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Desolation Canyon2021-02-24T18:35:06-08:00

Desolation Canyon

Desolation Canyon is a renowned stretch of the Green river. Known for its Wild West history and remote location, rafting Desolation is a step back in time. Ancient petroglyphs remain well preserved at several points on the river and make for a fascinating look into the area’s history. The whitewater of Desolation is fun, albeit easy. The beauty of the river, though, is where it truly shines. It is a joy to get lost in the timeless scenery of the Green if you are lucky enough to go on a trip through Desolation Canyon.

About this guide

This guide outlines one continuous  82.9 mile stretch of river from Sand Wash put-in to Swasey’s Boat Ramp take-out.

All data points were collected using GPS. This location information is provided. These locations were checked against Google Earth for accuracy. Distances are the averages of repeated trips that were GPSed.

River Info

Rafting Desolation canyon is a truly remarkable trip. The canyon is one of the remotest places in the United States, and you feel that on a float down the canyon. While the rafting is easy, there are plenty of rapids to keep things fun and splashy along the way. A trip down Desolation Canyon means plenty of time relaxing on gorgeous beaches, as well as resting under the shade of cottonwood groves when the sun is high overhead.

Safety

Desolation Canyon of the Green River is a beginner to intermediate run. While there are significant sections of mellow or flat water, it is important to note other challenges that are present. The green has some strong eddies. There are some features that have notable flip potential. The most important thing to keep in mind with Desolation Canyon, though, is the remote nature of the trip. Response times can be delayed, so staying safe is extra important.

As a private boater, make sure you join a party that has solid boating experience before running Desolation Canyon.

Permits

A noncommercial rafting permit is required to run Desolation Canyon. Permits for May-September are administered via lottery. The lottery is held during January and is for trips during the next calendar year. Learn more about permits here.

From October – April, permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis. You can reserve a permit here. 

There are ongoing closures on Ute Tribal Land that prohibit camping and recreational activities on their land. There are campsites listed in this guidebook that are currently closed without tribal permission for camping. It is noted in the guidebook when a tribal permit is required. It is up to river runners to check on the current status of land closures before taking a trip down Desolation Canyon.  From the BLM: “River left, (east of the river) of the Ute Tribal Lands (above Coal Creek) has a 75 foot buffer that allows camping with a permit issued from the Ute Tribe. All recreational activities (e.g. hiking, sightseeing) on the river left (east side of the river) without a tribal permit are strictly prohibited.”

Desolation Canyon of the Green on average runs between 2,000 CFS and 15,000 CFS.  Generally, the river reaches its highest flows during May and June. During normal high-water events, the river remains runnable, although the consequences of flipped rafts and swimmers increases.

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

Gauge data provided by the USGS.

Desolation Canyon Guidebook

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment. Go with someone with recent Desolation Canyon rafting experience.

Class I Rapid

Class I rapid or river feature.

Class II Rapid

Class II rapid or river feature.

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Put-In / Take-Out

The most commonly used access points.

Point of Interest

These include side canyons, waterfalls, and more.

Campgrounds

Desolation Canyon campsites

Sand Wash to Swasey’s – Class I-III

Length

Desolation Canyon is 82.9 miles.

Difficulty

Beginner/intermediate

Feet per Mile

Desolation Canyon has an average gradient of 4.7 fpm

Shuttle Time

Hire a professional shuttle service. Phone numbers for services on this page.

Mile 0 – Sand Wash Raft Launch: River right. The start of your trip! You can camp at Sand Wash the night before your launch date.

Mile 4.96 – Dutches Hole Camp: River left. Large camp. Requires Ute permit.

Mile 8.94 – Tabyago Riffle: Read-and-run

Mile 13.42 – 82 Mile Camp: River right. Small camp.

Mile 13.66 – 81 Mile Camp: River right. Medium sized camp.

Mile 14.295 – Lower Gold Hole Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 15.34 – Rock House Camp: River right. Large camp. Hike up the wash a bit to reach the campsites.

Mile 15.35 – Rock House Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 15.35 – Rock House Canyon Petroglyphs: River right. Hike up the wash from camp. Once you reach the cliff, look for the petroglyph site. Make sure not to touch any of the petroglyphs!

Mile 16.33 – Little Rock House Riffle: Read-and-run down the right side.

Mile 17.35 – Opposite Stampede Flat Camp: River right. Medium sized camp.

Mile 18.63 – 76.7 Camp: River right. Large Camp.

Mile 18.89 – 76.4 Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 25.39 – Jack Creek Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 25.584 – Jack Creek Camp: River right. If the first camp is taken it is possible to camp further downstream in the same area.

Mile 26.48 – Mushroom Camp: River right. Large camp. This camp has access to the Mushroom Rock Petroglyphs.

Mile 26.48 – Mushroom Rock Petroglyphs: River right. These gorgeous petroglyphs are located at the base of the mushroom rock formation. The rock formation is about a quarter mile from camp.

Mile 28.28 – Big Canyon Rapid: Read and run.

Mile 29.34 – Firewater Rapid: Read and run.

