Time Out!: 5 Great USA Getaways

Green River, Utah

Jan 15, 2004
Outside Magazine
canyonlands national park

The Green and Colorado rivers carved Canyonlands' majestic landscape, benign from afar yet roiling with up to Class-V teeth.

HALFWAY THROUGH our five-day trip down the Green River's Stillwater Canyon, a fine milk-chocolate-colored silt has dreaded my hair, coated my skin, and invaded every body crevice. I match the water and the canyon walls, and I'm sure I'm getting extra sun protection. This is a good thing, as it's August, and midday temperatures in central Utah reach well over 90 and shade can be scarce, even at the bottom of a 2,000-foot gorge. Despite the heat, paddling Stillwater is blissfully easy. The canyon's rapidless, Class I water lets us imitate driftwood and relax, and getting started was even more mindless: a four-hour jaunt from Salt Lake City to Moab, where we rented gear, then boarded a shuttle to the put-in.

Our daily routine involves gathering our seven-person crew to drink coffee and fry eggs before donning giant sun hats and long-sleeve linen shirts and stepping into our armada of four canoes. We float downstream at the speed of molasses, at times drifting downriver in life jackets next to our boats. Twisting silently between towering walls inspires a sublime sort of vertigo. I search for 1,300-year-old Anasazi cliff dwellings, lapsing into daydreams and imagining what's beyond the corners I can't see past. For lunch, I take to eating my sandwich seated in the river, with only my hands and head above water. In late afternoon, we pick campsites with pleasant beaches, then nap or scramble up side canyons. One night before dinner we catch sight of a lone desert bighorn sheep. It looks us over sternly and then bolts toward the canyon rim and disappears. Don't worry, we say aloud, we'll be gone tomorrow, back on the lazy river.

At almost every campsite and lunch stop, you'll want to hike the side canyons. One of the best steep-walled slots begins near Anderson Bottom (about halfway through the trip). Pull ashore on river right at mile 32 and follow the trail to the upstream side of the dry meander. After you head right into a side canyon, the slot will present itself and is worth at least an hour of exploration, though you could make a day out of it by hiking up to the mesa. And if you can time your trip right, a full-moon float in Stillwater Canyon is surreal. The soft light transforms the red-rock crags and pinnacles into spooky castles. Just don't fall asleep and cruise past the confluence with the Colorado River—the Class IV rapids of Cataract Canyon would make for a particularly rude awakening.

Since the canoe (not you) carries your gear, bring all you need. To eat like royalty, pack two big coolers, layering the bottom with large ice blocks and the top with dry ice. (If you want cold cuts late in the trip, don't even crack one of the coolers until day three.) The king of all river-rat dinners? Steak fajitas with camp-made guacamole and ice-cold sour cream.

During summer, a ground cloth, sleeping pads, cotton sheets, and pillows are usually all you need, but do bring a tent in case of thundershowers or mosquitoes. The best campsites have sandy beaches, cottonwood trees and boulders for shade, and access to bluffs where you can get a wide view of the river. For camp comfort, carry a roll-up table and a couple of folding chairs to make lounging and cooking that much easier.

Red River Canoe Company (800-753-8216, www.redrivercanoe.com), in Moab, rents Wenonah canoes ($30 per day), toilets ($30 per trip), and river-running essentials. They'll also shuttle you the hour and a half to the Mineral Bottom put-in. Tex's Riverways (435-259-5101, www.texsriverways.com) provides a three-hour jet-boat ride ($115 per person) up the Colorado from the confluence (there's no other way out). Most of Stillwater is in Canyonlands National Park, so you'll need a permit ($20 for a group; 435-259-4351, www.nps.gov/cany/permits.htm). Early September is the best time to paddle—summer's blistering heat has subsided a bit, yet the long evening light makes camp life easy.

Filed To: Canoeing, Utah

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