LOGISTICS: To reach the put-in, campground, and ranger station from I-70 Westbound exit 227 Westwater Exit). Note, there is a short-cut at Exit 221 which can be problematic during and after periods of heavy rain, but DF likes to use it, mind your clearance on the 221 route, low bridge !
To reach the Take-out use Exit 214 from Westbound I-70 and continue towards Cisco (this shows HWY 128). Roll Left through cisco on the Cisco Pump House Road, over a cattle grate, then bear left at the next intersection, this road continues towards the Boat Launch. * Take the left fork to reach the take-out ramp and parking area.
Shuttle is +/- two hours. There is the Kokopeli Trail to mountain bike along the river here.
RIVER REACH DESCRIPTION: Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River is a classic desert overnight float trip. You'll find great Class III+ whitewater (Class IV at higher water), good camping, and beautiful desert scenery. A permit system at blm.gov and a few miles of flatwater at both the put-in and take-out.
Boaters typically arrive through the late afternoon and evening and camp out at the put-in to be in line early for the campsite assignments (bring your own drinking water and firewood). Excitement builds at the launch through the morning as boaters jockey for launch (day trippers are normally launched first and around 10 am overnight trip launches start). It's a fun scene and always a festive mood when first-timers and old-timers mix with an eclectic collection of boats and gear. After the ranger checks your gear (read the list of requirements carefully before launching because there will be a pre-launch inspection) and the ranger gives a short river talk before your group is on underway downriver.
The first few miles of this reach are a lazy float then class II rapids murmur with great Utah redrock canyon scenery surrounding. Kayakers can find fun playspots while those on the rafts bask in the sun and enjoy the view. There are several spots where you can stop and take a short hike to explore the landscape. Bald eagles and other desert species abound.
Pee in the river, not in the desert. Please help us protect and preserve the special soils and unique historical artifacts within Westwater Canyon. Microtrash must die!
With the transition between redrock sandstone and the black gneiss of the main gorge of the river begins to pick up the pace at Little Dolores (near mile 7), and you begin to get a taste of the rapids that lie just downstream. There are a couple of good campsites here at the start of the main whitewater section with the added bonus of a great surfing wave right in front of your campsite. You will also find a good hike up to the waterfall on the Little Dolores and a nice little swimming hole (when there's water).
As you enter the main gorge the pace of the rapids begins to increase. The waves get bigger and its hard to see downriver in places but most of the rapids (Marble Canyon, Staircase, Big Hummer, Funnel Falls, and Surprise Rapid) are straightforward and consist mostly of big wave trains providing ample playboating opportunities. While this is not a great place to swim there are just enough rocks and ledges that experienced boaters can usually collect up boats and swimmers before everything disappears downstream. At higher flows, rescues in the gorge become more challenging and, swims can be very hazardous.
The anticipation of drifting into Skull keeps boaters on their toes. Skull is not a rapid to be taken lightly as it has been the site of some epic mishaps. While the intermediate flow levels move around Skull Hole is relatively straightforward, the consequences of a mistake here can be severe. Skull is recognizeable as a jumble of boulders extending down to water level on river left, a steep canyon wall on river right, and a distinct horizon line. The rapid can be scouted from the rockpile on river left. This is a dangerous scout and the read and run crowd will tell you to follow them and you will.
The key is to avoid Skull Hole at the foot of the rapid on the right, which is a definite raft flipper, and the Room of Doom below it on river right.
The Room of Doom is formed where a river right rock point protrudes into the main current. Most of the flow continues downstream to the left but a significant portion heads right into a rock alcove with a powerful recirculating current that can make a challenge for boats attempting to rejoin the main current. Breaking through the eddy fence at flows above 6000 cfs can becomes challenging for rafts (fun for kayakers). There have been several incidencts where groups have actually had to dismantle their raft and portage up over the cliff from the Room of Doom. This would be absolute hell on slippery black rock.
Please bring your boating skills, river rescue skills, and experience with Class IV conditions and avoid mishap with your best preparation for a remote river canyon.
Below Skull the river bounces through more fun rapids and great playspots (Bowling Alley, Sock-it-to-Me and Last Chance). These rapids are similar in character to those near the beginning of the gorge although Sock-it-to-Me can sometimes provide a bit of carnage entertainment. By mile 11, the rapids come to an end and the river continues at a more leisurely pace.
The entire run could be done in a day, but it's much more fun to take your time and not have to race through the flatwater sections. Just keep in mind that you are only allowed one night of camping on your launch date. The section at the end of the run provides a great opportunity for kayakers to board the rafts and raid the beer coolers. Those who want to continue on for another day at this leisurely pace can continue past the Cisco take-out and float the Cisco to Moab section that runs through Professor Valley.
