The Colorado River is a major water source for the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, draining a significant amount of snowmelt water all along the western half of Colorado. The river begins at an elevation of about 10,000 feet MSL in the Rocky Mountains of Grand County, Colorado near Silver Creek on the western edge of Arapaho National Recreation Area northwest of Denver. From its headwaters the Colorado River flows west through Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, into Utah then down to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border, where it begins to cut the Grand Canyon. The river then flows through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border before heading south along the Arizona-California border to its mouth at the Sea of Cortez. Along the way, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles, mostly through three deserts.
The Dirty Devil River is formed by the confluence of Muddy Creek and the Fremont River in Wayne County near Hanksville and then flows about 79.7 miles to Lake Powell where its waters then enter the Colorado River in Garfield County. The trip ends at Hite marina on Lake Powell about 1.4 miles down the Colorado River. It is a free-flowing river that is fed by tributary rivers and creeks as well as run-off throughout its drainage basin, much of which can come from a long way away. The river flows through a 2,000 foot deep canyon with its lower 20 miles flowing through the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area just north of Hite Marina. It is in one of the remotest areas of Utah, and receives very few visitors. The deep canyon terrain makes it an inhospitable and dangerous place due to the potential for flash flooding without warning from storms that occur many miles away. You can start the Dirty Devil trip off 650 East Road (Landfill Road) in Hanksville off SH 95 on Class I to II water, or at Poison Springs Access 16 miles east of SH 95, south of Hanksville, on Class I to III water. Both access roads require 4-wheel drive vehicles to negotiate! Once you begin this trip below Poison Springs Road you only have two choices - turn around and paddle back upriver to the put-in, or else continue all the way to Hite Marina on Lake Powell, which means paddling a few miles across the top of the lake to reach the take-out.
Access at the Dirty Devil is difficult, at best, and takes a long time, especially when setting up your shuttle. You should allow one day at each end of the trip just for the shuttle. Don't go to this river unless you REALLY want to paddle it, and be prepared with a back-up plan in the event it is either too low (probable) or too high (possible.) Plan this trip well in advance and go prepared with everything you need to survive it.
The river is characterized by particularly saline water that contributes significant amounts of salt to the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon. Of the 150,000 tons of salt annually deposited by the Dirty Devil and its tributaries about 86,000 tons comes from Muddy Creek alone (perhaps it should have been named Salty Creek!) Water from the Dirty Devils is not drinkable even with filtration due to its high silt and salt content, so be sure to take plenty of drinking water. And, be prepared for possibly very warm day and cold nights - you will be in a box canyon where the sun rarely shines directly upon you.
Wayne and Garfield Counties in far southeastern Utah, southwest of Moab. Situated to the southeast is the Manti La Sal National Forest of eastern Utah. The headwaters are located off SH 24 near SH 95 and Hanksville in Wayne County, and the run ends in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area at the top of Lake Powell off SH 95 below Cataract Canyon and above Glen Canyon.
Salt Lake City 235 miles; Moab 114 miles; Grand Junction 163 miles; Durango 258 miles; Denver 405 miles; Albuquerque 465 miles; Phoenix 516 miles; Oklahoma City 1,005 miles; El Paso 730 miles; Dallas 1,108 miles; Austin 1,220 miles; San Antonio 1,195 miles; Houston 1,346 miles; Little Rock 1,370 miles; Kansas City 1,007 miles; Springfield 1,175 miles St. Louis 1,255 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point and destination point on the river.)
Water quality in the Dirty Devil is fair to poor, running silty and saline - do NOT drink the water! Some people report filtering and drinking water from the river, but we recommend bringing your own water. You never know what to expect, and once you launch it is too late to find out you should have brought water rather than depending upon filtration. Flows are usually too low to paddle, but the river can flash flood in a heartbeat because of rainfall many miles away - check area weather conditions BEFORE going to this river! You should check the weather forecast for at least 100 miles around the river to the east, north and west, and look for any signs of significant precipitation expectations. Optimum water level should be around 100 cfs, but the river can be paddled at 65 cfs with minimal dragging, and below that level with a lot more dragging.
