Western River #1

Dear Diary: Western River Expeditions Stole My Family’s Heart

When you go river rafting in Utah, take note of all the ways you and your family will be amazed.

By Karli Davis
September 12, 2023 | Updated January 18, 2024

For this year’s family reunion destination, skip the iffy rollercoasters and crowded cruiselines. No shade to amusement parks and all-inclusive packages, of course, but we think nature is all-inclusive-r, especially when you’re floatin’ a river in a much smaller boat.

Take Me Rafting!

Flippin’ Good Family Memories

Go big with a whitewater adventure that spans the ages — 5 year olds, 45 year olds and 40 million year olds will fall in love with river rafting in Utah.    

If you’re hmming, “Is there even whitewater rafting near me? Is that even a thing in Utah??” Heck to the yes. And it’s probably some of the best whitewater rafting in the world! Whether driving from Salt Lake City or St. George, your family’s whitewater dreams are super accessible with destinations near Moab.

West Is Best 

The best Utah outdoor adventures are those that make a big splash, and that’s where the experts at Western River Expeditions come in. They are no rookies when it comes to river rafting in Utah. Just look at their founder Jack Currey — floater of the San Juan river in a balsa wood raft and inventor of the J-Rig raft.

The guides at Western River Expeditions always try to make your trip flow smoother than the icing on their homemade cakes they provide. They navigate, pack games, prep nommy food, sing you lullabies under the moonlight … they’re basically your river-moms. They’re there to help you create memories of a lifetime. Who knows, maybe they’ll even turn your indoor-cat of a parent into a rugged river-rat that pish poshes their weekly manicure.

You can choose from Class I-V with Western River Expeditions, depending on your adrenaline needs. But if this is a family reunion with kiddos and grandparents, Desolation Canyon is a good option. It’s the perfect introduction to river rafting in Utah, with five days and 88 miles of family-friendly fun.

The rapids are moderate, but definitely not mediocre. There are 60(ish) Class II-III rapids that are fun and splashable in your guided oar boat ride. If you’re feeling brave, roll over rapids in a two-person inflatable kayak. You’ll get to explore hiking trails to see hideouts, petroglyphs and have plenty of free time on the shores to play games or splash in the river. 

Finding Connection In Desolation Canyon  

When John Wesley Powell went through this canyon in 1869, he seemed averse to the high cliffs and low vegetation, calling it, perhaps unfairly, a “Canyon of Desolation.” Nowadays, river trips through Desolation Canyon leave visitors feeling anything but desolate. There’s an appreciation for the canyon’s rich history and homey riverbanks. 

The ancient Fremont people that lived in the canyon farmed, built granaries and created art that’s still visible today. The canyon has seen centuries of travelers, homesteaders, explorers and even outlaws. And currently, the east side of the canyon is on Ute reservation land.

Your guides understand that this canyon continues to bring people together, just like it has for those that have called it their home for so long. It holds a special place in their hearts. And now it’s your turn to find out why. 

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Adventure

Alright, buckle your PFDs and cinch your Chacos tight! You’ll be floatin’ downstream in Desolation Canyon for five days. What else can you expect to do on your river trip? Snack on riverside sandwich platters? Zinc-ify your nose even though you’re wearing your broad-brim sunhat? Bond with loved ones both on and off raft? Yes, yes and yes. 

The guides at Western River Expeditions take care of most of the logistics so you and the whole fam can just enjoy yourselves. Here’s the gist of your trip and the beginning of your river diary. 

  • Shuttles to and from your hotel in Moab and a flight from Moab to the canyon. OK, starting off strong! 
  • Comfortable camping gear including a tent, cot, sleeping bag and water-resistant bags for your items 
  • Food — you don’t have to prep a gol’ darn thing while on the river
  • Comforts such as chairs, ground coverings and portable commodes for camp 

Day 1: A Love Song To the Desert

Who was the genius in your family that suggested river rafting in Utah as a reunion? Buy them a treat later. It’s day one of your trip and you’re already feeling one with nature again after a hectic workweek.  

Your first day consists of hotel coffee in the morning and then hustling your fam to board the wee-sized adventure-plane. Once in the air, your view of the canyons, the site of the remote Sand Wash airstrip and the Green River below make you realize you’re just a tiny little spec in this amazing landscape. 

Your river trip commences with a float down to your campsite, where you and your river guide banter with fluvial jokes. “The only livestreaming happening on this trip will be fish!” Chuckles. “This trip will be making you feel all sorts of sedimental.” Groans. “This group of explorers are up with the current trends.” Silence.

