Green - 04. Ouray to Green River Town (Desolation & Gray)

Green, Utah, US


04. Ouray to Green River Town (Desolation & Gray) (Desolation & Gray Canyons)

Usual Difficulty II-III (for normal flows)
Length 128 Miles

Gray Canyon

Gray Canyon
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 10/15/06 @ 2,300 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-09315000 900 - 50000 cfs II-III 13d15h49m 4600 cfs (running)

River Description

*****New Boat Passage Through Green River Diversion (Tusher Dam)*****

As of March 17, 2017, the boat passage is officially open, allowing safe passage for boaters through the Green River Diversion (Tusher Dam). The diversion is located ~ 6 miles upstream from the Town of Green River, in between Swasey’s Boat Ramp and Green River State Park Campground. The rehabilitation project removed the keeper hydraulic that was present below the dam at high flows, and incorporated a boat passage in the center of the dam to improve passage at low flows.


Boater Warning Signs: Warning signs are located at Swasey’s Boat Ramp and directly upstream (300 feet) of the portage trail. The signs indicate the location of the boat passage (CENTER OF DIVERSION) and portage trail (RIVER LEFT). If the boat passage is closed then the signs will read, “CAUTION Boat Chute Closed Use Portage Trail”.

Portage Trail: The portage trail and emergency boat landing are both located ~ 300 feet upstream of the diversion structure on RIVER LEFT. The trail will be maintained to be 15 feet wide, and will be on an existing two track road that skirts around the diversion dam site.

Boat Passage: The boat passage is located in the CENTER of the diversion structure, between two indicator boulders. The passage is designed to be fully functioning at flows greater than 1,300 cfs; if flows drop significantly lower than 1,300 cfs then it is possible the boat passage will not be navigable. At high water, the indicator boulders may be submerged. Given the varying conditions, it is recommended to scout the boat passage before continuing downstream.

If you have concerns about the safety or maintenance of the boater warning signs, portage trail, and/or boat passage (including debris build up), please call Eli Tome with UT Division of State Lands at (435) 210-0362.


River Description

The Green River through Desolation and Gray Canyons is a popular multiday float trip, known for its easy rapids, nice scenery,  varied wildlife sightings, moderate hiking and interesting historical locations. Most of the run is flatwater floating. Two rapids are in the class 3 range, while all others are class 2 or less. 

The canyon is called Desolation in comparison to the much greener sections upstream. Compared to sections further downstream or the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, this canyon has lots of greenery. Because of the dam controlled flows, the banks of the river are dense with brush. It can be difficult to find easy routes through the brush to get past the rivers edge. This also limits the locations that boaters can pull over and land. During low flow periods, there are many nice sand bars and beaches on which to land and camp. Sticky mud can be a problem at some locations. 

There are no rapids from Ouray to about 15 miles past Sand Wash, so most river trips start at Sand Wash rather than Ouray. Still, if one has the time, enjoys slow floats with occasional views of oil derricks, and likes to watch the landscape change, it can be nice to launch near Ouray.  

Put-in: Sand Wash is the most used put-in and all boaters must check in with the BLM ranger stationed there.  Even if you launch up near Ouray, you must stop at Sand Wash to have the ranger check your permits.

Click here for permit information.

Watch the BLM Video to learn more about the run.

Harry Dundore writes in 2011:       DESOLATION & GRAY CANYONS:  25,000 cfs VS 5,000 cfs

We'll call 25,000 high water (about average) and 5,000 low water (above average) for the sake of this overview. It is boatable on either side of these ranges, with precautions.

