Westwater Canyon

 

Wild rapids highlight a spectacular canyon that draws boaters to this section of the Colorado River. Westwater Canyon has premier white-water stretches that challenge the abilities of skilled kayakers and rafters alike. A permit is required; plan on obtaining it well in advance of your trip. For those with less experience, there is the option of a commercial trip.

Westwater Ranger Station
The Bureau of Land Management administers the Westwater Canyon portion of the Colorado River. The Westwater Ranger Station is 4.5 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.

River Permits
Because of the heavy demand for launches, permits, and advanced reservations to run this section of the river are required year round. The fee season is from March through October. Information about the reservation and permit system may be obtained from the Bureau of Land Management, Moab Field Office, 82 East Dogwood Moab, Utah 84532, (435) 259-7012.

Caution
Only experienced boaters should attempt to pilot rafts through the canyon; it should not be tried by the novice.

Life jackets must be worn, as required under Utah State law, from the Westwater Ranger Station downstream to the mouth of Big Hole Canyon.

Permit Fees
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.

Campsites
There are only 10 campsites in Westwater Canyon. Campsites are assigned at the ranger station at launch time with consideration given to group size.

River Flow
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 that 3,000 cfs. To obtain current river flow information, call (801) 539-1311 for a recorded summary of Utah river flow measurements.

Rapids
The character of the river varies with each change in river flow. Some rapids are most challenging at high water, while others require 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.

Geologic Features
The black, uplifted rocks in the canyon (metamorphic granite gneisses) represent the oldest exposed formations in eastern Utah (1.75 billion years). These are pre-Cambrian age. The highest pre-Cambrian gneiss cliffs reach approximately 200 feet above Skull Rapid. Above the black rock are the multi-colored layers of the Chinle formation and the massive, smooth, reddish-brown cliffs of the Wingate sandstone, both of the Triassic age.

Wildlife
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.

Natural Features
A small seasonal waterfall is located on the Little Dolores River about 200 yards upsteam 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.

Historical Features
The miner's cabin is located on the 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 gravelbeds 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 half a 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.

 

 

For Additional Information Contact:

The Bureau of Land Management
Moab Office
82 East Dogwood
Moab, Utah 84532
(435) 259-7012

 

For more information visit the Utah Bureau of Land Management website