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Muddy Creek Slot Canyon is one of the most unique in the southwest, and definitely one of the most beautiful. While most of the time, it’s just a hike with some water in it, every few years the stars align and you can boat down Muddy Creek for a couple of weeks, making it a perfect Bucket List worthy float.
Well, 2019 was one of those years and as the snowpack conditions throughout the winter looked promising, we penciled in a Muddy Creek inflatable kayak trip. 2023, is looking like it will be even more epic, with points where the water is too high to be safely runnable.
Note: Some years Muddy creek runs great, and other times, there isn’t enough water to float it for 5 years. If you see that flows are high enough to paddle, but not at a flood stage, GO NOW!
Everything you need to know about floating Muddy Creek.
Length: 16 miles of river
Time: 5-10 hours depending on flow levels
Suggested levels to float: 150-500 CFS (check current flows here)
Shuttle Time: 1hour 40 minutes
Prior to 2019, the last time that we floated Muddy Creek was back in 2006 before we had kids. It was definitely unknown at the time since when we floated it on a Saturday, there were only two other groups – a group of kayakers and a group of Dad’s who had a horrible experience with their kids. In 2019, we pulled up to the put-in to camp for the night around 7pm on a Friday and there were at least 50 cars there. Word has definitely gotten out. That being said, once we were on the river, it didn’t feel very crowded at all and we only saw a few other groups as we were floating.
Where is Muddy Creek?
Best Boats for Paddling Muddy Creek
To really paddle Muddy Creek Cute successfully, you’ll need some sort of a kayak, preferably one made for whitewater. You can do a hard sided kayak or an inflatable kayak, though you will be doing a good amount of bounching through the grock gardens.
This trip IS NOT suitable for tubes and any boat you take needs to be very high quality. If you bought your boat at a big box store or sporting goods shop, it probably won’t make it through the trip without rocks popping it. Buy something that’s made for whitewater. Also, be smart and always wear a lifejacket (coast guard approved type 3 or 5 paddling jacket)!
Here are directions and a map to get to Muddy Creek.
Remember that this area is VERY REMOTE, so don’t plan on having phone service and download your maps in advance. Generally speaking, you start at Tomsich Butte and take out at Hidden Splendor mine.
What to Expect On Muddy Creek
Muddy Creek is a non-technical canyon through the San Rafael Swell of Utah. You start out in an open area outside of the canyon. After floating around large bends and into some wider canyons, you enter a box canyon that you will stay in for the next 6 miles.
In the canyon, the walls rise 200 feet above you and in a few places, the canyon is only about 8 feet wide. I’ve heard of small rafts floating it, but honestly, it’s best suited for smaller boats. We took inflatable kayaks and they were perfect since they are very forgiving as you will inevitably be hitting lots of rocks on this trip.
Remember that about half of the day, you’ll likely be in the shade and that Muddy Creek is REALLY COLD. Bring gear to keep you toasty, but also dress in easily removable layers since when the sun does peek into the canyon it warms up FAST. Splash gear, rain jackets, wool and fleece are all good options, as well as Oakiwear one piece suits for kids. You’ll lkely be getting pretty wet, so if you get cold easily, consider wearing a wetsuit as well.
Depending on the flows, the creek will be very different. When we floated it in 2006, the trip was fairly calm but very rocky when the creek was flowing a little below 150 CFS. After we exited the canyon, it was too rocky to float in many places so we just walked through the creek and dragged our boats behind us. At this level it took us about 8 hours to float.
In 2019 we ran it at 185 CFS and the river had actually changed quite a bit. We noticed 4-5 rapids that were definetely not there when we floated them in 2006, which probably had appeared due to rock fall. Also at this level, we experienced pretty continuous rock riffles every couple of minutes so there wasn’t too much time for relaxing or just chilling. Most of the rapids weren’t major but you did need to may attention to choose the correct channel and avoid rocks so it always kept us on our toes. During our trip, I probably got stuck on about 20 rocks and needed to get out and pull my boat off of about 5 of those. About half of the people in our group of 10 fell in multiple times. This trip took 5.5 hours on the water.
How Technical is Muddy Creek?
Muddy Creek doesn’t have any huge waves on it, but it is VERY rocky so it’s more technical than most people would anticipate. In fact there were 2 rapids in it that I would say are rated a class III- simply because of how technical they are. It shouldn’t be underestimated, but it’s also a very enjoyable paddle. If you have the right equipment and some solid experience paddling whitewater and reading rivers, you will be fine. I wouldn’t recommend this trip for a first timer. It’s incredibly remote so if you do run into any problems it will be hours and hours before any sort of emergency help can reach you.
Can I take kids down Muddy Creek?
Yes…and no. Have you read our story about the Dad’s who took their kids down Muddy Creek? It was SO TRAUMATIC that the kids said they NEVER want to do an adventure again with Dad. Don’t be that parent. If you don’t have some really solid whitewater experience and your kids haven’t been down previous rivers, do not take them with you. It’s just not worth the risk that something will happen or that you’ll scare them so bad that they never want to go again.
If you’ve got kids who have been on river trips before, don’t mind getting tossed into a rocky creek a few times, and are pretty levelheaded in case things go bad, totally take them with you. We took our 4 kids ages 5, 7, 9, and 12 and they loved it. They’ve all been on the river a lot and my husband and I have a lot of river and guiding experience on technical rivers so we were comfortable having them along for the ride. If your kids are confident and have some paddling skills of their own, you can even consider having them paddle their own kayak down this run.
Our 5, 7, and 9 year olds all got tossed into the water at least once and came home with a handful of bruises and one good cut. All three of these kids had Oakiwear suits on most of the day which were perfect to keep them dry and warm, yet easy to zip down when it got warmer, If you’ve followed us for a while, you’ll know that these suits are our absolute favorite for kids on the river and they are an amazing deal too.
Can I take a SUP paddleboard down Muddy Creek?
Unless you have lots of experience with taking a SUP down technical whitewater, DO NOT take a SUP down Muddy Creek. With the number of rocks and technical hazards, the risk of falling and getting a head injury is enormous, which is especially dangerous considering how remote the area is. If you do have lots of technical SUP experience, a helmet is necessary.
Can you do Muddy Creek without a Shuttle?
Technically, yes, you can do Muddy Creek without a shuttle. However, it will take either a long hike back to your car, or you can run a mountain bike shuttle, leaving your boat at the bottom and grabbing it on your way back.
Are Packrafts Suitable for Muddy Creek Boating?
While a packraft can handle the technical aspects of paddling Muddy Creek, there is a large risk of tears and punctures to the boat. Unless you have an extra thick packraft, or can safely avoid obstacles, we would recommend not taking a packraft here.
Best Time To Paddle Muddy Creek
There is a very narrow window when Muddy Creek is boatable. Typically between 150-500 cfs is the range you look for, which usually happens from mid-May to mid-June, but only on high water years. Check the USGS gauge to see what water levels are like.
Dangers of Muddy Creek Gorge
Many people underestimate the dangers and difficulty of Muddy Creek. If you don’t have experience with technical paddling and remote desert situations, you should not do this trip. On our 2019 trip, we saw many people walking their boats down the river, portaging small rapids, and having a very difficult time. This is not for the faint of heart or for the unexperienced boater.
The most life-threatening danger of Muddy Creek is flooding. If there is any rain in the forecast for the drainage of Muddy Creek, DO NOT GO! Flash floods here are deadly (yes, even in a boat), so don’t even tempt fate.
Alternatives to Muddy Creek Utah
If you’re looking for a beautiful alternative to boating Muddy Creek Utah, consider paddling the Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael. It’s less technical and has some great desert scenery.