This photo needs editing.
Difficulty IV-V
Length 48 Miles
Gauge Colorado in Cataract Canyon
Flow Range 3000 - 100000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 4650 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 01/28/2018 3:29 am

River Description

Cataract Canyon of the Colorado River


The Colorado River through Cataract Canyon at 50,000 CFS is extremly big, pushy, and powerful. It should be attempted only at those water levels by expert big water boatman. The rapids come in quick succession with no recovery time making long swims in cold water a very real possibility.  


There are no put-ins directly above Cataract Canyon. So either Meander Canyon on the Colorado River or Stillwater Canyon on the Green River will need to be run in conjunction with this section.

The Colorado River cuts an impressive course through Cataract Canyon creating an exciting big water experience. Although faster runs can be made, four to five day trips departing from Moab make for a 100 river mile trip that provides a balance between quiet floating, impressive geology, prehistory in canyon country, cool hikes, beach camping, and fast-paced rapids. The trip is an all-around river adventure with spectacular scenery.

The river remains flat for the first 3 miles below the confluence before the rapids start and remain more or less constant until the lake drowns the river. There is a short flat water section (1.5 miles) between rapid 12 and rapid 13 where the Mile long section starts. This section culminates in the Big Drop Rapids. It is recommended to scout Big Drops 2&3 at all water levels. After this there are several fun splashy rapids to enjoy. Be aware, if it has been a while since you have been down there, that the last few rapids that have come out around Waterhole Canyon are quite rocky and will require your attention.

The one big negative of the trip is the end. The waters of Lake Powell inundate much of Cataract Canyon below the park boundary.  A 30-mile stretch of reservoir with no current buries over half of the original rapids.  The flat water paddling and rowing is made even more difficult by frequent up-canyon winds. Bringing a small motor to push of the lake is generally advised. You can row out but pulling into head wind on water with no current can ruin an otherwise excellent trip.



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-IV)
12. Black Canyon (AZ-NV, I)

Rapid Descriptions

Confluence- Green/Colorado Rivers

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This is the start of Cataract Canyon. Life jackets are required from here through the last active rapid on Lake Powell.  

Rapid 5

Class - N/A Mile - 5.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

At low water  this rapid forms a large hole center-left that is hard to see from the top. The right side is a series of pour overs that can be run or start in the center and move right below the pour overs. 

The Button/ Rapid 19

Class - IV Mile - 13.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This rapid forms a very large hole in the center at high water (35,000 cfs+). At lower water it is a large mid-river rock. There are runs on the right and left depending on water level. 

Ben Hurt/ Rapid 20

Class - III Mile - 14
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The river splits around an island. Take the river right channel. The run is left of center with holes/pour overs on the left and right.   

Big drop 2/ Rapid 22

Class - V Mile - 14.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Big drop 2 requires either hard left to right below the marker hole/rock or right to left pull between the marker hole/rock and little niagra. Either one reqires a run of the ledge wave. Hit this square. The left to right move is prefered at lower levels.(below 40,000 cfs). At high water there are sneak runs but they are not with out concequences. The low water scout is on river left above the rapid. At high water it is usually scouted from the left above Big Drop 1 and running all 3 Big Drops at once.

Big Drop 3/ Rapid 23

Class - V Mile - 14.75
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Dark Canyon - elevation 3540

Class - N/A Mile - 33
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Dark Canyon is a major canyon on the left.  When the lake is low, the river elevation here is about 3540 feet.  

Dirty Devil Take Out

Class - N/A Mile - 47
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

This take out is on the north side of the reservoir, just downstream of the mouth of the Dirty Devil River.  It can be difficult to find a good place to beach because of large areas of mud flats and quicksand.  It is also easy to get cars stuck in the soft sand. This is general the only takeout available as Hite is usually inaccessible. Contact the park service about current ramp conditions as they can change quickly.

Hite Marina boat ramp

Class - N/A Mile - 48
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Except on very high water years that fill Lake Powell, this ramp is not accessible . The concrete ramp is generally high and dry, with several hundred feet of mud flat between it and the channel. 


default user thumbnail
edward clark
15 years ago

2/2/05 The current draw down conditions on lake powell have altered the lower section of the river. There are a few minor riffles below Imperial Rapid (last rapid.) The current in the lower section is fast and it's an easy days float to the take out.

Good camping can be found from Imperial to the beach river left near Gypsum Canyon. Below there, few exist. Camping spots are mre limited in Spanish bottom due to mud and the erosion of sandy beaches.

