5 Amazing River Canyons in Utah & Colorado for Whitewater Rafting

5 Best Canyons to White Water River Raft in Utah and Colorado:

  • The Yampa

Sometimes referred to by boaters as a “little Grand Canyon,” the Yampa Canyon is potentially the most beautiful place in Colorado. Located just a short distance outside of Vernal, Utah, the Yampa River is an amazing combination of peaceful flat water and big rapids. The bigger rapids are sure be a thrill at any level sending water over your head throughout the trip.  The biggest rapid, Warm Springs is one boaters talk about all over the country. The flat water gives you time to explore the waters on paddling your a paddle board or inflatable kayak. Paddling solo truly gives you a feeling of the wilderness and  isolation of the canyon. At night, the campsites are typically big beaches perfect for a game of beach volleyball, kids to play, or just enjoying the firelight with the company of your family and friends.

The 700 foot tall white sandstone walls act as a time machine, sending you back a 1,000 years when the Fremont native Americans called the canyon home. Unlike most western rivers the Yampa is free flowing, meaning it looks almost exactly as it did 1,400 years ago. The trip has many stops where you will be able to see 800 year old petroglyphs, ancient storage granaries and maybe a little wildlife like mule deer or bighorn sheep. Beyond the native history, the canyon is a cornerstone for environmental history, at the center of the first ever grassroots environmental movement. This also makes it one of the most competitive private river permits to get in the US.

This canyon truly has it all, epic whitewater, peaceful flatwater, stunning geological landscapes, and history dating back thousands of years.  It’s hard to travel through this canyon and not be simply overwhelmed by it beauty.

  • The Gates of Lodore
Confluence in Echo Park

The Yampa River may be tops on this list but the Green River Gates of Lodore takes a tight number two spot. Both trips are unbelievable and either one is spectacular depending on the time of year you can go rafting. The Powell expedition was one of the first to stare awestruck at the Gates of Lodore on the Green River with a mix of fear and enthusiasm. Today, the reaction to the dark red sandstone at the beginning of the canyon is the same no matter who rafts through the gates of lodore. The aw only escalates upon learning that it is the oldest rock in Utah and Colorado, dating back almost a billion years, predating life itself. The stunning views are matched with amazing white water. At high water (5-9,000 CFS), you are signing up for a “hold on tight” sure to find a thrill adventure and at lower water a family friendly continuous splashy 42 miles.

  • Cataract Canyon

This is the place to go if you are looking for massive rapids. Just outside of Moab, Cataract Canyon is home to the biggest whitewater in Utah and at high water, the biggest rapids on the Colorado river.  At anything above 20,000 CFS (Cubic Feet per Second) three biggest rapids turn into one long whitewater ride, so don’t worry about the desert heat, you are sure to get wet.

  • Split Mountain

A beautiful stretch of canyon if you are just looking for a day of rafting. This section of river is the last 9 miles of a Green River Gates of Lodore or Yampa River trip through Dinosaur National Monument. The mouth of the canyon gives it the name, as it appears the river is cutting the mountain it half. Multiple layers of rock bend and twist here giving it an other worldly look. The rock formations drip and twist the whole way down the canyon allowing for a common game of “what shapes can you see in the rocks,” in between the fun class 2 and 3 rapids. Remember to ask your guide about the Pirate watching over you in the second half of the river!

Split Mountain on the Green River


  • Desolation and Gray Canyon

Knock out two canyons in one river trip with this 84 mile float. The Gray/Deso combination is a beautiful river trip in eastern Utah with great views and fun class 2-3 rapids and an abundance of native American history, wildlife and spectacular Utah River Rafting scenery.

White Water Rafting For Beginners

White Water Rafting for Beginners

White water rafting can be intimidating, especially if your only perspective is from the adventure documentary Congo: The Grand Inga Project. You might be thinking to yourself.  “These people are insane! I don’t want to die in crocodile infested waters, with beaches unsafe for camping, where literally everyone dies!”  Well not to worry. Not all white-water trips are the red bull version of a whitewater adventure. There a few levels of starting your rafting adventures ranging from a scenic float trip on the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam to a four or five-day multi-day trip in Dinosaur National Monument on the Yampa River or Green River through the canyon Gates of Lodore.

The Scenic Float:

This trip is perfect for the beginners with young kids, people looking for a relaxing day out or someone unsure if white water rafting is for them. A scenic float typically involves a little bit of white water splashing in a beautiful place. They offer class I-II rapids, places for kids to swim in the water, a delicious lunch, and the option to use an inflatable kayak depending on the company you are booking through. It’s a great way to get a sense of what it’s like to float on a river raft trip. In Vernal, Utah Dinosaur River Expeditions is the only locally owned and operated outfitter we have a great day trip on the A-section of the Green River it is the ideal place for a scenic river float. It offers views of the beautiful Uinta mountains, a bit of geological and environmental history from your guides, and the potential to see a few bald eagles, great blue herons, mule deer and maybe a pronghorn antelope. This trip is a great activity if you are visiting the vernal area for a few days and want to spend a day on the water. https://www.dinosaurriverexpeditions.com/expedition/daily-trips-flaming-gorge-river-rafting/

The Mellow Multi Day:

Looking for more than a one day trip but you are still unsure about river trips with bigger rapids. We offer a great multi day option that can be just one night, or three, has class 2 and 3 rapids and will give you a great idea for what river camping is like, or glamping rather. A standard night on the river is going to include a campfire, a gourmet dinner complete with Dutch oven dessert, falling asleep to the sounds of the river, and a pancake or French-toast breakfast. This option is on the Utah section of the Green River from Flaming Gorge Dam to Brown’s Park. It’s a beautiful trip with class II rapids and lots of wildlife. The river tends to be much less populated on these lower sections of the river offering seclusion with your family and a chance to view Utah’s night sparkling sky. https://www.dinosaurriverexpeditions.com/expedition/green-river-flaming-gorge/

The Thrilling Four Day and Five Day:

If you tried the Splashy day trip and a mellow overnight and want to mash the two together, a thrilling four-day or five day trip is right up your ally. In Dinosaur National Monument, the Gates of Lodore on the Green River and the Yampa River are perfect multi day white water rafting adventures. They are classic white water adventures and will offer all the perks of a mellow overnight: great food, seclusion and wildlife with spicier rapids such as Warm Springs on the Yampa River or Hell’s Half Mile on the Green River through the Gates of Lodore. Your guides will know a lot about the area and be able to give you a fairly detailed history of the environment, and geology around you. If you already know you love camping and are a thrill seeker don’t be afraid to jump straight to either of these trips. They are  great trips for a first timer or experienced river rafter a like!


The Congo:

After a four day Lodore you are ready for the Congo. Just kidding. This is not a river for beginners in any sense, unless you are beginning the late stages of a professional kayaking career.

Any of these style trips are a great place to start! A few tips: remember a water bottle, sunscreen and a rain jacket (YES A RAIN JACKET). Nothing ruins a trip fast than a sunburn and an angry dehydration headache. Listen to your guides and have fun! The river is a great place to let yourself have a little fun and embrace your inner child. Your amazing guides will make it as safe and fun of an experience as possible.