Desolation Canyon 2015


Jan 18, 2012
I have been a long time lurker and decided to finally post a trip report of a River trip through Desolation/Gray canyon. I worked as a guide for three summers with Western River Expeditions out of Moab, I ran trips on Desolation Canyon, Westwater Canyon, The Grand and of course the daily stretch outside of Moab. The Grand is the Grand and tough to compare but when it comes to scenery, awesome camps, and fun consistent rapids Desolation is one of my all time favorites. In July/August expect low water (below 5,000cfs) so plan accordingly. We launched on Wednesday the 29th of July and because we were a LDS Church group we needed to be off the River on Saturday afternoon. With the river flowing at 2,900CFS we were going to have to put in some miles. Luckily we had an outboard motor to use the first day to knock out the 27 miles of flat water, even with the motor we still rowed a lot but made it back in no time.

We rented boats from the University of Utah, their prices are decent and their equipment is really good. We had 2- 18' Rafts, 1-16' raft and a 14' paddle boat for 23 people. We brought two groovers but only ended up using one, this was also a mistake as emptying it in Green River turned out to be a literal Sh*t show. I will let the pics speak for themselves but if anyone wants any beta on organizing a trip let me know. I want to go back with my family next summer, this is a great river for beginners in lower water and a must do for anyone who enjoys rafting.

image 1.jpg

I bought all of the Farmington Smiths Block ice (23) and most of their cubed ice.


The put in at Sand Wash, the road in really is not as bad as everyone says we had a truck, suv and a minivan and no problems. PC: Todd Allen

image 2.jpg

We drove in the night before so we could put in first thing in the morning. This area is beautiful but the camping is limited. This area is notorious for bug infestations in the Spring.

This is what 2,900 CFS looks like at Sand Wash, not a lot of current if you are rowing the first day. PC: Todd Allen

Another feature of Sandwash and Desolation is the mud that can swallow you whole and eats your footwear if you are not careful. This made rigging a lot of fun. PC: Todd Allen

An empty vessel. PC: Todd Allen

Finally on the water, wide open spaces and wild horses if you keep your eyes peeled. PC: Todd Allen

Desolation Lake. PC: Todd Allen

First rapid run all tied together. PC: Todd Allen


First camp below Firewater canyon. If you want to camp on the left side of the river you will need a permit from the Ute tribe. I purchased one for $30 but I wouldn't do it again and here is why; We wanted to camp across the river because there is some great hikes. As we pulled over and looked over the camp there were cow patties everywhere and cows grazing up the canyon in the sage. This was the case every time we checked out river left to hike or camp. PC: Todd Allen

20150730_075849-01.jpeg PC: Todd Allen


Black Bear siting on Day 2, this was the only bear we saw although the Ranger warned us the bears had been very active this summer. PC: Todd Allen

Riffles above Rock Creek. PC: Todd Allen

Yours truly rounding the corner above Rock Creek Ranch. PC: Todd Allen

The views never disappoint the whole trip. PC: Todd Allen

Rock Creek Ranch. PC: Todd Allen

PC: Todd Allen

Desert Big Horn. PC: Todd Allen

Camp #2 above Chandler Canyon. PC: Todd Allen

It does not suck to wake up to this. PC: Todd Allen


Joe Hutch Rapid, formerly cow swim. Easy run at 2,900 CFS, would be much more tricky over 5,000 CFS. PC: Todd Allen

Long Day 3, we rowed over 22 miles. This is above Coal Creek I believe. PC: Todd Allen

Next morning heading down Gray Canyon. PC: Todd Allen


Derig at the pull out at Swaseys. PC Todd Allen

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So awesome, @Ounce. I've been dreaming about Deso lately so I'm soooo glad you posted this. I'm hoping to do it next summer if I can get all my ducks in a row. How was renting through the U? I was originally thinking of buying a raft over the winter, but now I'm leaning towards buying a raft/utility combo trailer and just renting through the U next year. The idea of breaking it all down for travel and then setting it all back up to return sounds not so fun. And the utility/raft combo trailer from Sawtooth Welding (link, scroll down) in Idaho would be pretty sweet just to have for general use.
Renting from the U was great, they have everything you need, a good trailer always comes in handy and is all you need to haul your gear down to the put in.
Deso is a goody. Looks like it was a fun trip. Thanks for sharing.
Yeah, we used road runner. They charge $210 a vehicle unless you have 4 or more. Worth every penny
@Nick, I think both times I did Deso we shuttled our own cars and then paid a guy to fly us back to the put-in from Green River. Pretty fun and scenic flight. I wasn't the trip leader so I'm not sure what the cost was. Might be worth looking into depending on your group size (ours was 18). (Can't find pics!).
@Nick and @Mike K We looked into the flights, they are about $150 per person from Green river. Pretty reasonable considering the cost of the shuttle and time it takes to do it yourself.
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