Mile 29.4 – Firewater Camp: River left. Large camp. Requires Ute permit.

Mile 29.614 – Above Cedar Ridge Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 29.87 – Below Cedar Ridge Camp: River right. Very large camp.

Mile 30.12 – Cedar Ridge Rapid: Read and run.

Mile 32.12 – Flat Canyon Petroglyphs: RIver right. It is a short walk from the pull-in on shore to the petroglyphs. Enjoy the beauty and make sure not to touch.

Mile 32.39 – Flat Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 32.58 – Flat Canyon Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 33.38 – Dripping Springs Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 33.618 – Dripping Springs Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 35.81 – Fretwater Falls Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 35.908 – Fretwater Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 36.754 – Upper Wild Horse Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 37.45 – Lower Wild Horse Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 38.53 – Upper Steer Ridge Rapid: Left-of-center run. Left scout. There are many rocks in the center and right of this rapid so navigate carefully as you make your way down.

Mile 38.714 – Steer Ridge Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 38.74 – Lower Steer Ridge Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 39.256 – Surprise Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 40.22 – Log Cabin #1: River left. Large camp. Requires Ute permit.

Mile 40.45 – Log Cabin Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 40.66 – Log Cabin #2: River left. Large camp. Requires Ute permit.

Mile 40.88 – Log Cabin Camp #3: River left. Large camp. Requires Ute permit.

Mile 41.156 – Rock Creek Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 41.91 – Rock Creek Ranch: Enjoy a visit to the historical ranch. Camping is not allowed on the ranch property.

Mile 42.235 – Below Rock Creek Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 42.72 – Calf Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 43.76 – Upper Snap Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 43.83 – Snap Canyon Camp: River right. Medium sized camp.

Mile 44.08 – Lower Snap Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 45.09 – Three Canyons Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 45.28 – Three Canyon Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 45.57 – Lower Three Canyon Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 46.4 – Belknap Falls: Read-and-run.

Mile 47.15 – Lion Hollow Camp: River right. Large, sandy camp.

Mile 48.052 – Chandler Falls Rapid: Right-of-center run.

Mile 48.24 – Chandler Camp: River left. Large camp. Ute permit required for camping.

Mile 49.03 – Trail Canyon Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 49.339 – Trail Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 50.42 – Above Bull Canyon Camp: River right. Large, sandy camp.

Mile 50.81 – Bull Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 51.5 – Below Bull Canyon Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 52.046 – Moonwater Rapid: Read-and-run. You can go left or right of the island.

Mile 52.23 – Moonwater Camp: River right.

Mile 52.42 – Red Point Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 52.64 – Below Red Point Camp: River right.

Mile 53.42 – Joe Hutch Creek Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 54.41 – Joe Hutch Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 54.48 – Joe Hutch Camp: River right. Large camp. Pull-in is tight – run Joe Hutch rapid down the right side to access this camp.

Mile 55.43 – Opposite the Ranch Camp: River right.

Mile 55.5 – Ouray Lodge and McPherson Ranch: McPherson ranch was settled in the 1890s. The Ute tribe built the Ouray Lodge and later closed it.

Mile 56.12 – Florence Creek Rapid: Read-and-run

Mile 56.82 – Jack’s Rock:

Mile 57.641 – Above Wire Fence Camp: River right. Large camp with lots of shade.

Mile 57.96 – Wire Fence Rapid: Right or left run.

Mile 58.07 – Below Wire Fence Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 58.25 – Three Fords Rapid: read-and-run.

Mile 63.24 – Range Creek Rapid: Read-and-run

Mile 63.48 – Upper Range Creek Camp: River right. This is the first of several Range Creek Camps on river right.

Mile 63.82 – Lower Range Creek: River right.

Mile 65.82 – Rabbit Valley Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 66.13 – Rabbit Valley Camp: River right. Large, sandy camp.

Mile 66.65 – Curry Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 67.9 – Saleratus Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 68.7 – Coal Creek Rapid: Right-of-center run.

Mile 68.95 – Below Coal Creek: River left.

Mile 69.45 – Poverty Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 69.66 – Poverty Camp: River left. Large camp.

Mile 72.5 – School Section Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 72.57 – Rattlesnake Rapid: Pull left to stay off the rocks on the right side of the river.

Mile 72.839 – Rattlesnake Camp: River left. Large camp.

Mile 74.5 – Nefertiti Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 74.56 – Nefertiti Camp: River left. Large camp.

Mile 76.569 – Confluence with Price River:

Mile 78.66 – Butler Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 78.75 – Upper Butler Camp: River right. Large camp.

Mile 78.949 – Lower Butler Camp: River right.

Mile 79.13 – Sand Knolls Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 79.466 – Sand Knolls Camp: River left. Large, sandy camp.

Mile 80.32 – Stone Cabin Rapid: Read-and-run. Be careful for the boulders at the top.

Mile 81.63 – Short Canyon Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 82.57 – Swasey’s Rapid: Read-and-run.

Mile 82.71 – Swasey’s Beach: River left. Large, sandy camp.

Mile 82.9 – Swasey’s Boat Ramp: Congratulations on a great trip!



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