Grand Junction is a haven for lovers of whitewater rafting. The city is one of the best rafting destinations in the West, powered by the mighty Colorado River. The popular Westwater Canyon is a must for adventure seekers, and there’s additional thrills on other waterways like the Dolores River, Gunnison River and Yampa River from March through October every year.
From scenic whitewater rides with stunning scenery to relaxing floats through lush vineyards, Grand Junction offers something for all tastes and pleasures. Here are a few of our favorites to consider the next time you’re headed to the Western Slope.
The legendary Colorado River flows just south of downtown Grand Junction. The Westwater Canyon section is about 30 miles downriver from the city and is where the real fun begins. From the put-in, you’ll enjoy a hearty 17-mile section of Class III and Class IV rapids that starts at the Westwater BLM Ranger Station and finishes at the boat ramp in Cisco, Utah.
Westwater Canyon travels through the unspoiled nature of eastern Utah, serving up spectacular view of stunning red rock formations that have existed for a billion years. Towering sandstone cliffs rise more than 1,200 feet above the river. There is abundant nature – from immaculate bald eagles and peregrine falcons high in the bluebird sky to burly, bighorn sheep frolicking along the rocky mountainside.
The banks and beaches of the river are home to hiking trails that were used by nomadic Fremont Indians and historic stone cabins that were once a home for cattle rustlers, outlaws and bootleggers. There are numerous campsites scattered along the river for overnight stays.
The journey through the canyon begins with calm waters, so you can enjoy the scenery and surroundings. As the water picks up, you’ll go through aptly-names rapids like Funnel Falls, Sock It To Me and Room of Doom before it calms down again. The trip ends with a relaxing view of the canyon’s dazzling landscape.
When you raft Westwater Canyon, you can pick from one-day trips or an extended journey that can last three or four days. Multi-day trips are best if you would want to have time for hiking, swimming and exploration. Because of its intensity, Westwater Canyon is best for rafters aged 12 and older.
Several local outfitters operate on the Colorado River at Grand Junction and offer half-day, full-day and multi-day overnight packages. According to National Geographic, Westwater Canyon is “the West’s best short whitewater trip.”
The Ruby Horsethief Canyon of the Colorado River is a great introduction to whitewater rafting. First, it’s an ideal section for newbies to learn the ropes. Next, there are practical, useful campsites around the canyon that make for great overnight stays. Third, it’s pet friendly, so you can bring your four-legged companion along for the fun. Lastly, the canyon boasts a 25-mile stretch of mostly flatwater that traverses the stunning red sandstone canyons of the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area.
From day hikes and thriving wildlife to sandy beaches and exciting Class I and Class II rapids, this spot has a bit of everything.
There are a bunch of options for floating this section of the river. You can put in at the Loma boat ramp and float for 25 miles to the takeout at Westwater. Another popular spot to put-in is at Fruita State Park. It’s perfect for anyone who wants a leisurely pace, wants to enjoy hiking the remote side canyons of McInnis Canyons National Conservation area, paddling an inflatable kayak, bird watching, or simply relaxing.
Maybe you’re not the excitable type. Perhaps you’re more the type to kick off your shoes and relax with a glass of vino. Don’t worry – we have you covered! A relaxing Wine Country Float Trip is the ideal way to experience the iconic Colorado River and the magnificent wine vineyards of Grand Valley. The roughly three-hour journey travels right through wine country, past pristine orchards and lush vineyards. There may even be a glass (or two) of wine along the way.
The Gunnison River originates high in the mountains near Almont in central Colorado and continues west through Black Canyon, Gunnison Gorge and Delta before meeting up with the Colorado River at Grand Junction. (The name “Grand Junction” comes from the confluence of the two rivers.)
The Gunnison has awesome rapids that run the gamut from easy Class I stretches to some of the more treacherous Class V sections in the United States. Some of the finest runs are just south of Grand Junction near the town of Delta.
The Dominguez-Escalante Canyon is a section of the Gunnison River that is scenic and isolated, with unspoiled campsites and hiking trails. The canyon is about a 30-minute drive south from Grand Junction and has rapids in the Class I and Class II range. Another easygoing section is the Lower Gunnison River, only a bit further south. Here, you can find more scenic runs where the water begins to move a little quicker. At Gunnison Gorge, you can experience mesmerizing black granite formations, copious scenery and Gold Medal fishing waters.
The Green River is about 90 miles west of Grand Junction. It is accessible at the town of Green River, Exit 160 in Utah on Interstate 70. While most of the river is a bit far from Grand Junction, there are a few sections that are worth the drive.
If you’re looking for something that journeys deep into the remote wilderness, consider a three-day or four-day overnight trip to Dinosaur National Monument in northwest Colorado to explore amazing geology and history. Raft the Green River during the day and set up camp each night along the banks of the river.
Desolation Canyon in eastern Utah is visually stunning and one of the most remote locations in North America. There are a few excursions that go deep into the wilderness for up to six days. If you’re looking for a family trip that’s off the grid, you just found it! Trips depart from Moab, about 1 hour, 45 minutes from Grand Junction.
The Yampa River starts high in the mountains south of Craig and flows west until it meets up with the Green River near Jenny Lind Rock at Dinosaur National Monument. The river is about 2 hours from Grand Junction.
The Yampa is the last free-flowing river in Colorado. It isn’t regulated by a dam system, so the water fluctuates every day. It’s wild and wooly – and you never know what you’re going to get from day to day.
The best way to tackle the Yampa River is to plan a four-day or five-day trek with one of the region’s top outfitters. They can set you up with all the gear and plan your ultimate adventure specifically to your personal preferences. Group and family rates available that can save you money on a once-in-a-lifetime deal!