First Overnight Rafting Trip Through Ruby Horsethief Canyon on the Colorado River

The Ruby Horsethief section of the Colorado river runs from the desert town of Fruita, Colorado, putting in at the Loma Boat Ramp, travels 25 miles down river through the stunning desert canyons, into Utah, and eventually to the take out at the Westwater boat ramp. This was our first overnight trip on a river, requiring more planning, more gear, more beer, and honestly a bit more stress. Yet, it only a few miles on the river to realize this trip was going to be one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had in the desert.

Logistics to Run the Ruby Horsethief Section:

Permits: Required for Overnight (Not required for Day-trips)
Put In: Loma Boat Ramp (Colorado)
Take Out: Westwater Boat Ramp (Utah)
Distance: 25 miles
Flow: 22,000 CFS (2,000-30,000 CFS) Get Current Flows Here
Duration: 1-3 Days (4hrs at 20,000 CFS)
Vehicle Shuttle: 29 Miles (34 minutes)
Difficulty: Beginner Friendly
Campsites: 34 Options

Planning and River Status

The plan was for our two friends Tyler and Jessie, their dog Sierra, my wife Courtney, and our dog Gregor to do an overnight rafting trip on this section of river on a weekend in the beginning of June. The camping permits can be made 2 months in advance on a daily rolling window, starting at 8AM MDT. So 2 months prior, my wife and I refreshed the website 100x trying to get an open campsite, and we miraculously booked a great campsite, called Mee 2, located at the midway point on the river trip. This would give us the opportunity to camp nearby Friday night, get on the river Saturday morning, make camp Saturday night, then finish the trip sunday morning. And fingers crossed we wouldn’t get wind so strong that it would force us to row the entire 25 miles.

To start, I will have to add that we modified the standard route of Ruby Horsethief river trip because of how fast the river was flowing. We had originally planned to launch from the Loma Boat ramp, but when we got to the river’s edge and chatted with a river guide, our plans were going to have to change. They informed us that at the current flows, +20,000 CFS (6-7mph), we could finish the entire 25 miles in only 4 hours. Sadly, this was not the point of a river trip. We obviously wanted to spend as much time on the water as possible. So we drove 6 miles further into the town of Fruita, dumped all our gear out at a small day-use boat launch, shuttled my van down to the takeout at Westwater, then found a parking spot in town for the night near the put-in. And we were on the river by 10:30AM.

Day 1

We pushed off, with all four of us and two dogs, onto the river for a new adventure. We all got comfortable, rearranging the gear and bags until we found a good spot for everything, including the dogs, and paddled into the river center. Cruising along with other boats filled with groups and dogs, we let the music play from our speaker, and drank the delicious beers that were being chilled by the river temperatures in a bag being dragged behind the boat. And as the extra 6 miles quickly passed by at about 6mph, we reached the Loma Boat ramp, where half a dozen other groups were prepping to push off on a beautiful Saturday morning down the Ruby Horsethief Canyons. 

It didn’t take much longer to pull off at our first stop on the trip for lunch, on a beach that was under a few inches of water. We all hopped out, snacked on some canned salmon, and watched the dogs romp around in the shallow water. I spent this time to rig up some beer koozies on a lanyard for everyone, which is the #1 piece of gear needed on a river trip. But all jokes aside, the sun was strong, the temperatures were in the 80s, and the winds were calm. And as we made our way further down the river, we tried to take in the stunning sandstone canyon walls that towered over the fast moving river. With the water being so high, the river created new navigable routes through the normally arid desert landscape and marshes. And with those new navigable sections, it kept us on our toes because had to stay away from the river’s edge where the fast water could easily put us into a shallow section or into rocks that could flip the raft. But overall, it was still very manageable to avoid, and didn’t get in the way of the fun.

We swapped around people at the oars throughout the day as we slowly started to empty the bag of beers behind the boat. And as the miles peeled away, we knocked out 19 miles as we reached the last bend in the river before camp site. We came up on the Mee 2 campsite, on the river left, and pulled our boat up onto the beach to secure it for the night. This campsite sat on the east side of the river, below the towering canyon rims on either side of the river. The campsite, like most, can fit 20+ people, but for us, it was only going to be for 2 tents. And because our raft is only a 12ft 6-person raft, we didn’t have space for all the comforts of a normal river trip like chairs, a camp table, or even a fire. So we sat on the ground and boiled our water in the JetBoil for our dehydrated meals. We enjoyed some creamy mac & cheese and delicious dumplings as the sun began to set, subsequently bringing with it a hoard of mosquitos that began to drain the blood out of us one at a time. All to say, we didn’t last much longer than 9PM before heading into our tents to avoid the onslaught. 

Day 2

The next morning came quick, as the sun lit up the entire canyon quickly, which woke us since we luckily didn’t have to sleep with a tent fly on. And in usual fashion, we packed up right away, without enjoying the morning, to get back on the river. We loaded up the boat again, strapping it all down with NRS straps and ski straps, and we were on our way down the river for the last 12 miles of the trip. Fortunately, this half of the trip was more exciting. Starting off with a few wave trains, albeit, still very mellow, to get the morning started. And it eventually took us to the coolest part on the trip, the black rocks area. This bend in the river takes you passed a handful of campsites that are in and around massive black rocks on the river. And between those rocks, that stand 10-15ft tall, created a few class I and II rapid sections that were a blast to go down. 

Sadly, the quick pace of the river had us flying towards the takeout faster than we’d like. We cruised passed the cottonwood trees that lined the riverbanks, towering over any other scrub brush in the canyon. And as we crossed over the state line, back into Utah, the canyon walls began to fade into farmland. And even though we stopped one more time on a beach to make these moments last just a bit longer, and to let the dogs get some energy out, we were almost at the takeout. And as we rounded the last river-bend, the takeout came into view, signaling the end of our trip. With Courtney at the helm, she pulled us into the boat ramp, and we started efficient processes of emptying the boat, cleaning the mud off, deflating all the air out of the raft, and loading it into the van for our long drive back home. Overall, it was a perfect weekend on the river, even with all the bumps along the way. I cannot recommend this trip enough for any skill level of river runner. Though, I would recommend lower flows for those looking to go on SUPs or Canoes. Either way, get on the river with your friends, enjoy a cold beer, and take in the sun!

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