Colorado, Utah, US
|Usual Difficulty||I-IV (for normal flows)|
|Max Gradient||16 fpm|
|Colorado in Cataract Canyon|
|virtual-8918||4000 - unknown cfs||I-IV||01h13m||7580 cfs (running)|
Cataract Canyon of the Colorado River
Bigger whitewater typically occurs May through June and more moderate flows in July.
The river passes through Canyonlands National Park. All launch sites are located outside the park and include Green River State Park, Ruby Ranch or Mineral Bottom on the Green River and the Potash or Moab ramps on the Colorado River.
The take-out is at Hite Marina on Lake Powell. Getting to the marina requires a 30 mile paddle on the lake battling frequent up-canyon winds. Arrange a tow from the marina if they are open. As another alternative, you can drive the 4WD access road and hike down into Spanish Bottom midway through the trip but still before all the good whitewater.
The region was first explored by Major John Wesley Powell during his 1869 journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers. 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.
Above the confluence, the Colorado and Green rivers are Class I flatwater providing a leisurely float through the 2,000' red rock cliffs. There are several opportunities for off-river hiking and exploration. Beginning 5 miles below the confluence with the Green, the Colorado begins its impressive journey through Cataract Canyon for a challenging stretch of Class III-V white water within Canyonlands National Park. There are excellent hikes to petroglyphs and geologic formations called "hoodoos" that make up a very impressive area known as the "Doll's House." This makes for an excellent spot to watch the sun rise before you start into the big water down river.
The rapids which include Mile Long, Satan's Gut, and Big Drop follow each other in quick
succession. The whitewater is short, but includes some of the Colorado River's best Class
III-IV whitewater. The Big Drops are listed in the Big Drops of North America.
At high flows (>40,000 cfs) these rapids come on very fast and offer tremendous excitement with huge raft-flipping holes.
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. You can arrange a motorized boat shuttle to reach the take out at Hite Marina or bring a motor for your raft and lash all the kayaks on. Check the Lake Powell elevation to estimate the actual flat water distance since it can vary from year to year.
contributions from Jen O'Neal
for additional information see:
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)
Permits are available on a reservation basis no more than four months, and no less than two days, prior to the permit start date.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Potash - Put in||N/A|
|60.5||The Button/ Rapid 19||IV|
|61.0||Ben Hurt/ Rapid 20||III|
|61.5||Big drop 2/ Rapid 22||V|
|62.0||Big Drop 3/ Rapid 23||V|
|63.0||Lake Powell: high water line||N/A|
|80.0||Dark Canyon - elevation 3540||N/A|
|90.0||Elevation 3600 feet||N/A|
|94.0||Dirty Devil Take Out||N/A|
|95.0||Hite Marina boat ramp||N/A|
This is the most commonly used put in for boating through Cataract Canyon. It cuts out 15 miles off flat water.
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.
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 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.
When Lake Powell is full, this is where the river ends and the lake begins. Since the canyon is narrow, there will be some current for many miles downstream.
Dark Canyon is a major canyon on the left. When the lake is low, the river elevation here is about 3540 feet.
When the lake elevation is 3600 feet, it should extend to about this point. Gypsum canyon comes in from the left just upstream and Ocean Point looms above on the right. A small canyon, Palmer Canyon comes in on the left at the 3600 foot mark.
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. On the other hand, if winds are strong it may be very difficult to row the extra mile to the Hite marina boat ramp.
This is the standard and easiest take out location. The boat ramp allows vehicles to drive right to the waters edge for easy loading of gear and boats. However, if the winds are strong, it can be difficult to row the final distance.