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Colorado River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Loma to Westwater
~ 25 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Nearing the Colorado-Utah border is an excellent 25 mile run of Class I to III- whitewater flowing through a wide, high, beautiful canyon in the high desert of western Colorado and eastern Utah, starting just 12 miles west of Grand Junction. Accented by a rail line running alongside the river from Horsethief Canyon to the Westwater launch site, this run offers great camping, excellent hiking adventures in any of eight or more side canyons, and a May-through-October paddling season - long by the standards on most Colorado rivers, creeks and streams. The area is rugged and natural, with no signs of development to be seen, including liveries, shuttle services and campgrounds with amenities. Instead, there are red rock sandstone canyons and cliffs, 1.5 Billion year old, uplifted metamorphic rock (black rocks), desert vegetation, a slow current and a very shallow gradient of about 7 fpm. Paddlers may be fortunate enough to see desert bighorn sheep, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and other creatures not commonly seen on other rivers. While paddlers with whitewater skills can enjoy the moderate rapids, those with little or no skills in moving water or whitewater can find easy lines around occasional obstacles at normal water levels. Anybody can have fun on this section of the Colorado River.


Mesa County, west of Grand Mesa National Forest and Grand Junction, and north of Uncompahgre National Forest, crossing the Utah border into Grand County northeast of Moab.

Distance from major cities

Durango 185 miles; Grand Junction 15 miles; Denver 261 miles; Santa Fe 406 miles; Albuquerque 397 miles; Phoenix 598 miles; Oklahoma City 834 miles; Tulsa 939 miles; Dallas 990 miles; Austin 1,156 miles; San Antonio 1,236 miles; Houston 1,230 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

This section of the Colorado River flows slow and muddy, but much warmer than the mountain valley water in sections above. The river drops about 140 feet in 25 miles from a starting elevation of 4,440 feet msl. The water is not drinkable without purification, and may not be drinkable, even after purification. Dead-fall tree debris washed down by the snowmelt waters above may present obstacles to navigation that MUST be avoided.

Best time to go

This section of the Colorado River has a prime season from May through October adequate for paddle trips in this high desert region. Paddlers should expect cool nights in summer months and cool to cold nights in other seasons. Fall days will be cool to cold, but much more tolerable than the mountainous sections above.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards, at normal water levels, on this section of the Colorado River. However, the river can be dangerous in high-water conditions. Dead-fall debris can create strainers or floating hazards that MUST be avoided. At flows exceeding about 30,000 cfs no boater should be on the river. Kayakers with advanced or higher level whitewater skills can paddle the river at flows under 30,000 cfs. Canoeists with at least advanced level whitewater skills can paddle the river at flows under about 20,000 cfs. Recreational boaters, including families in rafts, should avoid the river at flows exceeding about 5,000 cfs.

River Access Points

Put in at the Loma launch site at exit 15 on IH 70, near SH 139. Take out at the Westwater launch site just east of the Utah border at exit 225 off IH 70.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Camping is NOT allowed at the Loma launch site or in the parking lot. Early arrivals can camp or stay in motels in the Grand Junction area just 12 miles to the east of the launch site. The BLM operates a campground at the Westwater launch site in Utah, with toilets and picnic tables available there. Many primitive campsites can be found all along the river. Visitors are strongly urged to take every precaution to preserve the natural environment, including the use of firepans, packing out everything you pack in (including human and pet waste), avoiding soap or debris entering the river, avoiding damage to plants, animals or geology, and leaving only footprints as a trace of your having been there. Reuseable toilet systems and fire pans are required for ALL overnight trips on this reach of the river. Cooking should be done on propane or liquid gas stoves, and special care should be taken to avoid wildfires caused by flying brands from open fires.

Liveries, Outfitters and Shuttle Services

Numerous commercial outfitters in Colorado and other states are available to provide rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information services for the Colorado River.

Reviewer's comments

The Loma to Westwater section of the Colorado River is an ideal trip for anybody wanting to "get away from it all", and is especially well suited for beginner and novice paddlers who may want to experience some small whitewater without risking life and limb in the process. In contrast to the mountainous areas further to the east, this section flows through the beautiful and completely natural high desert of western Colorado and eastern Utah, where few people and no commercial development will be seen. There are no river-related services available along this section of the river, and nowhere nearby to re-supply, so be sure to take along everything you will need including boats, paddles, PFDs (lifejackets), trash bags, food, drinks, clothing for warm, cool, cold and/or wet weather conditions and multiple vehicles so that you can set up your own shuttles. Be sure to bring a camera to capture memories of a great wilderness trip on the gorgeous Colorado River.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III-
Length 25 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 2,000 - 5,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 30,000 cfs
20,000 cfs Advanced+ level canoeists
5,000 cfs Family Rafting
First Put-in BLM Loma Launch Site
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out BLM Westwater Launch Site
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 4,440-4,300 feet msl
Gradient 7 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: CO/UT State Line
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season May through October
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River
[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Blue River to Piney River ] [ Piney River to Barrel Springs ]
[ Barrel Springs to New Castle ] [ New Castle to Plateau Creek ] [ Plateau Creek to Loma ]

[ Upper Blue River ] [ Lower Blue River ] [ Buzzard Creek ]
[ Fraser River ] [ Piney River] [ Plateau Creek ] [ Rock Creek ]

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