Sunset Magazine Named This Rafting Trip the Best in the West
By Cari Morgan1 Min. Read
Our Moab crew likes to call it Grand Canyon’s punk rock uncle. But if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, we’re going to let you in on another little secret about this oft-overlooked adventure that Sunset named “Best Rafting Trip” in its 2019 Travel Awards. With five-star reviews across the board, it’s one of the most highly-rated OARS experiences in our repertoire of trips.
Here’s why people who’ve experienced this trip love it and why we think Cataract Canyon really is one of the best rafting trips in the West…
Meet Grand Canyon’s Punk Rock Uncle: Cataract Canyon
A Grand Alternative
It’s often likened to Grand Canyon, and for good reason, Cataract Canyon rafting trips have it all: dramatic red rock scenery with soaring 2,000-foot cliffs, whitewater that’s suitable for adventurous beginners and thrill seekers alike, sensational hikes, and seasonal waterfalls, plus unparalleled access to one of Utah’s prized national parks. This is why a 3-, 4- or 6-day Cataract Canyon trip is hardly a consolation prize for people who don’t have the time, or budget, to embark on a two-week, $5,000-plus Grand Canyon expedition. You can even experience dories in Cataract.
World-renowned Whitewater + Scenic Floating
Cataract Canyon rafting trips may start with a few days of relaxed floating, perfect for soaking up the scenery in an inflatable kayak or stand up paddleboard, but the finale to the trip—one big day of whitewater thrills, including the infamous Big Drops—is what makes this trip legendary. This stretch of the Colorado River is still wild and free, offering rafters an untamed river experience that can fluctuate greatly throughout the season. At lower flows, typically July through October, Big Drop 2 and Big Drop 3 are a fun, Class III-IV ride suitable for families with kids as young as 9 (age 16 during high water) and adventurous first-timers. However, during the peak high-water window, which usually occurs mid-May to mid-June, the Big Drops turn into two of the biggest rapids in North America.
Vault of Hidden Treasures
Geologic formations millions of years in the making along with remnants of visitors past are hidden within this corridor of the Colorado River. From the ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the land thousands of years ago to legendary explorers like John Wesley Powell who first braved Cataract Canyon’s rapids, this trip offers the chance to travel through a living museum. Hiking trails throughout the canyon lead to ancestral Puebloan ruins, granaries nestled into cliff walls, enigmatic rock art and other fascinating archaeological sites that hold the tales and histories of all those who’ve passed through before.
Unprecedented Access to Canyonlands National Park
Only the most determined visitors make their way to Canyonlands’ otherworldly Maze District. To get this remote area of the park it typically requires a several hour drive in a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle or an ambitious backpacking trip that’s only suitable for extremely experienced navigators. On a Cataract Canyon rafting trip, however, you’ll float right into this strange land of hoodoos and slot canyons, hidden trailheads and breathtaking views. If you’re looking for national park solitude, this is it.
Hassle-free Camping Under a Billion Bright Stars
Besides the fact that Cataract Canyon can offer up big, beautiful sandy beaches that make super comfy camping accommodations, or that guides will cook up delicious riverside camp feasts, the real highlight of these trips is the mind-boggling night sky. Designated a Gold-tier Dark Sky Park in 2015, it’s possible for star gazers to see upwards of 15,000 stars throughout the night in this remote river canyon. Ok, so it’s not exactly a “billion bright stars,” but that’s what it feels like for the majority of us who are used to staring up at the sky from more populated neighborhoods and cities.