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Ruby Horsethief2022-08-18T13:54:55-07:00

Ruby-Horsethief Canyon River Rafting Guidebook

The Ruby-Horsethief Canyon section of the Colorado River is a beautiful, flat water trip, for those searching for tranquility, not adrenaline. There are no rapids in this stretch, but many campsites, side hikes, swimming holes, and scenery to keep you entertained. This stretch is usually run as a 2-day trip, but it can be run in more days than this if you want to do additional side hikes, and take it a bit slower.

About this guide

This guide outlines Horsethief Canyon from Loma Boat Ramp to Westwater Boat Launch, covering camps, creeks, and points of interest along the way.

Safety

The Ruby – Horsethief Canyon is a beginner river run. This stretch is almost entirely flatwater, running through stunning canyon scenery, but at higher water, this river picks up in intensity.

Permits & Camping

While a river permit is not required for this section, you will need to reserve your camping sites ahead of time. Your camping permit needs to be carried with you at all times. River patrols are regular in this section and will ask to see your permits. Permits can be reserved two months in advance and allow for a maximum group size of 25. Keep in mind, dogs count towards your group size and there is a limit of two dogs per group. Children 16 years old and younger camp for free. During the months from April to October, you are charged a camping fee according to your group size for each campsite booked. From the months of November to March there is no camping fee charged but campsites still need to be reserved and you are charged a $6 reservation fee. All campsite bookings can be made through Recreation.gov at this link.

Shuttle Info

This is a simple shuttle. It is a quick 30-minute drive from Loma Boat Launch to Westwater Boat launch, approximately one hour round trip. If you would like to pay for shuttle services you can call Rimrock Adventures.

Camping

A key piece of information to know about Ruby Horsethief is that campsite reservations MUST be made in advance. Luckily, you can easily check availability here. Please note that pets do count to your total group size.

The Ruby – Horsethief section of the Colorado River is raftable from 800 To 30,000 CFS.

There is a drastic flow range for this section of the river as it is on one of the largest drainages in the United States, the Colorado River. Flows can vary from 500 – 30,000+ CFS. It is recommended that family rafting trips launch when flows are below 5000 CFS. Canoeists should not launch when flows are above 20,000 CFS. Only highly skilled canoeists should attempt this stretch when flows are between 10,000 and 20,000 CFS. If flows are above 30,000 CFS extra care should be taken regardless of watercraft type.

Sometimes the USGS flow image breaks. If that happens, here is the direct link.

Colorado River Flow at Ruby Horsethief Canyon
Gauge data provided by Dream Flows

Our Ruby-Horsethief guidebook is available for download and offline use through our app partner, FarOut. Click here to download the guidebook.

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Ruby-Horsethief Canyon River Map & Guide

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment, experience, or skill level. 

Put-In / Take-Out

Commonly used access points.

Point of Interest

These include creeks, side hikes and historical markers.

Campgrounds

Riverside camping locations.

Class II

Class II rapids or features.

Loma Boat Launch to Westwater Boat Launch

The Colorado River winds its way through this scenic stretch, beginning in Fruita, Colorado, and ending in Westwater, Utah.

Length

Loma to Westwater is 25 miles.

Difficulty

Beginner.

Feet per Mile

Loma to Westwater is 6 FPM

Shuttle Time

Loma Boat Launch to Westwater Boat Launch is about an hour hour round trip. Google Map directions.

Mile 0 – Loma Boat Ramp – Put-in: River Right. Large area for rigging and unloading gear. Be sure to leave space for other groups. Parking is located 200 yards above the launch area. No camping at launch area or parking area. If you need camping at the put-in, then drive up river a few more miles to James Robb State Park Boat Launch. You can put camp and put in there.

Mile 3.24 – Rattlesnake: River Left. This camp is located on the upstream side of Rattlesnake Canyon coming in on river left. Rattlesnake camp is small and makes for a short first day, so if you plan on staying here you should do the hike up Rattlesnake Canyon (which is worth exploring).

Mile 3.24 – Rattlesnake Canyon: River Left. This is a great hiking opportunity ending with the second largest concentration of natural arches in the world. The arches hike is not for the faint of heart and is just over five miles round trip with plenty of scrambling. Alternately, a milder and also enjoyable hike is to stick to the more beaten path following Rattlesnake Canyon until you wish to turn around.

