Rafting Cataract Canyon, Utah

In June 2015 I photographed a whitewater rafting trip for OARS in Cataract Canyon, Utah. Located deep in the heart of Canyonlands National Park, Cataract Canyon shows off some of the most beautiful scenery in Utah — and some of the most thrilling whitewater in North America.

Most western rivers have been tamed by dams, but the Colorado flows free in Cataract Canyon, causes the river to fluctuate wildly. Thanks to a series of late spring thunderstorms in 2015, the Colorado in Cataract Canyon peaked around 40,000 cfs (cubic feet per second). To put that in perspective, the Colorado in Grand Canyon generally flows at less than 15,000 cfs. By the time we set out, big whitewater was waiting downstream.

Rafting Cataract Canyon

Cataract Canyon Rafts

Our trip had two rafts, rowed by noble boatwomen Joy and Emily.

Cataract Canyon Dory

And one dory, captained by brave Peter.

Cataract Canyon flatwater

For the first two days we drifted through flatwater. And made the most of it.

Cataract Canyon Saddle Hike

We hiked to viewpoints above the river.

Cataract Canyon granary

And explored archaeological ruins.

Cataract Canyon Ledges campground

On day two we camped at Ledges Campground. While we set up our tents, our trusty guides cooked a tasty meal.

Cataract Canyon grotto

There was a grotto behind the campground where you could touch the sky.

Cataract Canyon Cave

And a cave where time stood still.

Cataract Canyon flatwater

Final stretch of flatwater as we head downstream.

Cataract Canyon, Brown Betty

On night three we camped at Brown Betty Beach — the most stunning bocce court you’ve never heard of.

Cataract Canyon hiking

The next day we took a break from the river and hiked to the rim of the canyon.

Dollhouse, Canyonlands National Park

High above Cataract Canyon lies the Dollhouse, an otherworldly collection of towering rock spires.

Cataract Canyon Slot Canyon

Narrow slot canyons slice through the rocks.

Cataract Canyon Sunset

Sunset lights up the canyon walls.

Cataract Canyon whitewater in a dory


Cataract Canyon rapids

That ain’t flatwater.

Cataract Canyon rapids in a dory

Water, meet face.

Cataract Canyon rapids in a dory

Not the angle you want.

Cataract Canyon dory in whitewater

I repeat, this is NOT the angle you want!

Cataract Canyon rapids in a dory

But of course brave Peter recovers.

Cataract Canyon rafting

Joy hip checks the Colorado.

Cataract Canyon rafting

Emily nails it.

Budgy Smuggler, Cataract Canyon

The things you learn on a river trip. In Australia “Banana Hammocks” are called “Budgy Smugglers.” Budgies are a type of parakeet, and, well, you get the picture. We ran the rapids with an Australian bachelor party, every member of which proudly wore a colorful Budgy Smuggler. That, my friends, is double diamond rafting.

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