By Susan Munroe
The Green River through Lodore Canyon might just be the ideal river trip. This insider’s guide to Lodore Canyon takes you step by step from scenery to wildlife, whitewater to beach camping. The flow and pacing of Holiday’s four-day Lodore trip provide the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation. See the deep, red heart of Dinosaur National Monument from the inside; walk its hidden trails to waterfalls and ancient rock art. You’ll find that four days are just enough time to get into the flow and leave still wanting more.
Perfect for: first-time river rafters, families with children eight years old and older, and groups (custom charter trips are possible with groups of 16 or more).
Lodore Canyon Highlights
It begins at the “Gates of Lodore”, where the river flows into the southeastern flank of the Uinta Mountains. Steep, crimson walls rise dramatically above clear green water and white beaches. Big horn sheep are frequently spotted at the river’s edge, eating and drinking as we float past. It was here that John Wesley Powell’s 1869 journey into the unknown began. His explorer’s legacy is everywhere, in the names of the rapids to the way that we understand the unique geology of the region. The canyon walls dip and rise along rainbow-colored fault lines and the rock changes from red to white and back again, with hints of orange, purple, green, and pink in between. The confluence of the Green and Yampa rivers in Echo Park provides a mid-trip idyll and an opportunity to hike to a thousand-year-old pictograph panel. Lodore provides a cool retreat from the heat of midsummer, and the internationally recognized dark skies of Dinosaur National Monument make nighttime a star-studded affair.
Only in Lodore:
- Brilliant red quartzite walls, eight hundred feet high, and the oldest rocks in Dinosaur National Monument.
- Slip through the narrowest part of the Green River at Harp Falls.
- One of the few known inscriptions by Buzz Holmstrom, the only person to successfully run the entire river from Green River, Wyoming, to Lake Mead.
- Disaster Falls, named by explorer John Wesley Powell after wrecking one of his boats there.
- Rippling Brook, a hike to an iconic overlook and a waterfall in a fern-filled grotto.
Lodore’s Signature Rapid:
Hells Half Mile, a steep, technical drop past rocks with names like “Lucifer” and “Hades Bar”.
Best Known For:
Clear water, white beaches, and hiking galore.
The Holiday Way: Silent Floats
A river trip is a great time to bond with family, or talk with new friends. Floating downstream, there’s never a lack for conversation topics, and new wonders appear around each bend. Holiday’s guides love watching people connect, but on almost every trip we’ll offer the opportunity to connect not only with each other, but with the canyon around us. Silent floating, even for just ten minutes, tunes our senses in to the subtleties of the river: birds singing in the willows, the play of sunlight on a rock overhang, or the simple sensation of floating with the current. A silent float provides a rare opportunity to truly exist in the moment.
The easy pacing of a Lodore trip makes a number of short and long hikes possible.
- Walk through the pines along the riverbank to check out Disaster Falls, the first major rapid of the trip, and see the island where Powell’s boat wrecked.
- Pot Creek, an easy after-dinner hike through an open meadow to an alcove.
- Limestone Draw, a moderately strenuous hike to a dramatic overlook and a spring.
- Echo Park, where the Green River meets the Yampa, offers multiple points of interest along a graded dirt road: a hermit’s shelter, Whispering Cave, and prehistoric rock art.
- Jones Hole, a five-mile round trip hike along a wooded fishing creek to a refreshing waterfall and an archaeological site.
Starting and Ending Points
Meet at Holiday’s warehouse in Vernal, Utah. We’ll transport you east into Colorado, and then north to the put in at Browns Park at the northern boundary of Dinosaur National Monument. The river brings us most of the way back to Vernal; the take out is at the Split Mountain boat ramp, a twenty-minute drive from our Vernal warehouse.
- 45 river miles
- Class II–IV
- May to September
- The Green River upstream of Lodore Canyon is regulated by Flaming Gorge Dam. For most of the year, the Bureau of Reclamation operates the dam to meet irrigation needs, water storage goals, and for hydropower generation. The flows are typically low, from 800 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 2,500 CFS, making the rocky rapids a fun, technical challenge.
- In May and June, the Bureau of Reclamation often releases more water to simulate a spring flood to help with the recovery of endangered native fish. These “peak” flows can be as high as 9,000 CFS, and can last for anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the year.
- The National Park Service regulates the amount of traffic on the river; only four launches per day are allowed during the high-use season: two for outfitted groups and two for non-outfitted trips.
First Known Descent of Lodore Canyon:
Although mountain men, fur trappers, and 49ers all attempted various sections of the upper Green River in the early 1800s, John Wesley Powell and his crew of nine men are credited with the first full descent of Lodore in 1869. Beginning at Green River, Wyoming, they traveled the length of the Green River to its confluence with the Colorado and through the Grand Canyon, mapping the canyons and gathering scientific observations.
Lodore Canyon Weather
Types of Boats Used
Holiday primarily uses oar-powered rafts to navigate Lodore Canyon. Our custom-built rafts can comfortably carry up to five passengers and are steered by a single guide, who sits in the middle of the boat and uses two oars to row downstream. In the calm water, guests can kick back and watch for big horn sheep and osprey as the canyon walls float by; in the whitewater, it’s time to sit up, hold on, and cheer on your guide as he or she navigates the tight, rocky channels of each rapid.
If requested ahead of time, on certain Lodore trips we may also bring a paddleboat. This is a smaller, lighter, inflatable raft in which passengers sit on the sides of the raft and use paddles to power the boat downstream as a team. The guide sits at the back of the boat and calls out instructions while steering with his or her own paddle. These boats are well-suited to Lodore Canyon, but do require 6–8 people who are excited to paddle the majority of the trip, including through sections of calm, flat water.
What Holiday doesn’t use are motorized craft—on any of the rivers that we run. We believe strongly that the noise and smell of a motor creates a sensory barrier between us and the wilderness environment that we’re out there to experience. The sounds of our signature red oars dipping into the water and creaking in the oarlocks are the only mechanical noises you’ll hear as we float along. In fact, motors aren’t allowed at all in Dinosaur National Monument, preserving intact the sounds, smells, and sensations of a true wilderness river experience for all boaters.
We’ll also bring a few inflatable kayaks. These are awesome little boats that give you the chance to go solo and do your own paddling. We’ll bring one to three kayaks per trip, depending on the size of the group, and guests can take turns paddling throughout the day. In Lodore, we’ll wait to inflate them until after lunch on day two, once we’ve passed the three most consequential rapids. Novices can choose to paddle one of the sections of flat water, while the more adventurous will find plenty of whitewater to tackle.
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 eight 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