While Salt Lake City’s mountainous terrain is often celebrated by those who love the outdoors, providing the perfect landscape for sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and mountain biking, there’s another, often overlooked sport the city’s landscape caters perfectly to.
White water rafting near Salt Lake City is also a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoor-oriented lifestyle Utah locals appreciate so much. In fact, white water rafting is a sport ingrained in our Splan family genealogy.
Bob Rigg, the father of our firm’s founder Julia Splan, ran a highly-successful commercial white water rafting business on the Colorado River in the ‘50s and ‘60s along with his brother Jim. These well-known ‘river runners’ also held an individual speed record for rowing through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River for over 30 years, taking 52 hours and 41 minutes to row through the canyon in a wooden cataract boat.
Here in Utah, beautiful rivers and heavy streams perfect for white water rafting lay deep down in the valleys between the high peaks of our abundant mountain ranges. And, with Salt Lake City a central location close to many popular rafting destinations, it’s a great place to plan your next adventure.
With Utah’s stunning red rock mountains offering the idyllic backdrop for this thrilling sport, it’s worthy of a trip in itself to experience the white water rafting near Salt Lake City. To find out which local rivers we recommend you check out for your next white water rafting adventure, read our guide detailing our top four destinations below.
Found along a winding stretch of the Colorado River in eastern Utah, Westwater Canyon is the river’s first section of white water rapids within our state. White water rafting enthusiasts love Westwater Canyon because of its iconic inner gorge of black rock from the Precambrian era, the earliest in Earth’s history.
Westwater Canyon’s rapids generally fall between class III and IV, which are suitable for intermediate and advanced rowers. The most popular rapids are the Funnel Falls, Sock-it-to-Me, and the revered Skull Rapid. (Westwater Canyon Map)
Experience the full Westwater Canyon white water rafting experience by planning to ride the entire 17-mile long stretch of the Colorado River from the Westwater ranger station to the boat launch found in the neighboring ghost town of Cisco.
Go a little further west towards central Utah and you’ll find Desolation Canyon along the Green River, the main tributary of the Colorado River. While this extensive canyon is perfect for white water rafting, it’s also located in one of the most remote areas in the country.
For this reason, typical rafting excursions to Desolation Canyon often span between four to six days, which requires rowers to bring overnight camping gear along with them. This long, winding river flows between some of the most spectacular mountain ranges and surrounding landscapes, which tell fascinating stories of American history featuring Native American ruins, abandoned prospector homesteads, and western outlaw hideouts. (More details available here)
With over 50 class II to III rapids, Desolation Canyon is one of Utah’s most popular family-friendly white water rafting adventures and is perfect for beginner to intermediate rafters to explore.
San Juan River
Another major tributary to the Colorado River is the San Juan River, which can be found near Utah’s southeast corner and the Four Corners Monument, where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet.
Similar to Desolation Canyon, the San Juan River flows through some of the country’s most remarkable and storied natural landscapes. Guided tours along any stretch of this swift yet gentle river will include seemingly endless fascinating talking points about the surrounding geology, archaeology, fossils, Native American history, and early American history.
While most of the San Juan River is designated as novice to intermediate class II to III difficulty, there is a section of white water rafting for rowers of all skill levels here.
One of the most celebrated and well-known white water rafting destinations in Utah and across the country can be found in Cataract Canyon. This stretch of the Colorado River located in southern Utah is known for its “big water” rapids, especially during high water years when winter snowfall from surrounding mountains melts into tremendous water volume for the Cataract Canyon valleys.
Cataract Canyon is located within the Canyonlands National Park and is just south of the junction between the Green and Colorado Rivers. As the two rivers join forces just north of Cataract Canyon, the Colorado River’s force and flow are virtually doubled, making for thrilling rapids and waves.
Rafters can expect to encounter class III to V rapids here, with some of the biggest waves in North America. Watch out for the three infamous “Big Drops” along Cataract Canyon, which actually comes together to form one massive rapid in high water years.
Has the beehive state’s striking natural landscape got you thinking about relocating to Utah? Learn more about how to move to beautiful Utah by reaching out to our experienced real estate team today. To start a conversation, contact us here.