High Water is typically the last week of May to the middle of June. Varies on snow pack and local temps in the feed areas, Yampa being the primary feeder. River is bank-full, expect hard landings at camps and some camps may be inaccessible. Watch out for sharp beaver cuttings at landings. Mosquitoes every bit as bad as the Florida Everglades. Definitely reserve a screen cabin at Sand Wash put-in. A screen tent for the group and mosquito netting for the groover also highly recommended. Bugs are much worse in camp than on the river (almost nonexistent river center), more motivation for that early start. Bugs are not as bad in Gray as in Deso. Expect snow into mid-May at the very least. Also expect daily rains and afternoon up-steam winds, get an early start to help beat the winds and find good camps (9 launches per day!!, that's 130 to 225 people per day!!!, 70 to 110+ boats!!!), the river will be fairly crowded and competition for camps fierce. Sending fast boats ahead to secure campsites is against BLM regs, will make you no friends on the river, and will result in your group leader loosing permit privileges if someone gets your boat number. A Ute tribal permit for river left highly recommended and cheap! You will want one of these to camp, hike or collect firewood on river left (a life saver at any flow). Much of the cool stuff to see and many good camps are on the Ute side of the river! Research the petroglyphs on the shuttle in from Wellington (Nine Mile Canyon), cool stuff.

The Rapids- The Class II's in Deso Canyon will be big wavetrains. The II's in Gray Canyon will be not as big but more technical than Deso.

The "Big Four Rapids":

Joe Hutch Canyon (aka Cow Swim) - Class IV. After passing Joe Hutch Creek Rapid, as soon as you see the strainer, pull over on river right and scout (follow the trail). After a 20,000+ cfs debris flow from the side canyon in the Fall of '08 this rapid has changed!!! Definitely a class IV at this flow! Strainer river right, BIG hole river center (created by the "golf ball rock" (more later), HUGE wavetrain river left. Come in hard left, set up to pull HARD right as soon as you pass the hole (just about at the base of the first wave) to miss the wavetrain (the third wave will flip even 16' boats!!). If you flip in the wavetrain, the swim will put you into one of the two traps on the left wall (not pretty). Set up throw bags and chase boats on the rock shelf and the eddie on river left at the bottom of the rapid (not the nasty, escape-proof eddie in the middle), rescue is not possible from river right!! If you fail to set up safety on river left, swimmers will take the S-bend to McPherson Ranch before self rescue is possible. Smaller craft can line, sneak or portage on river right. Good camps on both sides of the river here, although the beautiful camp on river right had all the sand on the beach washed out in spring of 2011, leaving behind softball sized cobbles, and the camp on river left is considerably smaller now. It may take a few low flow years to replace these.

Wire Fence - Class III. Gets washed out at these flows. Very straight forward class III read-and-run. One fatality on this one in 2011, so be respectful of it and pay attention to what your guidebook says.

Three Fords - Class II/III+. Scout from river right!!!! AVOID THE CENTER!!!! Several very large boulders create pour-overs and big holes there that cannot be seen from upstream (until it's too late). A class II sneak on far river left (easy!!). I'm not sure when this sneak disappears, but I'd guess it's at about 10 to 12K. The hero line (III+) is down river right, big wavetrain with holes. This is a LONG swim (1/2 mile) if you mess up at the top !!! (I know!!!).

Coal Canyon - Class III. A straight forward, fairly steep, long, read-and-run class III with big waves and multiple holes. Keep your eyes open!!!

Low Water:  Typically August and September, the weather begins to seriously deteriorate in October. If you go in mid September, check out the "Melon Fest" in Green River City, best melons you ever ate!! Good news is - the bugs are GONE!!!! (Don't expect them to be gone before at least August!!!) The meat bees are a slight pain in the you-know-what in camp, keeping your trash in a dedicated dry bag away from the kitchen area will go a long way toward peace and happiness for everyone. The river is a much slower flow, bigger pools and steeper drops. Plan on 8 days if you can (or do a lot of rowing)!! Your first 2 days will be flat water. The middle and lower sections will have braided channels that will require attention to both the river and your updated guide books (I highly recommend the new RiverMaps version, no more Deseret scale, which was ambiguous at best). More camps are available this time of year. Sandbar camps, once plentiful, were mostly washed out in the spring of 2011, as were the camps at both Gold Hole bends (how could a river have 2 Gold Holes within miles of each other??, more on that later.). It may take several low flow years to replace these. Other good news is, only one or two launches per day!! More wildlife, more solitude, no problems finding camps. The shuttle in from Wellington can be VERY slow (10 mph or less) due to weekly flash floods washing out the road, especially in the last, long stretch known as "The Wiggles". Recommend shuttling in from Myton instead. Not as scenic, but much smoother, and probably faster in the long run. This is flash flood season so be sure to stake boats high and plan for a several foot range of river level change overnight (probably won't happen, but this stretch flashes about once a week this time of year, so plan for the improbable). Plan camps ABOVE side canyons. Camp above the Price River confluence your last day as this one is the major flash flood offender.

