How To Raft Desolation Canyon on Green River
How to Plan a Multi-Day Raft Trip
Summer 2017, 16 hooligans embark on a 7 day float down Desolation Canyon on the Green in Utah. 4 boats, 2 duckys, 1 kayak, 2 paco pads, and 40 cases of beer. Somehow, disaster was avoided and we made it down the river like to profesh river people we are. Here's how we did it.
STEP 1) Permits
Desolation Canyon (and most of the Green River) is a wild and scenic river area. As such, it is heavily permitted. The permits are done on a lottery system and it is not easy to get one. If you want to do a multi-day raft trip on a wild and scenic river, I recommend gathering your crew and having everyone apply to multiple sections and/or multiple rivers to up your chances. You might each spend $20 on permit applications just for the chance of drawing, but that really is the best chance you have. We had at least 10 people submit 2-3 applications each and only 1 person drew 1 section - it is competitive but doable if you stack your odds.
How to apply: This is the site
The lottery period is December 1st - January 21st. Meaning you have to submit your lottery entries during that time period to raft that next summer.
Here is a list of all the permit areas and their lottery periods
Colorado Whitewater has done an awesome job of summarizing permit application dates for all the big rivers in the US.
After you submit your entry, you wait. In mid February (Feb 15th this year) you find out if you pulled a permit (they will email you) and you MUST CONFIRM that reservation by mid March (March 15 this year). That means if you pull a permit, it’s time to scramble together your ragtag crew of anyone you know with a boat. Preference points given to people who have experience on river, work at a brewery and thus receive beer discounts, and who are excellent camp cooks and organizers. It is not time to invite your friend who has never backpacked but went car camping once and likes water parks.
STEP 2) Plan and Prep
Hopefully you have done at least a day raft trip before and know the necessary equipment for a boat. You need to make sure you have all your safety gear (throw ropes, life jackets and helmets for everyone, etc.) as well as the required support gear. There WILL be a ranger at your lanch and she WILL check to make sure you have the required equipment. You need to check your permit to make sure what is required but a standard list is: groovers , fire pan and strainer, fire blanket, first aid kit, raft patch kit, safety equipment for everyone, permit tag.
Make a list of all the things you want to bring far in advance. It is like a backpacking trip, but you don’t have to carry your crap so you can get away with taking more creature comforts (stoves for example), but you will still have to fit it all on your rafts and still have room to lounge like the river goddess you are- so think about organization and stay minimal. Refer to my What To Pack For a Multi-Day River Trip post for a detailed list of what you will need to survive and party on.
The most important thing to think about on this long of a trip (SEVEN days people) is ice. You want to have delicious meals of rare steaks and fine cheeses - gotta keep that cold. Not to mention that cold beer on the river is actually what you’re there for and is liquid gold. Warm beer? Will drink, will not feel like a river goddess = fail. You have to keep ice in your jam packed cooler for 7 days. In 90+ degree temps with no shade. Here is where our planning could have been better. Every time you open a cooler, say to get one of those tasty bevies, you are letting all the cold air out and basically putting a space heater in your cooler for a few minutes. This leads to some Lord of Flies dynamics where you’re yelling at yourself for just trying to party but are risking us going hungry.
Plan your coolers carefully (yeti people, don’t be smug - the yetis’ ice died too).
Have beer coolers separate from the coolers you are keeping your breakfast and dinner food in.
Keep your lunch materials in the beer coolers to avoid opening the others during the hottest part of the day.
Have snacks that don’t need refrigeration. I made the amazing containers of cucumber salad and marinated veggies- they didn’t get eaten until we got back to the car because they were at the bottom of the cooler and we couldn’t open ours. I would have killed for some PB pretzels though.
Freeze any raw meat before the trip so that it helps keep things cold and has far less of a chance of going bad.
Have an ice cooler. This cooler does not get opened until the last few days of the trip to replenish the other coolers. Make sure this cooler’s drain is not open because that will defeat the entire purpose of the cooler and when you open it it is will basically be empty and you will feel like you just found out Santa Clause is not real.
Take hard alcohol and drink that on land with dinner (I guess if you aren’t raging alcoholics like we are this whole process will be easier). Freeze your mixers for this and that will also help keep the coolers cold.
Consider dry ice- I haven’t used it but I bet lining the bottom of your coolers with dry ice would be killer. I plan to try this this summer when I raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho (5 day trip).
Keep your cooler in the shade. We put a paco pad on ours to keep it out of the sun and it makes it a great nap spot. You could also use a yoga mat or your sleeping mat if you're willing to risk it.
Tips to make your trip fun!
Assign meals and do them as a group. It’s really fun to land on a sandy beach campsite and kick it for hours as the sun drops playing spike ball (PACK SPIKE BALL), chilling on your paco pad, or napping in the sand. What really harshes that vibe? Cooking dinner for yourself every, single, night. We solved this by coupling people up in groups of 2-3 and each group was responsible for 1 dinner and breakfast the next morning. This also makes it fun because people want their meal to be really good so they try super hard. On your dinner night you are responsible for all of dinner including cleaning up the kitchen and such.
Cocktails! We also had each dinner maker bring a cocktail to go with their meal. Often the dinner maker would make this first to get the party going while they cooked.
Have a costume party night! (no really, do it)
Lunch Tzar. We had one wonderful volunteer (shout-out Whit) who went to Costco and got all the lunch supplies for everyone for the trip. We did snacks and sandwiches which were easily made on top of a cooler every day. Assume everyone will eat 2 sandwiches- the heat and water make people very hungry. Have lots of munchie snacks with easy drybox access.
Plan for sun protection so you don’t spend the whole trip a hot, burned, miserable lobster. Bring a lightweight, light colored long sleeve shirt, bring plenty of sunscreen, put a sweet giant umbrella on your boat to give yourself (and cooler, pro-tip) some shade, definitely take a hat (umbrella or bucket preferred).
Know that there will be mosquitos- get your mind right and plan accordingly.
Plan some fun side hikes and activities (use your river guide book) and bring fun games. We had spike ball and glow in the dark bocci ball.
Bring a fishing pole.
STEP 3) The Logistics
I am not going to map out every inch of the trip because that takes the fun and responsibility for planning your trip away (and that makes it less safe). But keep reading for some pro tips!
You need to buy a guide book for the river. This book will have each river mile and mark campsites, rapids, landmarks, hikes and so on. This is a MUST, you cannot wing it on a river because there is no reverse (This is a hilarious pun because my raft is a “Wing” lol lol lol, you can “Wing” it on the river ahahahahahahaha).
Plan your campsites and have second choices. Sometimes you will roll up to your chosen spot only to find a bunch of old people already there who may or may not live there, or a band of hippie families who almost definitely live there. River people are super friendly, but don’t join someone’s campsite when there are other options.
Pay for a shuttle. This is the most expensive part of the trip but basically unavoidable on any multi-day float. Most guide companies will provide this service. This is the service we used: http://www.riverrunnerstransport.com/shuttle.html
Plan to sleep at Sand Wash (the launch) the night before your launch day. This will make everything much more enjoyable and chill. The road into Sand Wash is insaaaaanely long and I guarantee you underestimate how long it will take you to get to the launch so do yourself a favor and just get there the night before. There are a ton of mosquitos, wear pants and long sleeves if they think your blood is maple syrup like me.
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below! Plan to have an awesome time and enjoy the slow pace of the river. There are not rapids, there are “riffles” so prep for relaxation and exploration, not heart pumping excitement, and you will be one happy camper.
Float on river people!
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