Mile 3.46 – Beavertail 1: River Right. This campsite has a cobblestone landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25. In 2018, 3.7 acres of invasive tamarisk were removed at this camp and Beavertail 2 by the Western Colorado Conservation Corps.

Mile 3.54 – Beavertail 2: River Right. This is a nice campground. It offers shade, is flat, and is quite large. Max group size is 25.

Mile 3.66 – Bull Draw: River Left. This is a large campground that has a short hike into an alcove. The camp is a bit away from the river. Max group size is 25.

Mile 5.66 – Banjo Campsite: River Left. This campsite has a clay/rock landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 5.88 – Cottonwood 1: River Left. The Cottonwood sites all share the same bar and are somewhat close to each other. As the name implies, there are cottonwoods here. Max group size is 25. Dogs must be on a leash at all Cottonwood sites.

Mile 5.94 – Cottonwood 2: River Left. Campsite has a cobblestone/clay landing and has shade. Max group size is 25. Dogs must be on a leash at all Cottonwood sites.

Mile 5.99 – Cottonwood 3: River Left. This campsite has a sand landing and offers shade. Max group size is 25. Dogs must be on a leash at all Cottonwood sites.

Mile 6.09 – Cottonwood 4: River Left. This campsite has a sand beach landing and offers shade. Max group size is 25. Dogs must be on a leash at all Cottonwood sites.

Mile 6.18 – Cottonwood 5: River Left. This is a nice camp with lots of trees. Max group size of 25. Dogs must be leashed at all Cottonwood sites.

Mile 7.96 – Salt Creek 1: River Left. This site has a grass landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 14. Hug the left bank two miles after the Cottonwood Bench.

Mile 8.01 – Salt Creek 2: River Left. This campsite has a grass landing and offers shade. Max group size is 14. Hug the left bank two miles downstream of the Cottonwood bench.

Mile 8.5 – Salt Creek: River Right. Salt Creek enters on river right.

Mile 8.9 – Beginning of the train section: River Right. The Union Pacific Railroad owns these tracks that will follow the river from this point all the way until takeout. The “California Zephyr” which is a 2,438 mile Amtrak route, is one of the trains that follow these tracks.

Mile 10 – Abandoned Cabin: River Left. There’s an old cabin a short ways off the left bank.

Mile 10.25 – Fault Line 1: River Left. This campsite has a grass landing and offers shade. Max group size is 14. This site can be easy to miss, especially at higher water flows. Talk with the ranger ahead of time to get detailed information on setting up for the landing. Look for the large cottonwoods where the river forks.

Mile 10.77 – Fault Line 2: River Left. This campsite has a cobblestone/sand beach landing and offers limited shade. Max group size is 14. Landing here can be difficult during high water. Be sure to take the left channel at Fault Line 1.

Mile 12.99 – Mee Corner: River Left. This site has a cobblestone/sand beach landing and offers shade. Max group size is 25. You can access hiking to Mee Canyon from here but there is better access from the other Mee sites. This camp has the benefit of being away from the other Mee sites.

Mile 13.38 – Mee 1: River Left. This site has a clay/grass landing and offers some shade. Max group size is 25. Easy access to hiking in Mee Canyon. Dogs must be on a leash at all campsites along Mee Bench.

Mile 13.5 – Mee 2: River Left. This site has a clay/grass landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25. There is access to hiking in Mee Canyon. Dogs must be on a leash at all campsites along Mee Bench.

Mile 13.57 – Mee 3: River Left. This site has a clay/grass landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25. Access to hiking in Mee Canyon. Dogs must be on a leash at all campsites along Mee Bench.

Mile 13.65 – Mee 4: River Left. This site has a clay/grass landing and offers no shade. Access to hiking in Mee Canyon. Dogs must be on a leash at all campsites along Mee Bench.

Mile 13.88 – Mee Canyon: River Left. This site has a sand landing and offers shade. Max group size is 25. Best access for hiking Mee Canyon. Dogs must be on a leash at all campsites along Mee Bench.

Mile 14.05 – Mee Canyon: River Left. Large canyon with tons of exploring. The trailhead is roughly 8 miles from the river. Mee Canyon has a famous alcove that’s enormous but would be an exceptionally challenging and long hike from the river corridor. A closer option is enjoying the spires that are much easier to get to. Additionally, there are a number of challenging climbing routes in this canyon, which the Mountain Project has written about.

