River Runnin’ and Nonstop Funnin’: A Cataract Canyon Rafting Trip With Navtec Expeditions

By Brian Higgins
July 21, 2023

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Some experiences are a pretty safe bet for making once-in-a-lifetime memories. A two-day rafting trip down Class IV and V rapids in the Colorado River, for instance, sounds like a prime candidate. But still, imagining it is one thing. Experiencing it — charging bow-first towards a torrent of 20-foot waves, feeling countless gallons of water crash against you as you cling to the safety ropes, seeing the crest of a wave and blue sky above as your boat goes nearly vertical — is quite another

Even if you can imagine all that, there’s no way you can dream up the smile that’ll be on your face through it all. And there’s no better way to experience the thrills of the Colorado River and the sights of Canyonlands National Park than with Navtec Expeditions. A trip guided by Navtec is one of the best things to do in Moab, which means it’s one of the best things to do pretty much anywhere. 

Warm Welcomes

When you arrive at Navtec, you’ll be greeted by the kinds of welcoming sights that assure adventurous travelers they’ve chosen a great guide service. A big shaded porch, smiling faces on the suntanned dudes and dudettes ready to lead the day’s adventures and, of course, a snoozing shop dog. Or in Navtec’s case, several snoozing shop dogs.

Inside, you’ll find one of Navtec’s, and Moab’s, coolest treasures. Behind a glass case in the lobby sits the original 1938 letter declaring the expansion of Arches National Monument, signed by none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt. Lining the other walls are pictures of Navtec guides battling raging waters with boats full of happy, hootin’ and hollerin’ customers.

As it turns out, this combination of items is the perfect introduction to Navtec. It’s a group brimming with knowledge about the cultural and geological highlights of the area, but firmly rooted in fun, and determined to have the best possible time at every bend in the river.

The Calm Before the Storm

Navtec has countless trip offerings down the Colorado River, from easygoing half-day excursions to multiday adventures through thrilling whitewater. For those seeking a bucket list experience that can fit into a weekend, there’s no better option than the two-day Cataract Canyon rafting trip. You’ll traverse the waters of the Colorado River from Moab all the way down to the northern reaches of Lake Powell, experiencing everything from gently flowing waters to Class V rapids along the way. 

Heading southwest from Navtec to the put-in, you quickly put the trip’s biggest danger — the left hand turn onto Main Street — in the rearview. As you approach the river, your guide will give you an overview of the current situation on the water. In the case of our crew, arriving in early June after a record snow year, the river was flowing at 45,000 cubic feet per second below the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers (translation: very fast). When the Colorado floods like this, the waters of Cataract Canyon are arguably the biggest in North America. Or, as our driver put it, “The stakes are higher than an astronaut’s T-bone.” 

All is quiet up at the put-in though, with only the hum of the motors to be heard as you zip through the calm stretches of the upper river. Although most outfitters in Moab have motorized boats, Navtec's are unique. The rigid hull inflatable boats, or RHIBS, they use are lighter, sportier and more maneuverable than the larger J-rig or S-rig boats used by other outfitters. And while Navtec has a few of those boats at their disposal for larger parties, they prefer the fun that the RHIBs provide, like surfing around in the waves or riding sections of each rapid more than once. Because once you experience these rapids, your first thought will be “I wanna do that again.” With Navtec, you can.

 The rapids are far from the only highlight of the two-day trip, however. There are plenty of hikes and geological sites to see, and groups on longer multiday trips will explore even more. Our crew got to check out Indian Creek Falls, where the waters were certainly roaring. Our guides, Brian and Josh, helped us navigate the rocks to experience the falls properly — by getting soaking wet. 

Later on, another hike afforded the unique opportunity to travel overland while the boats went around a large gooseneck to the same point. Some of our group chose to make the hike, enjoying spectacular views and great conversation. The rest stayed in the boats, and enjoyed the same.

Not Your Average Camp Meal

Before any good adventure, it’s important to fuel, and at Navtec, the fuel is a lot more than energy bars and peanut butter. Over our two-day trip, Brian and Josh treated our crew to delicious lunches of pasta salad and chicken wraps and a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash browns. Most impressive, though, was the incredible camp dinner, which featured a spinach dip bread bowl, chicken thighs, grilled pineapple, corn with homemade elote dressing and kabobs with steak, peppers and potatoes. Oh, and a casual chocolate lava cake for dessert. 

With a dinner like that, you’ll be ready to promptly pass out beneath the stars, and it won’t be the first time you notice that your guides have a seemingly endless supply of energy. When asked how he could keep his motor running, which seemed even more powerful than the one on our RHIBs, Brian quickly replied, “Because this is awesome.” That energy was palpable the next day as our group entered the Class IV and V rapids of Cataract Canyon.

Taking the Plunge

As you approach rapids and features with names like “Capsize,” “Hell-to-Pay,” “The Big Drops” and “Satan’s Gut,” it’ll be easy to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. But with your guides’ infectious energy and steady hands at the wheel, any fears will turn to fun in an instant. 

Because with Navtec, the guides might just be having more fun than their guests. While you’re bracing yourself against the waves, you might hear them laughing above the river’s roar. Or, like us, you might even hear them singing. Pro tip: If your guide starts singing “I Believe I Can Fly,” get ready to hold on tight.

Your hours in Cataract Canyon will be absolutely unforgettable, whether you’re facing the titanic waves of spring or the more technical waters of the later season. Experts through and through, the Navtec guides know exactly when the boats can afford to play around in the surf and when they need to take the most direct path through more hazardous rapids. You’ll reach the put-out with bodies drenched, heart rates pumping and smiles permanently plastered on your face.

From the put-out point at Hite Marina, there are multiple options for getting back to Moab or continuing on your journey. You can either drive back with Navtec (a roughly 2.5-hour drive), have your vehicle shuttled to the put-out or take a chartered flight back to Canyonlands Airport with Redtail Air. We chose the latter, watching the canyon walls that had been our home for the past two days shrink below us as we flew over Canyonlands.

From up there, the Big Drops didn’t seem so big, and Satan’s Gut looked more like Satan’s Belly Button. We knew better, of course. Because if you want to experience the Colorado River to its fullest, you can’t do it from just above. Sure, it’s incredible to see the light waters of the Green River mix with the darker tides of the Colorado from the Confluence Overlook. But it’s more incredible to feel the waters change temperature as you pass through the spot where these two mighty rivers meet and gaze up at the canyons that they’ve carved through the millenia.

There’s only one way to truly experience the Colorado, and when your focus is on fun, there’s one outfitter that does it bigger, better and wetter than all the rest. Book your Canyonlands rafting trip with Navtec Expeditions today. 

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