The Rapids -  The class II's in Deso will be mere riffles. The class II's in Gray will be a little technical and starting to get boney. Watch out for "sneaker rocks" (wrap, pin, stick hazards) on ALL rapids. The sun will be in your eyes, making them really hard to see.

The "Big Four Rapids":

Joe Hutch Canyon (aka Cow Swim) - Class III at this flow. Always scout this one and always set up safety!! Read above for scout and rescue. Joe Hutch starts to mellow out at about 16,000, but never underestimate it. At low flow it will be a little tricky but much easier than at high water. From the scout, the entrance chute will look very narrow. But it's actually about three times the width it appears from the scout. Class III, enter left of the "Golf Ball Rock" (you'll know it when you see it, if you scout it), avoid the sharp rocks on river left; the big hole at the bottom of the rapid, just before the wall, would be good to miss too, but runnable if you are on your game. Traps are not nearly as bad as at high water, but still to be respected. The middle eddie on river left is no longer a trap. Set up safety same as above or your swimmers will take the S-bend to McPherson Ranch.

Wire Fence - Class III. A BIG drop with a hole at the bottom. Stay left, read-and-run. Fairly safe wash-out for swimmers. One fatality on this one in 2011, so be respectful of it.

Three Fords - Class III+/IV. The biggest low-water rapid for sure. Scout directions above. Always scout this one. At low water, the hero run is the only line. Enter right (current pulls deceptively hard to the right at the top), drop, big hole and wave, second drop, big hole and wave, wavetrain, huge hole at the bottom. You have to take the first two holes; plan on missing the last! (Can't tell you how many folks I've heard say "that wasn't the line I planned!!" on this one, including me). Small craft can line/drag on river left.

In Between and Below:  Extrapolate the above as you like. This river changes at different flows. This should only serve as an example of the river at two very different levels. Two very different rivers really. At flows below 5,000, I can only imagine things getting boney and technical but still very doable. I would recommend smaller boats and lighter gear for sure. The BLM says Deso/Gray is boatable down to 800 cfs (drought years) in 16' rafts . Not my dream trip. 2011 figures (a big water year) are 44,000+ (I wouldn't recommend anything over 30K) to 5,500 (really nice) for the boating year. Average is 20K to 25K high and 4K to 2K low, totally doable at either end. Permits are pretty easy to get if you are flexible, watch the on-line calendar, and call on time. Be sure to double check the "required equipment list". The rangers at Sand Wash are great folks but sticklers for detail.

Other Beta:    Green River State Park Campground in Green River City, Utah is a good place to organize your boaters from around the country, do last minute shopping (no dry ice), and set shuttle for unneeded vehicles (only 8 miles to take-out). Be sure to tell the camp host that you are doing Deso, not Labyrinth, or he'll hassle you over permits. Reservations usually not necessary unless you go in mid-September during Melon Fest weekend. Avoid Green River City (and Labyrinth and Stillwater Canyons) on Memorial Day weekend - "The Friendship Cruise" brings in hundreds of power boaters for the run down the Green and up the Colorado to Moab. Be sure to catch the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River City!! About 3 hours worth of great entertainment including original and replica boats and a really cool movie about JWP's first run!!! (and what a first run!!!). Ray's Tavern is definitely the place to eat and enjoy a hand crafted Utah beer on tap. Waitress (group of 15) - "Hey hun, this ain't my first Rodeo!!" This is the traditional spot for that "gotta have a cheeseburger and a draft after the trip." Good food!!! There are several chain hotels in Green River, depending on what you want to spend. We like the Knights Inn as a compromise between quality and price ( can save you up to $20), avoid the Book Cliffs Lodge. Starting in 2012, no dogs will be allowed on Deso-Gray.

