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Yampa River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Deerlodge Park to Split Mountain Campground
(including Yampa Canyon)
~ 71 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The reach from Deerlodge Park to Split Mountain Campground in Utah offers about 71 miles of thrills and spills. Shortly after departing Deerlodge Park paddlers will enter Yampa Canyon and run 46 miles down to Echo Park in Moffat County, Colorado, where the Yampa meets the confluence of the Green River flowing down out of Utah. Leaving Echo Park, paddlers will traverse the Green River in Colorado for about 4 miles before entering Utah, then down the Green River about 21 miles more to Split Mountain Campground in Uintah County, Utah. The run is in Class II to III whitewater, with a one Class IV (Warm Springs Rapid) that is fun for whitewater boaters in canoes with flotation and/or spray covers, kayaks and rafts. Intermediate or higher whitewater paddling skills and swiftwater rescue training are recommended. Drybags or dryboxes should be used for anything you do not want to get wet. Early season temperatures can vary greatly, from freezing to over 100 degrees in the high desert air, so take adequate clothing for all conditions.

Yampa Canyon is controlled by the National Park Service, and is part of the Dinosaur National Monument. In most of the best water season access to the river requires an NPS permit, and those are hard to come by. But, if you get lucky and win one, then you are in for a special paddle trip that includes vistas such as sandstone canyon walls towering overhead, side canyon hiking adventures, caves and a complete lack of civilization other than the humanity paddling the river. Camping is great, and is usually specified as to your assigned campsite when you receive your permit notice. Contact the Dinosaur National Monument River Office at 970-374-2468 for permit information and applications. Vacant date permits are awarded on a first come basis by the NPS each spring, but there are usually crowds of people waiting in line for those.

The river winds through a series of beautiful, multi-colored canyons that conjure up thoughts about just how ancient this place really is - dinosaurs roamed this riverbed, and we would not even have been a decent sized dessert! Now, we paddle the Yampa to enjoy and appreciate a gorgeous 3 to 7 day trip in moderate whitewater - until the last named rapid, Warm Springs, a true Class IV drop with a BIG hole that can flip a raft (dry in EVERYTHING you do not want to get wet!) After the confluence with the Green River the trip is more relaxing, where you can really take in the natural beauty of the area. Your trip down the Yampa Canyon run starts with a permit from the River Office, so get the details and file your permit application according to the NPS schedule.


Moffat County, Colorado and Uintah County, Utah, in the Dinosaur National Monument area of northwestern Colorado and eastcentral Utah. This section begins in southcentral Moffat County just north of Elk Springs and west of Maybell, at an elevation of 5,595 feet MSL and ends at Split Mountain Campground about 6-7 miles northeast of Jensen and east of Vernal, at an elevation of 4,780 feet MSL.

Distance from major cities

Durango 395 miles; Grand Junction 225 miles; Denver 270 miles; Santa Fe 610 miles; Albuquerque 717 miles; Phoenix 803 miles; Oklahoma City 895 miles; Tulsa 1,000 miles; Dallas 1,064 miles; Austin 1,235 miles; San Antonio 1,315 miles; Houston 1,304 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point and destination point on the river.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Yampa River flows murky and cold, and is not drinkable without filtration and purification. River water in this section contains a high amount of sandstone grit that will be churned up in the rapids, creating a light brownish, muddy appearance until the water flattens out again and settles down. The river will also have a muddy appearance right after heavy rainfall. Water quality is generally good to very good. Drinking water is available at both Deerlodge and Echo Parks seasonally, usually from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. It is not available at either location otherwise. Check with the river office for exact dates each year.

Best time to go

The prime season for the Yampa Canyon run is late April through early June, though it may be runnable in other months, depending upon spring rainfall and the amount of water being diverted. The limited season means that it is harder to get NPS permits. Groups should have each member file a permit application to increase the odds of wining a lottery slot. If more than one permit is issued within a group, then it is the courteous thing to do to return extra permits so that other paddlers may enjoy this excellent trip.

Permit requirements

Permits for this reach of the Yampa River, as well as any trip on the Green or Yampa Rivers in Utah and Colorado within the jurisdiction of Dinosaur National Monument, are required at all times, and must be obtained from DNM River Office through their lottery system. High use seasons run from the second Monday in May through the second Friday in July on the Yampa River. Low use and/or low-water permit seasons are all other times. Lottery applications must be submitted between November 1 and February 1. For detailed information please visit the Dinosaur National Mounment web site for full details and requirements, or contact the office at:

Dinosaur National Monument
River Office
4545 Highway 40
Dinosaur, CO 81610
970-374-2468. No person is permitted to make more than one trip per year through Yampa Canyon.

