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Rafting in Dinosaur National Monument

posted by Julie March 12, 2018 0 comments

This is a guest post from Mitch Stevens, founder and lead guide of Southwest Discoveries. Based out of Tucson, Arizona, Southwest Discoveries offers multi-generational guided tours of the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Horseshoe Bend, the Tortolita Mountains, and more. Visit Southwest Discoveries for more information, and click here for Mitch’s blog.

Rafting Dinosaur National Monument

© Southwest Discoveries

We hiked through a narrow defile carved through red sandstone. The foliage in the canyon was lush – Boxelder, grapevines, Ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir trees thrived in the moist environment. A clear stream murmured near the trail, contributing to the serenity. We rounded a bend in the canyon and heard falling water in the distance. Soon our group came upon the source of the sound, a breathtaking waterfall tumbling 200-feet down a sheer cliff into a pool below. It was enchanting, the perfect place to be on a summer afternoon along an amazing river canyon. Welcome to rafting in Dinosaur National Monument, where you will experience some of the most remarkable wilderness lands in the world.

The day before we splashed through class two and three rapids at Utah’s spectacular Green River. The river starts it’s journey in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, high in the Rocky Mountains. It cuts through the immense Uinta mountain range. Forced into constricted channels, drops in the waterway create these fun rapids.  Multi-colored canyon walls soar above the watercourse and tell the geologic story of when dinosaurs ruled the earth. We observed Native American rock art, spotted bighorn sheep on the banks and cliffs, explored slot canyons and floated the Green in peaceful sublimity.

Our chief modes of transportation on this journey rafting in Dinosaur National Monument were 18-foot oar-powered rafts, each led by an experienced and knowledgeable river guide. All the participants freely switched boats throughout the trip. In addition to the oar boats, some of us shot the rapids and floated calm stretches in inflatable kayaks, a fun and challenging way to become more acquainted with the river. Each night we made camp at a different location. Guests set up their own tents and then had time for other activities while the guides began dinner preparation. The cuisine was delicious and sumptuous, and the guides doubled as gourmet chefs.

Gates of Lordore

Shortly after we began our expedition the first day, we entered the dramatic “Gates of Lodore,” the gateway into Lodore Canyon. It is a dark red chasm composed of Precambrian rock, cut through the wild canyon lands of eastern Utah. The canyon was named by Andrew Hall, a member of John Wesley Powell’s expedition. Powell was the first person of European descent to explore the entire length of the Green and Colorado River watershed. They started their journey in Wyoming and floated the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument, Gray and Desolations Canyons, Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon and culminated their exploration along the Colorado near Yuma, Arizona.

rafting Dinosaur National Monument

© Southwest Discoveries

On subsequent days, we experienced whitewater such as Harp Falls, Triplet Falls, and the stimulating “Hells Half Mile.” We passed through Echo Park, where the Yampa (the last undammed tributary of the Colorado) joins the Green River from the east. The river here wraps around impressive Steamboat Rock, which juts up more than 1,000 feet.


Below Echo park we drifted past the place where the Bureau of Reclamation was set to build a huge dam in the 1950’s. This would have plugged up the Green and created a reservoir, destroying the wilderness aspects of this special place. David Brower and the Sierra Club, as well as other individuals, helped stop this disastrous project. Thus, this event was a cornerstone of conservation in the West. But this came at the price of losing Glen Canyon downstream, flooding what many people regarded as the most magnificent canyon in the country. (Click here to read our story about Hiking Coyote Gulch, a small slice of paradise, reminiscent of the old Glen Canyon before it was ruined by the rising waters of Lake Powell.) Despite this unfortunate turn of events, David Brower was one of the most important conservationists in recent times, the father of the modern environmental movement.

However, Dinosaur National Monument, created in 1915 by President Woodrow Wilson, still faces environmental challenges. The Green River is consistently named as one of America’s “most endangered rivers” by national conservation groups. At the proposed dam site, we discussed environmental issues facing the Green River and public lands in the inter-mountain west. Conservation issues are especially timely today because politicians in Utah and Washington D.C. are shrinking huge chunks of Utah’s beloved Grand Staircase Escalante and Bear Ears National Monuments. Moreover, other national monuments throughout America are in the cross-hairs.

rafting Dinosaur National Monument

© Southwest Discoveries


World Famous Dinosaur Quarry

On the final day we traveled through Whirlpool Canyon, Island Park, and Rainbow Park to our take-out location below Split Mountain. This is near the quarry that gives Dinosaur National Monument its name. The quarry is a worthwhile destination in its own right. Visitors can view nearly 1,500 dinosaur bones, making this site one of the premier dinosaur fossil areas on the planet.

To conclude this article about rafting Dinosaur National Monument, we quote David Brower. “Let the mountains talk, let the river run. Once more, and forever.” Dinosaur National Monument not only showcases some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on the planet but speaks of activism and conservation, making the environmental movement a uniquely quintessential and vital American idea.

To sign up for our exciting 2018 Sierra Club Dinosaur National Monument Family Rafting Trip, register here. There are still some openings for this trip.

Happy Trails!


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