by Julie Trevelyan

Guides scouting a rapid

Guides scouting a rapid

Green River Rafting Trips through Desolation Canyon

Desolation” usually conjures images of loneliness. However, Desolation Canyon is lonely in the best sense of the word: remote, uncrowded, and still untouched by the world. We think it’s a sweet river to run; so much so, in fact, that we have five great reasons river rafting the Green through Desolation Canyon is cool. How’s that for a plug? If you’re looking around for a rafting vacation this year, check out our Green River through Desolation Canyon trip and find out how it’s actually filled with wildlife, history, and, oh, yeah—over 60 whitewater rapids. The makeup of this river means that it’s also an excellent place to do some exploring in one of our inflatable kayaks as you search for prehistoric Indian ruins, soaring golden eagles, or just soak in the incredible beauty of this canyon.


Trip specifics

Average Flows:

The Green River through Desolation Canyon has an average flow of 4,000 CFS (cubic feet per second). Late May and early June tend to have the best flows in terms of volume due to snowmelt. Overall, though, this isn’t a wild powerhouse of a river, which makes it ideal for those seeking a rafting vacation that’s about more than just running rapids (although it does have some of those!). Desolation Canyon is a section of the Green River that demands a more leisurely exploration in order to truly soak in all it has to offer.


Rock Art Panel


Fremont Indian ruins and petroglyphs dot the landscape around the Desolation Canyon area, and you’ll likely get a chance to hike to some really interesting ones. What those ancient canyon area dwellers left behind spurs the imagination as you ponder their day-to-day lives so many centuries ago. Rock Creek is a lovely clear water stream that affords another possible hike, with trails leading to the abandoned ranches of Rock Creek and McPherson.



Outlaw Trail

Outlaw Trail

Historical Significance:

All the remnants of ancient peoples in the area reveal the deep cultural significance of this area, extending far back into time and left for us today to ooh and ahh at as we gaze upon their rock art that still survives today. Fur trapper William Ashley and famous explorer John Wesley Powell were later to discover the beauties of Desolation Canyon on separate journeys, pushing far into this previously uncharted landscape. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might have used Desolation Canyon as a hideout from the law back in their Wild West hold-up days. Rumor has it that they and their Wild Bunch Gang laid out their bedrolls at Rock Creek Ranch and McPherson Ranch, taking a breather between heists. The Sierra Club dubbed this trip, “The Outlaw Trail”.


Kayaking in Desolation

Kayaking in Desolation Canyon

Who will enjoy this trip most:

Floating the Green through Desolation Canyon is a primo family rafting adventure. Those 60 rapids we mentioned are fairly tame white water, making it a thrill for kids.  Also popular for many “Youth Groups” and those who enjoy inflatable kayaking and hiking.  The whole area is also a naturalist’s delight, with the abundance of wildlife, desert plants, and canyon geology.  Local universities and colleges often conduct outdoor field trips in geology and geomorphology in Desolation Canyon.  The adventure runs deep.

Fun wave trains

Fun wave trains

Fun facts:

1. Desolation Canyon is a National Historic Landmark, making it one of less than 2,500 such landmarks out of the 80,000-place National Register of Historic Places.

2. Desolation Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon at the Bright Angel Trail. That’s deep!

3. Elk, moose, black bear, and even buffalo (aka American bison) hang out around Desolation Canyon.

4. A new rapid was formed a few years back called Cow Swim, solid Class III+.




Julie TrevelyanWritten by Julie Trevelyan.

Julie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.

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