience! I will call Holiday River Expeditions moving forward for every river trip I plan with family and friends.

Beyond awesome! The guides, food, activities, and transportation. Everything was covered...Health and safety, Food requests (gluten-free), activities, airplane transportation, river water experience, unbelievable rapids, and plain getting wet! Hahahah! Sooo damn fun! Soothing water floats, camping, fabulous guides...Bucket list experience for sure! Do it!

 by Lorie & Ron Liljedahl Hansen

Fantastic guides, Zack, Mary, Cloud, Sienna, and Drake! The food was very fresh, tasty, and healthy. Would have liked more hiking but understandable given the weather.
Great rafting company, fun professional guides, good food, and excellent service.

 by Marie Roessler

The river guides were prepared for many conditions. We had beautiful sun, cold rain, high winds, snow, and graupel. The guides were skilled, and always cheerful and upbeat throughout.

 by Steve & Lorrie Belcher Maeger

There are no words to express the fantastic trip we experienced with Holiday. If you want to know how to extend customer service to people look at Holiday river. They bend over backward to please every participant on their boats.

 by Patrick Mahon

I was the oldest person on our trip(73). The guides (Sherpa, Justin, Jack, and Tanner) and the other guests were all very helpful. I was able to go with my son and grandson and it was truly the trip of a lifetime.

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