Paddling From Moab to Canyonlands on the Colorado River with Packrafts

Until now, our weekend trips to Moab focused around mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and generally just trying to escape to nicer weather.  This pst weekend, we decided to try something new and challenging. We made plans to paddle the flat water section of the Colorado River from the town of Moab to the border of Canyonlands National Park. So we loaded our packrafts into the truck and set out for another adventure.

  • Distance: 12 Miles
  • Put-In: Wall Street Area
  • Take-Out: Potash Boat Ramp
  • Flow: 5,000
  • Time: 6 Hours
  • Difficulty: Easy (Flat water)
  • Dog Friendly: Yes!
  • Shuttle Difficulty: Easy (Rode my Bike)

Rafting, I’ve come to learn, isn’t exactly as easy to plan as a day out hiking because of some key logistical issues. For one, rivers run only in one direction, so you can’t just paddle out and back. Second, you have to figure out how to get yourselves home after paddling, so you can’t just park and hop on the River since there won’t be a car at the end for you. And three, the speed of the River, measured in cubic feet per second (cfs), is the main factor for how fast you’ll be floating down the river. All of this to say, it’s not as easy to just pack up and go for a paddle as I thought it was going to be. Needless to say, we figured out the logistics and settled on the following route and plan for a full Saturday on the Colorado.

The full distance would have been around 18 miles from the out the Potash Boat Ramp at the southern boarder of Canyonlands National Park. That would have been about 18 miles on the river; however, the flow rate on the river, in the week leading up to the weekend, dropped from 8,000 CFS to 5,000 CFS. At that low of a flow, we estimated an average speed of 2mph, so that would put us on the river for an exhausting 9 hours! Instead, we put decided to put in at near the Wall Street climbing area to shorten the trip to 12 miles. So I dropped off all the gear at the put-in, helped get organized a bit, drove down to the take-out, then hopped on my road bike to make it back to Courtney at the put-in. 

With all the gear loaded into our two Kokopelli Packrafts, we pushed off from the river’s edge for a new and exciting adventure. Immediately, all the worries from planning and stress from the week prior simply melted away. The three of us, were alone, in the middle of the beautiful Utah desert, floating down the mighty Colorado River, without a single care in the world. Of course, it was quickly interrupted by Gregor jumping off my raft and into the 50 degree cold water, almost flipping me in the process. But that was neither here nor there, because Gregor’s a water dog and he would proceed to jump in and out of my raft all day long.

As the miles slowly ticked away, we made our way further and further away from the constant sounds of cars and off-road vehicles echoing off the canyon walls. We bounced from shorline to sandbar to shoreline while Gregor jumped out to inspect each and every place he could walk along. We cracked into our drag bag filled with beer for our day in the desert sun, enjoying hard seltzers from Breckenridge Brewery and IPAs from countless of our favorite breweries like Melvin. Most of the time, we just relaxed and  floated while jamming out to the only music I had downloaded onto my phone, which was our wedding playlist. The music brought on great memories that flooded into our conversations while the towering sandstone walls passed us by.

Only when I began to get cold, from sitting in a pool of water that dripped off my lovable dog who I shared my tiny raft with, did we really start having to paddle.  Paddling these Kokopelli packrafts were surprisingly more efficient than I had originally thought. They cruise through the water almost as easily as my whitewater kayak, but definitely not as easily as our inflatable SUP. Overall, our paddling sections didn’t last long, usually under a half mile at a time. Otherwise, we were just relaxing under the desert sun, letting the Colorado River take us along for the ride.

At the halfway point, near the Gold Bar campground beach, which is across from the Corona Arch trailhead, we stopped for lunch. The best part of paddling trips is that you can pack all the beverages and food you want because there’s no real weight penalty for carrying it along the way, unlike biking or hiking, the extra weight just floats along with you. We beached our rafts and snacked on some delicious salami and cheese roll-ups along with a few sweets like my childhood favorite, Gushers. While we ate, Gregor ran back and forth along the beach, playing with another group’s dog. But we couldn’t dwell for long since we still had 6 miles to go, but we still weren’t in any rush.

The rest of the float was somehow even more relaxing than the first half. Maybe it was because we were all tired, or maybe it was because we were flowing down a section of the desert that I hadn’t really ever seen before. Whatever the reasons were, the three of us cruised through the next 6 miles enjoying feeling tiny compared to the massive canyon walls on both sides of the river. Further towards the end, we passed some infamous landmarks which got us even more engaged and excited. To the north, we could see Dead Horse Point and also the start of Canyonlands National Park, along with the out-of-place Potash factory. Despite the juxtaposition of industry in such a barren, wild place, we couldn’t help but appreciate being in such a quiet and remote place in Utah.

Unfortunately, like all of the best trips, this one had to come to an end after 6 hours on the river. Gregor swam the last half mile to the Potash Boat Ramp which sat right at the base of the Shafer Trail lower entrance to Canyonlands National Park. We paddled the last little bit as the sun began to tuck behind the grey clouds for the first time on the day. I brought the truck down from the parking area to the boat ramp where Courtney was deflating our rafts and trying to unload as much gear from the rafts as possible. We dried Gregor off from his action packed day on the river, then headed off to the BLM land to go camping for the night. Of course, I first had to stop by the put-in to pick my road bike back up, but then it was off to make camp after being completely exhausted. Even though the day was so relaxing and relatively low effort, 6 hours in the desert sun will take it out of anyone. But somewhere along the river that day, Court and I made a promise to one another to do this more often, because it was incredible!

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