#bigtendropsofthewest #skullrapid #skull #classiv #americanwhitewater #coloradoriver
For additional information: BLM - Westwater Canyon information Friends of Westwater Canyon
Nichols, Gary C. 1993. River Runners' Guide to Utah. University of Utah Press.
Belknap, Bill and Buzz. Canyonlands River Guide. Westwater Books.
Banks, Gordon, and Dave Eckardt. 1999. Colorado Rivers and Creeks, 2nd ed. www.kayakingcolorado.com Westwater description at www.allaboutrivers.com
Reaches of the Colorado River:01. Hot Sulphur Springs to Hwy 40 bridge (Byers Canyon) (CO, IV)02. Gore Canyon (CO, IV-V)03. Pumphouse campground to Rancho Del Rio (Pumphouse) (CO, III)04. Hanging Lake Exit 125 (I-70) to Shoshone Power Plant Exit 123 (I-70) (Barrel Springs) (CO, IV-V [V+])05. Shoshone Power Plant, Exit 123 (I-70) to Grizzly Creek, Exit 121 (I-70) (Shoshone) (CO, III-IV)06. Cameo Dam (Big Sur / Lucky 7) (CO, III)07. Loma to Westwater (Ruby / Horsethief Canyons) (CO-UT, II)08. Westwater to Rose Ranch (Westwater Canyon) (UT, I-IV)09. Cisco (Rose Ranch) to Moab (Professor Valley) (UT, I-III)10. Moab to Powell Reservoir (Cataract Canyon) (UT, I-IV)11. Lees Ferry to Lake Mead (Grand Canyon) (AZ, I-V)12. Black Canyon (AZ-NV, I)
Skull is not a rapid to be taken lightly as it has been the site of some epic mishaps (it's near mile 10). While the move around Skull Hole is relatively straightforward at intermediate flows, the consequences of a mistake can be severe (especially for rafts). You'll recognize the rapid by a jumble of boulders that extends down to water level on river left, a steep wall on river right, and a distinct horizon line. The rapid can be scouted from the rocks on river left. The key is to avoid Skull Hole near the end of the rapid on the right which is a definite raft flipper, and the Room of Doom below it on river right. The Room of Doom is formed where a rock point protrudes out into the main current. Most of the flow continues downstream to the left but a significant portion heads right into a rock alcove with a powerful recirculating current that prevents boats from accessing the main current. While you can potentially break the eddy fence, at flows much above 6000 cfs this becomes difficult for rafts (potentially fun for kayaks if you're looking for the experience of swirling around in a toilet bowl). There have been cases where groups have actually had to dismantle their raft and portage up over the cliff. This looks like it would be absolute hell.
Just ran at 10000. There is a hole on the right that is large in surprise falls. At this level in the raft it was impossible to break the v wave laterally in Skull. The wave before skull hole was huge. It reminded me of Lava on the Grand. For big raft go down the V headed left and hit the large wave on its left side then pull like hell to miss the magnetic wall. The wave will naturally pull you left. You can't break the 2 to 3 foot wall on the left side of the V with an Oar rig it is just too large. Smaller boats and catarafts can do it and not have a problem. Everything else is read and run and great fun with big hits. There were no trees or other obstacles to miss. Bring a motor if you can to go out the last 5 miles.
Great trip! there were some awesome hikes to an amphitheater and the BLM ranger Bob was rad. We did the trip in 2 days but you can lap it in a weekend. At around 4000 Scull was super easy, but some of the other rapids were bigger than I expected! Hitched a ride back to the put-in with some nice folks after finishing the last 5 miles of flat water (definitely save some beer for that part). Fun trip! Video of the bigger rapids here -> https://youtu.be/VmTN1BQARYc
Flows around 5,000-10,000 cfs are a good level. At lower flows, rapids become a bit more drawn out, but still fun. At higher flows many of the features wash out but it can be an exciting ride for those with the skills to handle the action (rescues at high water can be very challenging and it's no place for anyone without a strong roll). Summer flows are typically in the 2000-3000 cfs range (10-12 hours of boating) while spring flows around 20,000 cfs can make for a fast trip (6 hours).
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Westwater Dog Transfer
Below Last Chance Rapid
MattyD in Westwater Canyons
upper marble canyon rapids
Halloween Westwater Canyon
Little D hole (from river left)
The Wave at Little D
Skull Raft Descent
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