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||01h05m||34500 cfs (running)|
FUN FACT: 20 miles of big whitewater and unregulated flow before the Colorado grinds to a crawl at Powell Reservoir.
SEASON: The most impressive whitewater typically occurs in May and early June. By July the river drops and rapids become more moderate but still provide plenty of excitement.
LOGISTICS: 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. You can arrange a tow from the marina. 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.
with 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|
|86.0||Lake Powell: high water line|
|90.0||Elevation 3600 feet||N/A|
|102.0||Dark Canyon - elevation 3540||N/A|
|110.5||Dirty Devil Take Out||N/A|
|112.0||Hite Marina boat ramp||N/A|
This is the most commonly used put in for boating through Cataract Canyon. It cuts out 15 miles of flat water.
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.
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.
Dark Canyon is a major canyon on the left. When the lake is low, the river elevation here is about 3540 feet.
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.