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The Green River, flowing through eastern Utah is one of the best sections of whitewater in the Western United States. You can find mellow floats that are suitable for toddlers, day trips packed with adrenaline, and a few of the best multi-day whitewater trips around. If you’re heading out to raft the Green River, you’ll want to use the town of Vernal as your base. There are lots of food and accommodation options, and it even has a few gear shops in case you forgot something important. For the best restaurants, hotels and adventures, make sure to check out our ultimate guide to Vernal, here.
Best places to raft on the Green River
In this article, we’re going to break down what you can expect from each section of river, who it’s suitable for, and information on guides as well. We’ll start at Flaming Gorge and work our way down river.
Where to rent rafts near Flaming Gorge
If you’re looking to float any sections of the river below Flaming Gorge Dam, your best option for renting a boat is either from Dutch John Resort or from Flaming Gorge Resort. Both of these companies rent out several types and sizes of boats to suit both your ability and group size. Additionally, both companies also offer shuttle services as well as drop-off and pick up services, which can really simplify your day by eliminating the need to run a shuttle.
Do you need a guide to float the Green River?
Rafting down moving water is actually harder than it looks. Sections A, B, and C are all considered beginner runs, but you do need at least some experience to go down it by yourself, especially if you are taking kids with you. If you’re looking to learn more about whitewater rafting, this book is a great place to start. After that, a class like this one is the best way to really learn the techniques and skills you will need to get into the sport. If you don’t have experience, Dinosaur River Expeditions can take you down. One thing you will want to make sure that you take, is proper footwear for whitewater!
Section A of the Green River
From just below the Flaming Gorge Dam, to the Little Hole Boat Ramp, is a popular stretch of whitewater referred to as Section A of the Green River. This stretch goes seven miles downstream through a narrow canyon, with several class II rapids. While a class II rapid is considered a beginner rapid, there are a few rocks in there that will easily pin and wrap a boat if you’re not paying attention. Section A is very popular with fisherman, and it’s reported that there are an average of over 10,000 fish per mile on this stretch of river (which can also be accessed by the Little Hole National Recreation Trail. No camping is allowed along section A. Average float times are 3-4 hours, and the shuttle is quite easy to run. This is a great section for kayking with kids who are already competent and comfortable on flat water.
Section B of the Green River
Section B starts right where Section A ends, at Little Hole, and continues for 8 miles down to Indian Crossing Campground. The boat ramp can get quite crowded at Little Hole so it’s best to have all your gear ready and rigged before you head down to launch. Section B is overall more calm than Section A, with the exception of Red Creek Rapid. Red Creek is rated a class III, but if you pull out above it can easily be scouted. Class III rapids are for boaters who have an intermediate level of boating experience, so if you’re a beginner, steer clear of this section or have plans in mind to portage around Red Creek Rapid. Along this stretch, there are 17 river camps which make this a nice and simple overnight trip. You can reserve those boat in campsites here. While Section A is well known for the number of fish there, Section B is well known for the size of fish with large brown trout being common. Average flat times are 4-5 hours, though the shuttle is fairly long. Getting from Little Hole to Indian Crossing Campground will take you at least an hour in each direction
Section C of the Green River
Section C floats along the Green River from the Browns Park area down to Swallow Canyon Ramp, or if you want to have more time on the river (though quite flat and not as beautiful) keep going to Swinging Bridge. Section C is the calmest stretch of river in this area with only 1 small set of rapids at Little Swallow. If you float down the Swallow Canyon, it is 10 miles and if you continue to Swinging Bridge, the total float is 15 miles. This section is suitable for boaters of all abilities as there are not many obstacles or dangerous sections. The total float will take at least 6 hours, and is suitable for all ages (including very young children). Camping is available along Section C, with both dispersed and reserved camping available (though many prefer the more beautiful sites of Section B). The shuttle is straightforward and should take less than 30 minutes each way.
Gates of Lodore
Gates of Lodore is a 44 mile rafting trip that most people split up between 3-5 days. The water is much faster moving than Sections A, B, and C with significant rapids. The Gates of Lodore is rated a class III-IV making it suitable for intermediate to advanced boaters only. To float this section, you must have a permit to do a self guided trip, or go down with a commercial outfitter. If you choose to go down with a commercial outfitter, you do not need any previous experience, I recommend OARS. Kids as young as 7 are permitted on commercial river trips.
