Westwater Canyon, located within the Westwater Canyon Wilderness Study Area, is considered by many to be one of the nation's best overnight whitewater river trips. The combination of major rapids and spectacular 17-mile-long canyon setting draws boaters from all over, but you must you must be experienced or go with a skilled outfitter. The river is nothing to be trifled with as it has killed seven people since 1982. A small seasonal waterfall is located on the Little Dolores River about 200 yards upstream from its confluence with the Colorado River. Several small arches are located just below Star Canyon along the skyline. You will see an old miner's cabin, the "outlaw cave" and some Native American sites within the canyon. These are protected by law, but more importantly, they should be respected as remnants of our cultural heritage.
Westwater Ranger Station
The Bureau of Land Management administers the Westwater Canyon portion of the Colorado River. From April through October, rangers are on duty at the Westgate Ranger Station, which is 4.5 river miles from the Utah-Colorado state line. From the station, it is approximately 17 river miles to the first available takeout point at the Cisco Landing. In this distance, the river drops 125 feet.
The ranger station is approximately 63 river miles from Moab, Utah and 127 river miles from the Colorado's confluence with the Green River.
Because of the heavy demand for launches, permits and reservations to run this section of the river are required throughout the year. Information about the reservation and permit system may be obtained from:
Bureau of Land Management
Grand Resource Area Office
P.O. Box M
(Sand Flats Road)
Moab, Utah 84532
Both commercial outfitters and private boaters are required to pay use fees for Westwater Canyon float trips. As a result of legislation passed by Congress in 1987, recreation use fees are being returned to the area where they were collected. Returned fees now fund a substantial portion of the Westwater management program.
Because only experienced boatmen should attempt to pilot rafts through the canyon; it should not be tried by the novice.
See the Guides & Outfitters section for information on guided river trips.
There are only 10 campsites in Westwater Canyon. Campsites are assigned at the ranger station at launch time with consideration given to group size.
As a general rule, the river peaks at about 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in late May or early June and recedes throughout the summer and autumn months to reach a low of less than 3,000 cfs. To obtain current river flow information call (801) 539-1311 for a recorded summary of Utah river flow measurements.
The character of the river varies with each change in river flow. Some rapids are most challenging at high water, while others require a greater skill at low water. Within Westwater Canyon, there are 11 rapids that range in difficulty from 1 to 9, on a scale where the most dangerous rapids have a rating of 10. The rapids of note are Funnel Falls, Skull, and Sock-It-To-Me. Check at the ranger station for additional information.
Many species of wildlife inhabit the canyon. Those most commonly observed are Canada Geese, Great Blue Heron, ducks, beaver, eagles (autumn and spring), and song birds.
A small seasonal waterfall is located on the Little Dolores River about 200 yards upstream from its confluence with the Colorado River. Several small natural arches are located near the Little Dolores River and one large arch is located just below Star Canyon along the skyline.
The "miner's cabin" is located on river left at the entrance to Westwater Canyon. This dugout, log, and rock structure was built in the early 1900s by miners who sought gold in the gravel beds adjacent to the river. The area was worked again during the 1930s.
The so-called "outlaw cave" is perched a short distance above the river on river left below the Hades Bar campsite. According to one legend, two brothers robbed a bank in Vernal and hid here for 18 months. Approximately 1/2 mile farther down the canyon on river left, a rock cairn supposedly marks the grave of one of the brothers.
Artifacts at these sites and at Indian sites are protected by law. Please do not damage or remove these remnants of our cultural heritage.
Life jackets must be worn, as required under Utah state law, from the Westwater Ranger Station downstream to the mouth of Big Hole Canyon.
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