Despite the jokes, the guides let you jump and play in the water, they feed you snacks and truly enjoy getting to know you all. Once at camp, the guides start cooking dinner while you and the family play a game of canyon-themed Pictionary. And who is uninvited from the next family reunion for not being able to guess “river”?    

Did we mention they cook for you? Tonight was pasta, which naturally led to the whole campsite singing “That’s Amore” to the stars, and echoing off the canyon walls. 

Days 2 and 3: A Twinkle in Your Eye

Carbs must make for crazy dreams, because you’re seeing arabica rapids and cocoa rivers flowing between the red canyon walls — as if you’re in some arid version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” You can even smell it! And then you hear someone yell, “Augustus Gloop, no! Don’t drink all the cocoa from the river, you greedy nincompoop!”

Wait, no. Emerging from your REM sleep you realize it’s your youngest kid. He’s hollering at your older kid to not hog all the cocoa that the guides so kindly made for everyone. Phew! And they’ve got fresh coffee for you, too. And flapjacks! 

The next two days you take in as much leisure and history as possible. Some gentle floating, a hike to see 1,000-year-old petroglyph panels from the Fremont culture, a stop at a bootlegger’s hideout. Come rain or moonshine, come floods or whitewaters, outlaws always found a way to peddle their goods!  

Your head is constantly swimming with thoughts of Western River Expeditions’ midday buffet — meats, veggies, pitas, unlimited lemonade. Sippin’ your lemonade, lookin at all the lifelike plants and birds and rocks and things, you see some wild desert horses walking around. Wow, I’m in the desert with some horses with no names? Wild. So remote, yet not so desolate after all.  

Your kids make a sandcastle modeled after Lighthouse Rock seen earlier in the canyon. Your guides inflate SUPs for you to cruise around the river for an hour or two while they cook a fresh fish dinner. 

Over dinner, grandpa tells everyone about summer 1977, his first time river rafting in Utah, where he swears a fox and a bald eagle sat next to him on the shore. At the same time. But that was before selfie-sticks were a thing, so alas, no proof. Grandma tells how all her whitewater trips and Utah outdoor adventures from her younger years have empowered her to feel confident not only on the river, but in everyday life with everyday rapids.   

Day 4: Fun Isn’t Outlawed

Some fellas thought the laws of nature were a little more flexible than the laws of the land. Your morning starts with scrambled eggs and then off to Rock Creek Ranch, to see where homesteaders sheltered outlaws like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. 

Nearing the end of your trip, you’re ready to test the laws of nature yourself. It’s a good day for all that whitewater, then! Merry-go-rounds and nursery rhymes feel a little too chill at this point, but this … this is a thrill you can row, row, row your oars to. 

But which thrill do you choose? Hopping in a two-person kayak with grandma, the rafting queen? Or do you stick with the others on the oar boat? Either way, you’re ready for more than just a dip. Nobody can hear whose laughter is whose. The chutes and channels are just one big, giggly choir at this point. 

At camp, the laughs continue. Everyone keeps interjecting with the same phrase, “Did you see me when …” or, “Grandpa took that line so clean!” Of course the kids aren’t done laughing and lapping up the fun, so they swim around the bottom of Rattlesnake Rapid and work up an appetite.  

So far, your dinners have been top notch. The Dutch oven cobbler? You’d row upstream for that one any day. Don’t abandon ship on that note, though. Your last night will have the Captain’s Dinner, a special meal prepared for you and your crew.

And while this trip has been all about embracing the dirt in your nails, and saying to your kids, “No need to wash off your face for dinner,” this is a special night. You wonder which fancy clothes to wear. Your khaki Kirkland shorts? Your Patagucci sun shirt? Your neoprene socks? On second thought, remove the socks. They’ve seen enough silt to last another 40 million years of erosion. 

Day 5: Leaving With New Views 

As you sit back in your air-conditioned hotel, you can’t help but miss cooling off by jumping in the water. Like a wild horse with no name would. You’d let your mane fly wild in that riverside breeze for eons, if you could. You keep thinking how good it feels to disconnect! Unplugging is how humans recharge. Funny how that works, isn’t it? 

Grandma kept getting philosophical on this trip, but you know what? She might be on to something. Bonds with humans are built through adventure. Sandwiches taste better after adventure. And everyone is on equal playing fields and everything is connected on a river adventure. 

Like last night when you were stargazing up at the crystal clear Milky Way, reached into your bag for a latenight snackie, and happened … to grab … A MILKY WAY. Some may call it a coincidence, some may call it divine deposition. Test the theory yourself when you have your next Utah outdoor adventure with Western River Expeditions.

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