Westwater is a 18 mile overnighter with a lot of bang for your buck. This trip offers unique desert geology, interesting historical sites, and fun whitewater. The river cuts a channel through 1.7 billion year old Vishnu Schist, a rock that only appears above ground here, upstream in Ruby-Horsethief, and downstream in the Grand Canyon. In the days of the Wild West, outlaws used Ruby-Horsethief and Westwater as an home base, and one of their homes is accessible from the river in Westwater.

Westwater from above.

Westwater from above.

This canyon changes dramatically with the water level. At lower water (2000-7000 cfs), it's a technical (for a desert river) Class III run. The rapids ease up a bit as more rocks get covered from 7000-12,000 cfs, making it a fun, splashy class III. From 13,000 - 20,000 cfs, Westwater enters the Terrible Teens. At these flows, there are few (if any) eddies between rapids in the main canyon, and the hydraulics really pack a punch. A swim or a flip at this stage could be miles long before a recovery can be made. When the Terrible Teens are in, Westwater becomes a serious Class IV run. Above 20,000 cfs, everything washes out and the main canyon just becomes fast moving flatwater.

There are several very nice campsites along the river. Permit regulations only allow for one night in Westwater, so choose if you would like to run the rapids on your put-in or your take-out day before picking a campsite. If you would like to extend the trip, chaining together Ruby-Horsethief and Westwater makes for an awesome 3-5 day trip.

Trip Highlights

Mile 0: Westwater Boat Ramp. There is a campsite here that costs $10/night and is a nice place to stay the night before your trip. Be sure to check in with the ranger prior to launching to sign up for your campsite.

Mile 3.35: Good Luck Wall. A large cliff face comes straight down to the river on the right. Go give it a kiss for good luck, its tradition!

Mile 3.7-4.9: Little Wild Horse Rapids. Several small Class II rapids provide a nice warm-up to the canyon below.

The unique geology of westwater shows off through the Little Wild Horse rapids.

The unique geology of westwater shows off through the Little Wild Horse rapids. Photo by Conor Bell.

Mile 4: Miner's Cabin. On river left, there is a small cabin that is accessible by hike. You can go inside, but please respect the site and don't touch anything.

Mile 7.7: The Little Dolores River joins the river. There is a lovely campsite on river left with access to hiking up the Little Dolores. About 3/4 of a mile back, there is a waterfall that provides some respite from the heat of the desert summer. This is the last campsite above the rapids.

Mile 7.8: Little Dolores Rapid (Class III). This two-part rapid has a large hole center right that's easily avoidable but difficult to recognize.

Mile 8.2: The outlaw cave. On river left, there is a small cave that is easily accessible from the river. This was the home of two outlaws. There are many historical artifacts, please be respectful and don't touch anything.

Mile 8.9: Marble Canyon Rapid (Class III). This long rapid has a fun wave train down the right side. Keep it straight and have fun!

Mile 10: Funnel Falls (Class III). The first of the rapids in the main gorge of Westwater. A short rapid, but a fun drop! Now that you're in the main gorge, there will be fairly continuous Class II rapids with bigger rapids throughout.

Mile 10.7: Skull Rapid (Class III+/IV). Skull is the most difficult and consequential rapid on Westwater. A large rock blocks the channel in the center at low water, which turns into a massive hole at medium-high flows. The river then turns sharply left, and on the right lies the Room of Doom, a continuously circling eddy that has no exit at flows over 10,000 cfs. At levels below 4,000 cfs, the run is a squeeze between the rock and the wall. Anything above that, the run is center-to-left. Don't pull left too early, or a rock will bounce you straight into the hole.

Mile 11.1: Sock-it-to-me Rapid (Class III). Be ready to get wet, as this rapid takes you directly through a massive breaking wave. Hit the entrance wave hard and straight. After, be ready to pull back to the right to avoid the Magnetic Wall.

Mile 11.3: Last Chance Rapid (Class III). A large rock splits the channel. A fun wave train to the left of it takes you through the last rapid in the canyon.

Mile 12.4: A short hike on river right takes you out of the schist canyon and gives a cool view of the canyon-within-a-canyon.

A view of the schist canyon within the red rock canyon.

A view of the schist canyon within the red rock canyon. Photo by Conor Bell.

Mile 14: Bighorn Sheep camp on river right is the last large campsite in the canyon.

Mile 17.5: Just before the takeout, there is a large hole in the cliff face on river right. This is a fun bouldering problem for the climbers in your group, with hilarious (and wet) consequences for failure.

Mile 17.7: Cisco Boat Ramp.

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