Mile 15.41 – Dog Island: River Left. This site has a cobblestone landing and offers shade. Max group size is 25. This site is on an island in the middle of the river. Be sure to be in the right channel of the island, the campsite will be on river left about 3/4 down the island. If the flows are right there is good swimming here. On August 15 2015, this camp was heavily burned by rafters that had accidentally set it on fire after using illegal fireworks. The fire wiped out 168 cotton trees and burned 50 acres.

Mile 16.08 – Split Rock: River Left. This campsite has a cobblestone landing and offers great shade. Max group size is 25. While this can accommodate 25, you will not be able to spread out very much. This site can be hard to land at during high water. Look for the stand of cottonwoods on river left just before the entrance of Black Rocks. Advisable to have someone ready with a rope during high water. You can access the Black Rock sites and Moore Canyon. Moore canyon is located downstream of Black Rocks.

Mile 16.28 – Black Rocks 1-9: These sites are some of the most sought after. The river cuts through some of the oldest rocks on earth. This Vishnu Schist can also be seen in the Grand Canyon. Dogs must be on a leash at all Black Rocks sites. There is hiking access to Moore Canyon which is located on the downstream side of Black Rocks 9. Another option is the Canyon Rim hike which is spending 30 minutes and making your way to the canyon rim behind these camps, which provides fantastic views.

Mile 16.28 – Black Rocks 1: River Left. This site has a sand landing and some shade. Max group size is 25. This landing is very difficult at high water flows. Hug the left bank after passing Split rock. It will be in the middle of the bend in the river.

Mile 16.41 – Black Rocks 2: River Left. This site has a sand beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 16.48 – Black Rocks 3: River Left. This site has a sand beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 16.73 – Black Rocks 4: River Left. This site has a beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 16.75 – Black Rocks Rapid: Class II. While this trip is relatively flat the entire way, you will find swirly currents in the Black Rocks section, particularly at this spot.

Mile 16.82 – Black Rocks 5: River Left. This site has a sand beach landing and offers some shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 16.92 – Black Rocks 6: River Left. This site has a sand beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 17.05 – Black Rocks 7: River Left. This site has a steep sand beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25. The eddy can be difficult to catch.

Mile 17.11 – Black Rocks 8: River Left. This site has a sand beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 17.21 – Black Rocks 9: River Left. This site has a sand beach landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25.

Mile 17.22 – Moore Canyon: River Left. Access the trail from any of the Black Rock sites. This is another large canyon that offers tons of exploring opportunities.

Mile 18.4 – Island Camp: Take the channel to the left of the island and then park on river right. This is a cobblestone/sand landing and offers no shade. This is a small camp with a max group size of 5.

Mile 18.4 – McDonald Creek: River Right. This canyon features some pictographs. You must be in the river right channel of the island in order to access this hike. The hike from the river to the trailhead is roughly 4 miles round trip. There is very little shade so be sure to bring plenty of water and maybe take a dip in the river before beginning your adventure.

Mile 18.6 – Knowles 1: River Left. This site has a cobblestone/sand beach landing and offers shade. Max group size is 25. This landing can be difficult at higher water flows. Hug the left bank and look for the grove of cottonwoods.

Mile 18.6 – Knowles Canyon: River Left. Yet another great side canyon with lots to explore. Access the trail from Knowles 1.

Mile 18.6 – USGS Gaging Station: River Right. A flow monitoring station is located here. The earliest data for this gage goes back to 1951. Learn more about the USGS gaging station.

Mile 20.55 – May Flats: River Right. This site has a cobblestone landing and offers no shade. Max group size is 25. This site can be hard to locate. Look for the large boulders on river left, the site will be almost directly across the river on river right.

Mile 21.02 – Welcome to Utah: Utah/Colorado border. If you look river right you’ll see the crossing painted onto the canyon wall.

Mile 25.44 – Westwater Boat Launch – Take-out: River Right. Paved ramp large enough for two – three vehicles side by side. This launch can get busy so only use the ramp if you are ready to de-rig and load your vehicle. Otherwise, park your boats upstream on river right until you are ready. There is a second boat launch ramp just downstream. If the top one is busy, use the second one. Keep in mind that this launch is designated for trips launching for Westwater.

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