Rafting the Gates of Lodore is one of my all time favorite river trips. Not only is the whitewater exciting, but the scenery is hard to beat. We’ve been several times, but our favorite was when we took our 3 oldest on a 3 generation rafting trip there last summer. Read all about our trip here, and why we think that the Gates of Lodore is a perfect multi-day whitewater trip for families. If you want a good idea of what to expect, check out our video of our trip as well.
Whether you’re rafting with a commercial company or guiding your own trip, I think that everyone needs a copy of this book. It will tell you what rapids are coming up, where campsites are, and interesting things to see along the way. I guarantee that your cell phone won’t work here so this guidebook is invaluable.
Permits are issued through a lottery system every year and you can apply here for the lottery between December 1 and January 31. To obtain a permit, the trip leader must demonstrate significant experience on class III-IV rivers as well as meet several requirements for gear, food storage, and waste disposal. If you’re new to rafting, I can tell you from first hand experience that trips of this length and size are a massive undertaking and require lots of gear.
If you are rafting the Gates of Lodore, you should absolutely use a service to shuttle your cars. We’ve used River Runners Transport several times and have always been impressed with their service. The other option is to run the shuttle yourself, which will take almost 6 hours, and still leave you with a car at the put-in.
From the Green River, you also have the option of doing a short hike up Jones Hole Creek. I highly recommend taking the 2 mile trek to get up to Ely Waterfall. You can read all the details of the hike here. We also recommend good splash gear or having a wetsuit if you’re going during high water.
After you run the Gates of Lodore (or Split Mountain section), head into Vernal to grab some dinner. After several days on the river, it always is great to get a good meal to celebrate your trip, and I highly recommend the Vernal Brewing Company. They’re on the east side of Vernal and their homemade sodas and burgers are fantastic, and the Mac & Cheese with candied bacon will definitely hit the spot!
Split Mountain Day Trip
If you’re looking for a great whitewater trip, but don’t have several days to float The Gates of Lodore, I highly recommend taking a day trip down Split Mountain Gorge. Split Mountain Gorge is a class III intermediate run that’s about 8 miles long. It also happens to be the same stretch that you would float on the last day of a trip down The Gates of Lodore. This trip is suitable for adventurous kids ages 6 and older, though if they’re timid or nervous, I absolutely recommend waiting until they are closer to 10. This section of river begins at Rainbow Park and shortly after, enters Split Mountain Gorge. We have commonly seen mountain goats, big horn sheep, and deer along the banks of the river.
Split Mountain is within Dinosaur National Monument so a permit is required to float the river here. You can go here to apply for one. If you’re a competent intermediate rafter and need equipment, renting in Vernal is the best option. River Runners rents rafts for affordable day rates that you can find here.
The shuttle from Rainbow Park to Split mountain is about 1 hour and 15 minutes each way, and you will need to pay the Dinosaur National Monument day use fees, or have a National Parks Pass.
Another fantastic multi-day rafting trip on the Green River is Desolation Canyon. A Desolation Canyon trip is an 84 mile long stretch of river that floats through both Desolation and Gray Canyon. There are over 50 rapids that are class II-III making this a great intermediate river. Most boaters take 4-6 days to raft this section of the Green River.
Canyon walls tower thousands of feet overhead with beautiful desert scenery abounding. Many commercial companies will take kids as young as 5 years old on this trip, though due to the length of the trip and how remote it is, they must be very comfortable on the water. We floated this river a few years ago when our oldest was 6-years-old and had a fantastic trip. Head here to read our Desolation Canyon trip report as well as why this stretch of river is so great for beginners and kids.
Whether you’re rafting Desolation Canyon with a guide or on your own, I highly recommend this book. It’s a wonderful resource with lots of information about the canyon, rapids, and campsites. Since you won’t have access to electronics (no service + they’ll get wet), you’ll find this book invaluable.
If you are interested in floating Desolation Canyon on a self-guided trip, you will need a permit. Permits are issued by a lottery system and can be applied for from December 1 to January 31. Trip leaders are responsible for boating safety and emergency equipment as well as food storage and waste disposal gear. You can find all the information that you need regarding permits, equipment and regulations here.
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