Westwater Canyon Information Sheet
Westwater Canyon is the first whitewater stretch on the Colorado River in Utah. The canyon is 17 miles long and includes Class IV rapids, is challenging at all water levels, and is only recommended for experienced boaters. As with any remote river section, Westwater can be a very humbling and dangerous place if not treated with proper respect and ability.
Due to heavy recreational demand and to protect the primitive nature of the Canyon, permits are required year-round for private and commercial use. Between April 1st and September 30th, private use is limited to five permits or 75 people (whichever occurs first) per day; commercial use is limited during this period to 75 passengers per day. From October 1st through March 31st, private use is limited to seven permits or 150 people per day. Permit fees are NON-REFUNDABLE. How to obtain a private Westwater permit.
Westwater Canyon river outfitters operate under permits issued by the Moab Field Office. Guides carrying passengers for hire are licensed by Utah State Parks. All guides are required to have first-aid and CPR training. List of approved outfitters.
Rules of the Game
Westwater boaters must adhere to the River Use Stipulations. These stipulations are in place to protect the natural resources of the Canyon and to maximize public safety. Please read the stipulations in advance to know what is expected of you, including required equipment. River use stipulations for Westwater Canyon.
Westwater Ranger Station
The Bureau of Land Management's Moab Field Office manages Westwater Canyon. A contact station and ranger residence is located at the put-in. River Rangers conduct permit and equipment checks, provide information, and patrol the Canyon. There is no trash service but drinking water is available March-November. Please do not depend upon this water source for your trip's water needs as the system is not always operational. The closest services (i.e., gas, telephone) are in Mack, CO and Thompson Springs, UT, both of which are located along I-70.
Camping at the Ranger Station
Arriving at the Ranger Station the evening before your launch date makes it possible to rig in advance and be ready for an early launch the next day. If you choose to do this, make sure you don't block the ramp with your boat(s) and equipment -- there is plenty of space to tie up boats upstream and downstream of the main boat ramp. There are five first come, first served campsites at the put-in for public use. No fee is charged for camping at these sites. Please be considerate of your neighbors when staying at the campground by:
- observing quiet hours, which are from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
- not playing amplified music at any time
- keeping your dog on a leash and picking up its waste
- packing out all of your group's trash
- not blocking the road
How to Get There: Westwater-Cisco Area Map
- Westwater Ranger Station (the put-in):
From Interstate 70, take exit 227. Turn south at the stop sign and proceed for nine miles to the Ranger Station. Alternate Route: From I-70, take exit 221. Turn north at the stop sign. Turn right onto the road paralleling I-70. Turn left shortly after passing over Westwater Creek. Follow this road for 4.5 miles to the Ranger Station. Do not attempt this route during or shortly after inclement weather. The section of the road under the Interstate becomes impassable when wet.
- Cisco Landing (the takeout):
From Interstate 70, take exit 214. Turn south at the stop sign. Follow this road to the (mostly) ghost town of Cisco. Turn left near the "Cisco Disco," a decrepit building with an elaborate mural. Take another left shortly thereafter. After 2.5 miles, turn left toward Cisco Landing. The boat ramp is two miles down this road.
The round-trip shuttle from Westwater Ranger Station to Cisco Landing takes approximately 2 hours. Refer to the Moab Area Shuttle Services page for a list of outfitters who provide shuttle services.
Camping in the Canyon
Permittees may choose to run Westwater as either a day or overnight trip. Campsites within the Canyon include (in order): Miner's Camp (downstream of Miner's Cabin), Upper Cougar Bar, Lower Cougar Bar, Little Hole (across from Little Hole Canyon), Upper Little Dolores, Lower Little Dolores, Hades Bar, Big Hole, Big Horn, and Bald Eagle. Little Hole, the Little Dolores camps, Big Horn, and Bald Eagle are all suitable for large groups. Due to limited space, boaters may camp only one night in the canyon. River Rangers assign campsites in the order of launch (first come, first served) and according to the size of the group.
The Rapids of Westwater
There are eleven named rapids within Westwater Canyon that range in difficulty up to Class IV. The first two are Wild Horse and Little Dolores (a.k.a. Little D). A great play spot for kayakers forms in the second part of Little D in low to medium water levels. The most significant rapids lie within a two-mile stretch of the inner canyon, formed by pre-Cambrian metamorphic rock. Rapids here include (in order): Marble Canyon, Staircase, Big Hummer, Funnel Falls, Surprise, Skull, Bowling Alley, Sock-It-To-Me, and Last Chance. The rapids that give people the most trouble are Funnel Falls (especially at high water), Skull, and Sock-It-To-Me. The River Rangers can provide you with specific information regarding the rapids during the check-in process.
Dogs are NOT allowed in Westwater Canyon. Although dogs are allowed at the Westwater Ranger Station, do not leave your pet at the put-in or take-out while you are on the river.
Typically, the river peaks at about 20,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) in late May or early June and recedes throughout the summer and fall seasons to reach a flow of less than 3,000 CFS. Discharge varies quite dramatically from year to year. High-water trips (13,000 CFS and above) can be extremely dangerous. A low water trip (1,000 to 5,000 CFS) can take 10 hours, a moderate level trip (5,000 to 13,000 CFS) about 7 hours, and a high-water trip (above 13,000 CFS) takes as little as 4 hours. Current river conditions.
Boaters running Westwater during the spring, fall, and winter months must be prepared to deal with potential exposure conditions such as hypothermia. Wet or dry suits, matches, a small campstove and pot for warm beverages, rain gear, and extra dry clothing should be brought along during these colder months. Please be aware that the river occasionally freezes in part during the winter.
The Grand County Sheriff's Office, (435) 259-8115, has search and rescue jurisdiction for Westwater Canyon. If the illness or injury is life-threatening, such as when body movement must be constrained, helicopter evacuation should be considered. In most cases, the injured party is billed for this service. Helicopter evacuation can be initiated by contacting either Life Flight - St. Mary's Hospital, Grand Junction, CO (800) 525-4224, or Flight for Life, University of Utah Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT (800) 662-0050. The Utah Division of Parks and Recreation (435) 259-3750 should be notified of any major incidents that occur on the river.
River guidebooks, maps, and related materials are available through Canyonlands Natural History Association (CNHA) online or by calling (800) 840-8978.
Want to Lend a Hand?
We are always interested in hearing from individuals who would like to assist us in our management efforts for Westwater Canyon. Volunteer positions are often available. Responsibilities include conducting river patrols in up to class IV whitewater, providing information to visitors, performing light maintenance, and other responsibilities as agreed to by the volunteer and BLM Moab Field Office. Please contact us at (435) 259-2100 if you would like more information.
2014 calendar showing open launch dates