Harry Dundore         Utah Stream Team


------------------------------------------------ Electric-Mayhem posted on Boater Talk:

I can give a vague general idea of the trip. First off, BRING LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF BUG SPRAY!!! I have never seen more mosquitoes then I have on Deso. I would very highly recommend bringing at least a bug net for your head, if not a full bugnet suit. Sandwash, the put-in, is the worst spot for it. I'd also bring a tent for sure, just for protection from bugs. I tried sleeping outside one night and it was horrid.

There is a bit of flatwater at the top, which takes most of the first day. It's fairly leisurely, though, don't have to paddle too much. The rest of the trip is mostly class II "run-it-down-the-tongue" kinda rapids. There are a couple of class-III rapids called Wire Fence and Three Fords that offer up a bit more challenge. The trip takes 5-ish days, and it's an awesome area. It's a good first trip for the timid, as it's plenty long, the camping is good, as are side activities such as hiking and the like. There is some good play on it and it's a great one to take kids on.
The shuttle is a bit fun or a bit long depending on how you look at it and how you do it. You can either drive your vehicles to this airstrip near the takeout, and they fly you back to the top and drop your cars off the day you take out, or you can just do it the old-fashioned way and do a real shuttle. It's a pretty long drive between the takeout and putin.
Regardless, it's an awesome trip. Awesome canyons, great water and if you do it right, great friends. It's a great one to start off on, and I can nearly guarantee that it will get you hooked on Canyonlands-style trips.  Definitely a fun trip and I would definitely check it out if you get the chance.

A Fall trip in late September and October of 2006, had few problems with bugs, although meat bees and wasps were a problem during launch preparations at the wildlife refuge north of Ouray.

Other Interesting links:
Stratigraphy/Geology of Desolation and Gray Canyons
Ouray National Wildlife Reguge
Redrock Adventure has an interesting discourse on various aspects of river running in Desolation.

Photo galleries:
River Trip Deso-Stikine
Photographs from the Powell expeditions
River Guide to Desolation and Gray Canyons; by Thomas Rampton

Karen Hensley shared on 2004-06-16:
Here is a list of GPS waypoints for this stretch that I compiled from maps. If anyone else can add more, that would be appreciated. Accuracy/Correctness of data is not known, so use these in conjunction with other navigational techniques, and let us know if you have any corrections.
39.83913,-109.91542,Sand Wash (Put In)
39.79246,-109.91876, Little Horse Bottom
39.78579,-109.92653, Maverick Bottom
39.78469,-109.88126, Gold Hole
39.7444,-109.94848, Rock House Bottom
39.7369,-109.95209, Little Rock House Riffle
39.6994,-109.99459, Jack Creek
39.69857,-109.99292, Jack Creek Rapids
39.68997,-110.01042, Lunts Horse Pasture
39.6769,-109.98709, Big Canyon Rapids
39.66246,-109.98626, Firewater Rapids
39.66238565,-109.9867268, Firewater Rapids & Canyon
39.65329,-109.9907, Cedar Ridge Rapids
39.6525497,-109.9922555, Cedar Ridge Rapids
39.63544237,-110.0072333, Flat Canyon & Rapids
39.63358,-110.00681, Flat Canyon Rapids
39.5919,-110.02598, Wild Horse Rapids
39.57303,-110.03514, Steer Ridge Rapids
39.54136,-110.02959, Rock Creek Rapids
39.5208,-110.02542, Snap Canyon Rapids
39.50703025,-110.0233585, Three Canyon Rapids
39.47071689,-110.0220877, Chandler Falls
39.45497,-110.01542, Trail Canyon Rapids
39.43774811,-110.0221189, Bull Canyon Rapids
39.42191,-110.02098, Moonwater Rapids
39.42053,-110.01514, Red Point Rapids
39.40782792,-110.0129313, Joe Hutch Creek rapid
39.39386,-110.01903, Joe Hutch Canyon Rapids
39.3808,-110.0157, McPherson Ranch
39.37497,-110.02403, Florence Creek
39.35136,-110.02709, Three Fords Rapids topozone map, google map
39.31661273,-110.0584221, Last Chance Rapids
39.31608,-110.0582, Last Chance Rapids
39.30719,-110.05209, Range Creek Rapids
39.28441,-110.07264, Rabbit Valley Rapids
39.2708,-110.0732, Curry Rapids
39.2633,-110.0607, Saleratus Rapids
39.24083502,-110.0586828, Poverty Rapids
39.21847349,-110.0782339, Rattlesnake Rapid