The take out is dirt road off of Rt 95 just south of the Hite Overlook. It is located just downstream of the confluence with the Dirty Devil, and easy to miss. The access to the river is very steep, loose rock and dirt, and prohibits getting a trailer to river level. All rafts must be carried up the initial 10 feet.

As always, high flows may alter this take out and further limit access.

Gage Descriptions

Combined flows of Green and Colorado. Average annual peak is approximately 45,000 cfs. Highest recorded flow was 110,500 cfs on 27 May 1984, but it's been higher.

Lake Powell elevation and inflow.

Lake Powell water database

From Wikipedia:

Colorado River flows have been below average since the year 2000, leading to lower lake levels. In the winter of 2005 (before the spring run-off) the lake reached its lowest level since filling, an elevation of 3,550 feet (1,080 m) above sea level, which was approximately 150 feet (46 m) below full pool (elevation 3700'). Since 2005 the lake level has risen 78 feet (24 m), to a high elevation of 3,628 feet (1,106 m) above sea level in spring/early summer 2008. It was estimated the 2008 spring runoff may produce a peak elevation of 3638' during mid-summer 2008.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
2009-05-16 High Fatality High Water Read More
2000-05-12 High Fatality High Water Read More
1997-09-27 Medium Fatality Inadequate Equipment Read More
1993-06-03 High Fatality High Water Read More
1993-05-29 Medium Fatality One Boat Trip Read More
1993-04-27 Medium Fatality Cold Water Read More



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American Whitewater Analysis–National Monument Reductions

Evan Stafford

American Whitewater sprang out of the need to rally our community around our shared love for whitewater, to protect, restore and celebrate the rivers that have given us so much. When the President of the United States, announced his intentions to reduce in size Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by nearly half, we wanted to first see how the new borders would affect the protections these Monuments afforded several spectacular whitewater resources within their current boundaries. Read on to see how the Lower San Juan and several other rivers are affected. 

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Green River Boat Passage Officially Open! - UT

Kestrel Kunz

American Whitewater staff traveled to Green River, UT in late March to meet with private water users and state agencies, and to participate in the official opening of the new boat passage through the Green River Diversion (Tusher Dam). Completion of the boat passage has freed the Green River from its last in-stream obstruction between the Flaming Gorge Dam and the confluence with the Colorado River – over 400 floatable river miles through iconic canyons and historic landmarks. It has a been a long process, and our work isn’t over yet! As your boating representative, American Whitewater will continue to work closely with the dam operators and Utah’s Division of State Lands (FFSL) to ensure that the boat passage meets the needs of the public during its inaugural year.

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AW Needs your input on Flows in Ruby-Horsethief, Westwater, and Cataract Canyons

Nathan Fey

Colorado River - As part of our ongoing Colorado River Basin Project, AW is asking paddlers to evaluate river flows across the seven-state Colorado River basin. We have launched a short survey so that you can provide input on flows along the mainstem of the Colorado River, through Ruby-Horsethief, Westwater, and Cataract Canyons.  Please take a minute to participate in the surveyYour input will help us defend the Colorado River, and protect paddling opportunities for the future

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LAST CALL - Your Input Needed on Flows in Canyonlands National Park - UT

Nathan Fey


American Whitewater is asking for your help in defining recreational streamflows on the Colorado and Green Rivers in Canyonlands National Park. Please take five minutes to participate in this study, being conducted in cooperation  with the National Park Conservation Association.  Your input is very important to our efforts to protect the Colorado River System.

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Volunteer of the Month: Paul Gamache

Nathan Fey

We are proud to announce that Paul Gamache is AW's Volunteer of the Month for August, 2007. This season, Paul volunteered his time and energy to create the first ever Cataract Challenge.  Cataract Canyon is a 95 Mile section of the Colorado River between Potash and Lake Powell (Hite Marina). Paul set out to do this section in under 20 hours, and raised over $1600 to support American Whitewater in the process.

Thomas O'Keefe


Nathan Fey

Colorado Stewardship Director


Paul Martzen


Kestrel Kunz


Obe Tejada


Matt Muir


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1200922 01/06/12 Thomas O'Keefe permit edit
1199702 03/26/11 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1200153 05/22/11 Nathan Fey
1201144 03/24/12 Paul Martzen take out info
1202988 01/04/14 Thomas O'Keefe permit updates
1203001 08/10/16 Nathan Fey this page is under construction
1207930 07/09/17 Kestrel Kunz Reach # fixed
1208418 01/28/18 Obe Tejada
1208806 01/28/18 Obe Tejada
1191636 02/27/09 n/a n/a
1198818 11/30/10 Thomas O'Keefe permit update