Hazards to navigation

There are numerous Class I to III whitewater rapids along the 71 mile run from Deerlodge Park to Split Mountain Campground, and they are usually runnable by paddlers with solid intermediate or higher level whitewater skills, or even by inexperienced boaters in guided rafts. Starting at Deerlodge Park, the most significant rapids are: Tepee Rapid (Class II) at about 10.0 miles; Little Joe Rapid (Class II) at about 17.0 miles; Big Joe Rapid (Class III) at about 21.0 miles; Warm Springs Rapid (Class IV to IV+) at about 44.0 miles (a true Class IV rapid with a big hole that can easily flip a raft); Moonshine Rapid (Class III) at about 62.0 miles; and SOB Rapid (Class III to III+) at about 63.0 miles. Extra caution should be exercised when running these hazards. You WILL get wet, so be sure to dry in everything that you want to stay dry. Most of the section is Class II whitewater with few real hazards unless you get lazy and fail to evaluate the rapids before entering them. Be vigilant, be prepared and be thrilled.

River Access Points

Put in at Deerlodge Park about 17 miles off IH 40 between Maybell and Elk Springs at 0.0 miles; Echo Park Campground at about 46.0 miles; Rainbow Park Campground (Utah) at about 60.0 miles (NO TAKE-OUT ALLOWED!); and Split Mountain Campground at about 71.0 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Deerlodge Park (0.0 miles) on river left offers tent camping facilities, but no drinking water is available; Echo Park Campground (46.0 miles) on river left offers tent camping facilities and has drinking water available; Rainbow Park Campground (60.0 miles) on river right offers tent camping, but no drinking water; Split Mountain Campground (71.0 miles) on river right offers tent camping with drinking water; Green River Campground (71.5 miles) on river right offers tent camping with drinking water. There are no other public or private campgrounds on this section of the Yampa and Green Rivers. Numerous natural campsites are available on the Yampa River between Deer Lodge Park and Split Mountain Campground, including Anderson Hole at about 3.0 miles on river right; Ponderosa at about 9.0 miles on river left; Tepee Hole at about 10.0 miles on river right; Big Joe at about 21.0 miles on river right; Harding Hole at about 24.0 miles on river left; Mathers Hole at about 25.5 miles on river left; Laddie Park at about 33.0 miles on river right; Warm Springs at about 44.0 miles on river right; Box Elder at about 45.0 miles on river right; Stateline (Colorado-Utah border) at about 50.0 miles on river left; Jones Hole (Utah) at about 50.8 miles on river left; Compromise at about 52.0 miles on river left; Cove at about 55.0 miles on river left; Big Island at about 55.0 miles on river right; Island Park at about 57.5 miles on river right - check with park rangers about availability and precise locations of riverside campsites.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least ten commercial outfitters who are NPS-aproved vendors offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Yampa River.

Reviewer's comments

Yampa Canyon, and the entire run from Deerlodge Park to Split Mountain Campground is a very popular run with a season from April through October in most years. This section requires a permit from the National Park Service, so do not go unless you have secured a permit or are paddling with a licensed outfitter. This section is very scenic and very exciting. Whitewater paddlers can really enjoy themselves on the numerous Class II to IV rapids they will encounter. Yampa Canyon is an impressive array of multi-colored sandstone mountains rising right out of the river, creating a sense of true wilderness paddling. The numerous riverside campsites allow paddlers to determine the length they want to paddle in a single day, with total trip time taking 3-7 days, depending upon put-in and take-out points and paddling speed. You will definitely want to take a camera and plenty of film or digital media to capture the sheer beauty of this trip. Be sure to take along plenty of drinking water because re-supplying along the river is not an option except at a few select spots. A good rule of thumb would be to take AT LEAST one gallon per person per day for drinking and food preparation, plus any additional water that may be needed for personal hygiene. Be sure to know and obey all NPS rules for waste management - if you pack it in, then pack it out!

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III (IV)
Length 71 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 800 - 10,000 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Deerlodge Park
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Split Mountain Campground (Utah)
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 5,595-4,780 feet msl
Gradient 12 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Deerlodge Park
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through early-June
Permits Yes, Dinosaur National Monument (970-374-2468) - see "Permit Requirements" section at left

Map of the Yampa River public access points courtesy Colorado State Parks Department
Map of the Yampa River public access points courtesy
Colorado State Parks Department

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

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

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

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

Click HERE to visit the web site of Pikes Peak Whitewater Club

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

[ Yampa River Homepage ] [ Stillwater to Steamboat Springs ] [ Steamboat Springs to West Cross Mountain ]
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