Wondering which Utah whitewater rafting trip is right for you? Not every river canyon in the Beehive State is created equal (one of them literally blasted right through a mountain— we’re looking at you Gates of Lodore!). Luckily, Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours has the scoop on Utah’s top river trips ranked from mild to wild.
Castle Valley is the most mild whitewater rafting trip in Utah, and its close proximity to Moab makes it a perfect option for families with younger kids, or folks who just want to enjoy a nice float down the Colorado River.
Castle Valley is a relaxing meander through astounding scenery with a few friendly rapids sprinkled along the way. This trip will give you plenty of time to swim, sunbathe, and ogle a rare landscape that has been the go-to backdrop of countless Westerns.
And since this ribbon of water is so calm, ages 10 and up can run the whole trip in an inflatable kayak to turn up the dial on their adventure.
Desolation Canyon is the mildest multi-day whitewater rafting in Utah, and is arguably one of most beloved river trips of the rafting community. This is because “Deso” runs through the largest wilderness research area in the lower 48, and with that level of solitude comes gobs of wildlife, pristine archeological sites, and views that stretch into oblivion.
This gargantuan crevice is cut by the Green River, and is so secluded, folks have to fly into the canyon to access the put-in. During this 96-mile journey, those aboard can look forward to over 60 rapid sections, most of which are small enough to be conquered in inflatable kayaks.
But there’s so much more to Desolation Canyon than just the whitewater. This particular stretch of the Green River is loaded with history, hikes and epic beaches. In a rift this ancient and isolated (and at times taller than the Grand Canyon), you’ll see the cosmos completely unobstructed, and layers of the earth that were laid down before the continents ever split.
Lodore Canyon offers an intermediate multi-day whitewater rafting trip in both Colorado and Utah through Dinosaur National Monument. This is a section of the Green River that cuts through dense, billion-year-old quartzite, which makes the canyon quite narrow and gorgeously diverse.
As for the rapids, get ready for big splashes! Lodore churns out big, beautiful class III waves that will rock the boat and soak it completely. Early on in the trip, you’ll bust through a frothy section known as Disaster Falls that supplies some of the biggest rapids on the Green River. Then after meeting the Yampa River in the glory of Echo Park, you’ll ride through Split Mountain, a constant splash-fest of class II and III whitewater.
Lodore offers beautiful hikes through side canyons where the ecosystems change drastically, along with pristine petroglyphs and plenty of wildlife. These emerald waters cut through an area saturated with geologic significance, including dinosaur fossils and rare wonders like the Mitten Park Fault.
The Yampa River is a wild-ish, multi-day whitewater rafting trip, and is one of the last rivers of its kind in North America. Since it has been left undammed and able to flow naturally for millions of years, the Yampa is remarkably different from any other desert river canyon. As the last free-flowing tributary in the Colorado River system, it is the most sought-after rafting trip in the United States.
Rapids and flows on the Yampa can change day to day, which is another reason why it’s oh so special. There are multiple class III whitewater sections in this canyon, and Warm Springs rapid is the class IV beast that river guides tend to look forward to most! Once it meets the Green River in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument, the rapids through Split and Whirlpool Canyon offer up constant class II and III splashes.
As for the scenery, this canyon changes dramatically bend after bend from smooth blonde slick rock to crumbling crimson chasms. Hikes off the river will take you to huge alcoves, wildflower meadows and some of the most significant archeological sites in the Southwest.
Cataract Canyon is hands down the wildest whitewater rafting trip in Utah. This frothy section of the Colorado River runs through the most remote districts of Canyonlands National Park and is all around one of the most acclaimed rafting adventures in the country.
During high flows in spring, Cataract Canyon can whip up the biggest rapids in the West. Rafters can look forward to ferocious class III, IV and V whitewater that highly skilled guides run in motored rigs and oar boats. You won’t have to hold on tight for the entirety of this natural roller coaster however, as the first and final days of any “Cat” trip comes with glossy flat water.
This red rocked river canyon is a true time machine glistening in the desert. As you drift deeper into the Paradox Formation, you’ll have opportunities to explore huge fields of petrified wood, pristine ancient ruins and looming hikes to the canyon rim. Your catered camps will be spread over huge beaches, and the night sky will be one of the most impressive you’ve ever laid eyes on.
Mix it up! Mild to Wild Rafting and Jeep Tours has been taking people to the Southwest’s hidden gems for 30 years. Our goal is to help others reconnect with nature, family and friends through adventure in these spectacular landscapes. Safety has always been our number one priority, and we only hire highly trained guides who exceed state requirements and have spent ample time getting to know each river’s unique attributes. We’re here to create memories that last a lifetime, so start planning your next adventure with us!
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