How to Go Rafting on the Colorado River

Rafting down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah
Rafting down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah | © Mark Choi/Culture Trip

The Colorado River is one of the major rivers in the Southwest United States, stretching 1,450 miles and draining an expansive watershed that encompasses seven U.S. states and some areas of Mexico.

The river, which generally flows southwest from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Gulf of California between Baja, Calif., and Sonora, Mexico, runs right through Moab, Utah.

Unsurprisingly, river rafting is one of the countless outdoor activities available in Moab, situated between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Like all bodies of water, the Colorado River’s temperament varies depending on the weather, season and location. Rafters can experience category 4 whitewater rapids at Westwater and Cataract Canyons, or enjoy more of a scenic excursion around the Fisher Towers.

Richard Rootes has been a river guide in Moab for 16 years. The 61 year old, who currently acts as a guide for Canyon Voyages Adventure Co., shared some of his most helpful tips and tricks for anyone hoping to trade in their hiking boots, four-wheeling vehicle or mountain bike for a day on the water.

“Once you become a river guide you fall in love with the river,” Rootes said. “All guides—male and female—are in love with their rivers. You’ll never look at whitewater the same anywhere in the world once you learn how to read a river. They all have their own personalities that change from day to day—you never run the same river twice, they say.”

Wear a life jacket

Rafting down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah

Safety 101 when on a body of water. While the river’s current might seem smooth and pleasant, anything can happen on the water. Rafts can flip, feet can get caught underwater, heads can hit rocks. Life vests might feel too tight or look silly, but it’s worth the price to save your life if something happens out of your control.

Richard Rootes: “I would not get on [the Colorado River] without a life jacket. It is a law on this stretch, but there’s parts where it’s not. We had a gentleman drown recently because he didn’t have one on.”

Respect the river

Rafting down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah

The high desert in Moab is an unforgiving yet delicate ecosystem, so be aware of your impact when on and near a body of water.

RR: “Don’t leave behind litter or trash or fire rings. The desert out here is very fragile and it doesn’t take much to leave a scar on the land. … It’s a hard life for the plants and animals that live here. Be respectful of that. Take pictures and only leave footprints, as they say.”

Prepare for all conditions

Rafting down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah

Whether you’re four-wheeling or mountain biking on a trail, hiking up a mountain or floating on a raft down a river, be prepared for anything. Mother nature and the weather can change in an instance, from 90 degrees and sweltering to pouring rain and 50 degrees in an instant. Just because the current seems easy doesn’t mean it will remain that way in a few yards or a few minutes.

RR: “This is a very powerful force here, much more than people think it is. Take care of it and it takes care of you.”

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