(from Nefertiti to Swasey's boat ramp is the 8 mile section called the Green River Daily)
39.19574859,-110.0782761, Nefertiti (road access)
39.17949984,-110.1057417, Price River
39.17941,-110.10626, Price River
39.15747,-110.11181, Butler Canyon
39.15209688,-110.1150693, Sand Knolls rapid
39.15053,-110.11598, Sand Knolls Canyon
39.14027767,-110.1013436, Stone Cabin Rapid
39.12823753,-110.1129037, Short Canyon rapid
39.11360184,-110.1091084, Log Cabin Rapid
39.11360184,-110.1091084, Swaseys Rapids google map
Boat Ramp below Swasey's Rapids, topozone map
Alternate access at Green River State Park, topozone map

Permit Information

Permits required year around with a high use (6 groups/day) season (mid May to mid August) and low use (2 groups/day) season (the rest of the year).

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2018-12-02 18:31:28


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
-6.5Wildlife Refuge launch areaN/APutin Photo
0.0Ouray Bridge boat rampN/APutin Photo
30.0Sand WashN/APutin Photo
46.0Little Rock House RiffleI
55.0Jack Creek RapidsII
57.0Big Canyon RapidII
84.0Joe Hutch RapidIII+
85.0McPherson RanchN/A
93.7Wire Fence RapidIII
94.0Three Fords RapidIII
110.0Boat Ramp below SwaseysN/ATakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Wildlife Refuge launch area (Class N/A, Mile -6.5)

Boat Ramp at Wildlife Refuge

Boat Ramp at Wildlife Refuge
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 09/06/06 @ 2,500 cfs

This boat ramp adds 6 or 7 miles of scenic flatwater compared to launching at the bridge in Ouray.    In the evening we did hear the bugleing of elks, so that was nice. 

From highway 88 turn east and north on Wildlife Refuge road till you come to the river and a fairly obvious area with dirt ramps down to the water. 

Ouray Bridge boat ramp (Class N/A)

Boat Ramp at Ouray

Boat Ramp at Ouray
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 09/07/06

There are large parking areas and boat ramps on river left at the highway 88 bridge, on both upstream and downstream sides.     

Sand Wash (Class N/A, Mile 30.0)

Sand Wash boat ramp

Sand Wash boat ramp
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 09/09/06 @ 2,500 cfs

This is the standard put in location.   All boaters must get their permits checked by the ranger here.  

Joe Hutch Rapid (Class III+, Mile 84.0)

This rapid changed from a class 2 to a class 3, after a flash flood on the side creek, August 6, 2008.    At high flows expect to deal with class 4 waves. 

McPherson Ranch (Class N/A, Mile 85.0)

An abandoned tourist ranch on river left makes for an interesting short hike and exploration. 

Three Fords Rapid (Class III, Mile 94.0)

This being one of the hardest rapids on the river, many people scout here.   Easiest scout appears to be on river right, while the easiest sneak routes or portage appear to be on river left.   The hero line through the rapid is on the right while easier lines appear to be on the left.

Boat Ramp below Swaseys (Class N/A, Mile 110.0)

This large and paved boat ramp is a standard take out.    The ramp is obvious on river left as you exit Swaseys rapid.   Long term parking is in a separate area about 100 yards down the road.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
September 27 2013 (1943 days ago)
simonkrzych (155765)
Did the daily section on July 31st 2013. Great float with beautiful scenery and wildlife.
October 6 2009 (3394 days ago)
x (1)
Joe Hutch is now a solid class IV at higher flows w/ big boat eating wave-train. Bugs very bad at
high flows. Definitely scout Three Fords from a downstream perspective (wish I had!!). Some real
surprises hidden in there. It's a long, long swim.
March 1 2009 (3614 days ago)
Mark SingletonDetails
Bring a bug suit!

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    American Whitewater's staff and contractors are working to develop quantitative metrics that help the US Bureau of Reclamation evaluate impacts to recreational stream-flows across the Colorado basin.