For flows, the optimum time to paddle the Dirty Devil is March and April. The best time for warmer temperatures is May or June, but the water may be too low by then. If going when the flow is best, then take plenty of warm clothes and rain gear (just in case!) Look for at least 65 cfs, but 100 cfs or more is preferrable. The river is dangerous at high flows, but the maximum safe level is not known to us.
Hazards on the Dirty Devil include Class I to III rapids in a tight, box canyon, potential deadfall logjams, rock debris piles from the outflow of side canyons, undercut ledges and walls, rockslides, Tamarisk strainers, quicksand and of course, flooding by rainfall at the river or many miles away. Most rapids are not too technically difficult, but the remoteness of the Dirty Devil and the great difficulty of rescue gives the river Class V consequences in an emergency. Scouting major rapids is definitely advised because there is no room for error. The greatest threats are from Poison Springs Road to Hite Marina about 30 miles below. Mud flats have been reported at low water levels in the last 5 or 6 miles down to Hite, as well as an overgrowth of Tamarisk that chokes off the river and makes paddling difficult. Consult local rangers or paddlers before starting your trip so you know what conditions to expect. A good source for information would be Desert Explorer. Take a satellite phone, but be prepared to climb a mountain to use it. Cell phones are useless, so don't even bother bringing them.
650 East Road (N 38° 22' 37.03" / W 110° 37' 37.44") off SH 95 at Hanksville at 0.0 miles; Poison Springs Road Access (N 38° 05' 48.65" / W 110° 24' 24.50") about 16 miles east of SH 95 and about 17 miles south of Hanksville at about 48.2 miles; Hite Camp (N 37° 52' 22.88" / W 110° 23' 54.05") off SH 95 about 2 miles below the SH 95 bridge crossing on river right at about 78.5 miles (last access before crossing the lake - may entail paddling in mud flats and Tamarisk jungles); Hite Marina (N 37° 52' 22.88" / W 110° 24' 01.92") on Lake Powell at about 81.1 miles (may entail paddling in mud flats and Tamarisk jungles down to the Colorado River confluence on Lake Powell). There may be other available access points for the Dirty Devil River - inquire locally. Access at Hanksville and Poison Springs Roads requires 4-wheel drive vehicles.
There are no campgrounds or accommodations along the Dirty Devil River other than Hite Camp off SH 95 about 2 miles below the SH 95 bridge over the river on river right. This campground has portable toilets during the late-spring and summer months, but no other amenities exist. Take what you need, and prepare for hot, cold, wet and dry conditions.
There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near the Dirty Devil River. Ask local paddlers or BLM rangers for advice, and be parepared to run your own shuttles, which will consume the better part of a day at each end if running all the way to Hite Marina.
In the mid-1990's, I had the opportunity to paddle the Dirty Devil River with some friends who were very experienced whitewater canyon paddlers. We had low water conditions, and it was a bone zone where we did almost as much walking as paddling. That made for a very hard trip, and this is precisely what you should expect if you venture to this river. But, offsetting the difficulty and low water was some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever laid my eyes upon! My only camera was a 35mm film camera, and I lost the photos long ago, so I would like to go back just to get some new ones with my digital cameras.
One of the spectacular things about the Dirty Devil is all the side canyons in which you can hike and observe wildlife in an undisturbed paradise. It is reputed that Butch Cassidy hid out here, and if he did, then he would not be found. With names like Poison Springs canyon, White Roost Canyon, Robbers Roost Canyon, Twin Corral Box Canyon, Happy Canyon, Fiddlers Cove Canyon and others this place begs to be explored, so allow plenty of time to see the sights that a very small percentage of all people will ever see. Who knows? Ole' Butch may still be hiding out there, and rumors of his demise in Bolivia may be exaggerated.
As previously stated, save the space and weight by leaving your water filtration system at home because it will be useless here. bring plenty of drinking water and come prepared with a few days extra water and food in the event of an emergency within the box canyon. Unless you are truly prepared, mentally as well as physically, for this river, then you would be advised to plan a trip someplace else because, most likely, this one will be hard under the best of circumstances. Take hard kayaks or inflatable canoes or kayaks for this journey, and be prepared for some rock dodging. And, don't go with anybody who has delicate ears because you will probably utter some expletives deleted on more than one occasion. John Wesley Powell did not name this place the Dirty Devil River for no good reason!