These three classic river trips take you into the wild and back again.
Once the waters start to rise, they’ll be calling your name. Whether you’re looking for a longer lazy meander, a heart-thumping adventure, or a fishing-focused trip, we’ve got you covered.
Loma, Colorado, to Westwater, Utah
Looking for an easy-going rafting adventure complete with big sandy beaches, stunning red rock canyons and arches, and day hikes that allow for deeper exploration? Look no further. This 25-mile stretch of mostly flat water with sections of class I and II rapids has all this and more, including wildlife viewing opportunities, petroglyphs, desert waterfalls, and the chance to kick back and take in the oranges and reds of Vishnu schist, the same ancient rock you’ll find in the Grand Canyon.
Perfect For: First-time overnight raft trips, family floats, learning how to row, watching wildlife
Make It Happen: Overnight camping permits required year-round must be reserved in advance: recreation.gov/permits/74466. You can find full trip requirements here: recreation.gov/permits/74466/additional-information. Maximum of 25 individuals per group, including adults, children, and dogs.
Do Your Part: Please remember and respect the fire ban for Ruby-Horsethief Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Westwater to Cisco
Just finished Ruby-Horsethief and looking for more whitewater? Experienced boaters can add this challenging 17-mile stretch to lengthen the trip. Or, with 11 named rapids ranging in difficulty from Class I to Class IV, a trip down Westwater Canyon can stand on its own as a long day adventure or an overnight.
Your experience will depend largely on water levels, so time your trip based on what you seek. Lower levels (2,000 to 7,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs) make the trip a more technical class III, while mid-level flows (7,000 to 12,000 cfs ) deliver splashy and fun class III. In the “terrible teens” (13,000-20,000 cfs), the hydraulics pack a punch and Westwater morphs into a serious class IV with sparse (if any) eddies between rapids. Water levels over 20,000 cfs, turn the canyon into fast moving flatwater.
No matter what, this trip offers the chance to experience unique desert geology (you’ll see Grand Canyon rock here, too) and interesting historical sites, including a cave used by outlaws who made Ruby-Horsethief and Westwater a home base in the Wild West.
Perfect For: Experienced boaters—this is a challenging stretch of river at all water levels.
Make It Happen: Permits are required year-round. Only one night is allowed in the canyon so decide if you’d like to camp before or after the rapids. recreation.gov/permits/621744.
Do Your Part: If you visit the Miner’s Cabin, Outlaw Cave, or any other site with historical artifacts, please be respectful and don’t touch anything.
Green Mountain Reservoir to Confluence with Colorado
Covering a 680-square-mile area west of the Continental Divide in central Colorado, the Blue River watershed—which drains an impressive range of elevations, from 14,265 feet on Quandary Peak to 7,400 feet where it meets the Colorado River—encompasses undulating plains, rolling rangelands and agricultural fields, developed urban areas, historic mining sites, and untouched high-alpine environs including swaths of the Tenmile, Mosquito, and Gore ranges.
This 14-mile section of the Blue, between Green Mountain Reservoir and its confluence with the Colorado River, runs through Gold Medal Waters and provides a haven for trout and people alike. Green Mountain Canyon, a 3-mile stretch below the reservoir is ideal for a mellow float that includes fishing. Those continuing on below Green Mountain Canyon should be experienced on the oars and utilize a craft that is appropriate for current water levels. The water on this stretch is characterized by rock garden rapids and can be challenging class II and III, which requires some technical moves. A solid portion of the float travels through private property so there are no opportunities for stopping, resting, or taking off of the river.
Those with the skills to float the entire length will find a section of water largely free from angling pressure, and thus teeming with wildlife and trout, especially rainbow and browns. Here, the Blue cuts through arid, wide-open ranching country covered in fragrant sage—a very different landscape than its upper reaches.
Perfect For: Anglers and intermediate to experienced boaters seeking a scenic, isolated float or fishing day trip.
Make It Happen: No permits required. Area outfitters may offer shuttle service. Be prepared for a lack of developed facilities for launching and/or taking off of the river as most put-ins and take-outs are unimproved, undeveloped, and even require a belay rope for your boat.
Do Your Part: If you’re fishing, trout must be returned to water immediately.
Cover Photo: Westwater canyon serves up big water and solitude.