Colorado - 17. Confluence with Green to Lake Powell (Cataract Canyon)

Colorado, Utah, US


17. Confluence with Green to Lake Powell (Cataract Canyon)

Usual Difficulty I-IV (for normal flows)
Length 112 Miles
Max Gradient 16 fpm

Big Drop Two, Redwall

Big Drop Two, Redwall
Photo of Chris Mosher and crew by James taken 2001 @ 28,000

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
Colorado in Cataract Canyon
virtual-8918 4000 - unknown cfs I-IV 00h49m 6650 cfs (running)

River Description

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:

  • Nichols, Gary C. 1993. River Runners' Guide to Utah. University of Utah Press
  • Baars, Donald L. Cataract Canyon via the Green or Colorado rivers: A River Runner's Guide and Natural History of Canyonlands
  • Matsschler, Felix. River Runner's Guide to Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity, Powell Society publication
  • Belknap, Bill and Buzz. Canyonlands River Guide.
  • Collins, Robert O. and Roderick Nash. 1978. The Big Drops: Ten Legendary Rapids. Sierra Club Books.

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)

Permit Information

Permits are available on a reservation basis no more than four months, and no less than two days, prior to the permit start date.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-07-09 21:17:23


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Potash - Put inN/APutin Access
60.5The Button/ Rapid 19IV
61.0Ben Hurt/ Rapid 20III
61.5Big drop 2/ Rapid 22 V
62.0Big Drop 3/ Rapid 23V
63.0Lake Powell: high water lineN/A
80.0Dark Canyon - elevation 3540N/A
90.0Elevation 3600 feetN/A
94.0Dirty Devil Take OutN/ATakeout
95.0Hite Marina boat rampN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Potash - Put in (Class N/A)

This is the most commonly used put in for boating through Cataract Canyon.  It cuts out 15 miles off flat water. 

The Button/ Rapid 19 (Class IV, Mile 60.5)

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 61.0)

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 61.5)

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.

Lake Powell: high water line (Class N/A, Mile 63.0)

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 - elevation 3540 (Class N/A, Mile 80.0)

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

Elevation 3600 feet (Class N/A, Mile 90.0)

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.

Dirty Devil Take Out (Class N/A, Mile 94.0)

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. 

Hite Marina boat ramp (Class N/A, Mile 95.0)

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. 

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
February 8 2005 (4728 days ago)
edward clarkDetails
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

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.