The Ultimate Kids Trip: 4th graders and their families get in to the Monument for FREE.
I have the reputation as the “kids” guide at Dinosaur River Expeditions. Every time there’s a trip with someone under the age of 13, they are inevitably my favorite guest (sorry adults). I can talk for hours with a 10 year old about their favorite candy, or listen to stories about the time they rode sleeping bags down the stairs, completely captivated. This fact is the reason that when Dinosaur booked their first trip with more children than guardians, I found myself rowing the kids’ boat down the Green River.
It was a late August Gates of Lodore trip, and we had made it through all the big rapids like Hell’s Half Mile. I volunteered to take the kids’ boat the night before, assuming not all of them would want to come with me. The next thing I knew, I was rowing through Whirlpool Canyon with, no joke, a raft overrun with twelve animated children. We listened to the three Twenty One Pilot songs I happened to have downloaded on my iPod, on repeat, repeatedly. The kids’ faces were caked with seven colors of zinc sunscreen: a creative dad brought them to trick the kids into protecting their young skin from the sun. “War Paint!” They yelled every morning, excited to be decorate themselves; no one questioned what they were at war with…
They stood on the frame, and along the tubes of the boat, with the impressive balance of someone who doesn’t know they should be falling over. They danced (some with terrible kid moves you couldn’t help but love and some who should seriously consider dance as profession) with abandon. “Rapid!” I would yell, pausing the music, and 12 little bodies would suddenly sit down and hang onto “something strappy” on my command. As soon as the rapid ended, they flew back into the frenzied floating dance party.
We floated through the canyon, experiencing our own versions of perfection.
We arrive at camp and the kids scatter, digging in the sand, catching lizards, playing a kind of tag they invented.
A few minutes, later the US Fish and Wildlife Biologists stopped at our camp. They had seen our trip of kids and stopped to treat us with a few cool tidbits about the fish in Dinosaur National Monument. The kids piled onto the boat, the biologists pulled out ten fish from a cooler, and showed them each one before tossing it back into the water. The kids squealed with glee as each fish splashed into the river and swam away.
Doesn’t this sound like a kids’ paradise to you? The billion-year-old rocks aren’t fragile, they can touch everything in sight (except the petroglyphs). The kids won’t care if there is sand in every crevice of their body, about the geology, or the history of the place, but they feel its enchantment. Your family can dance, make s’mores, bury each other in the sand and make new friends. Some friendships will be a fleeting reminder of the freedom you felt on the river: like when you see a lizard you remember the one you caught named Gary. Other friendships might be the kind that last a lifetime. What can I say, the kids and I get each other. I never grew out of my kid phase: I want to touch the water, the sand, the river, breath in the hot air, and believe in magic.
National Parks Foundation seems to understand the kids too, as they started the “Every kid in a Park” initiative. Every4th grader and their families can get into any National Park or Monument in the country for free. The magic in the National Parks is greater than Disneyland and this program allows every kid and their families to experience it.
River Extras: Things to bring that will make your trip a little better
Figuring out what to bring on a river trip can be tough. Following the pack list is a great place to go for the essentials, but there are a few things not on the pack list that might make your trip a bit more spectacular.
Okay this is cheating a bit because it’s on the pack list, but you are going to want a rain jacket and rain pants. It’s the most common thing people don’t bring and wish they had. You may say “it doesn’t rain in the desert” or “I checked the forecast,” and be tempted not to bring a raincoat, but the desert environment of Dinosaur National Monument means that while storms are few and far between, the place seems to give up when it starts to rain and the sky bursts into a biblical downpour, sometimes lasting for hours. However, the Monument is kind to its guests, understanding that you are now cold and wet and as a thank you, it often cries waterfalls down the steep sandstone, easily one of the most beautiful things you have ever seen. A good raincoat and pants, not a poncho, will make it more pleasant for you to enjoy the uncommon beauty of the monument.
A Star Map or Book of Mythology
Dinosaur is the darkest national park or monument in the country, the canyon walls stretch high above, pointing at a billion stars you’ve never seen, twisting your mind towards a story you half remember of a Greek Myth. A Star Map or book of myths will help you remember these stories and identify which stars belong to each constellation.
Instruments are a wonderful addition to a campfire. If you have a case you are comfortable putting it in we can find a way to waterproof most things… maybe not a cello, but bring along your guitar, trumpet, ukulele or violin and serenade us for an evening. Don’t worry about your skill level either, everything sounds better next to the river.
Pro Tip: Bring along a song book with lyrics and notes just in case you forget the words- remember, there won’t be any internet.
Music’s not your thing? Bring along whatever you happen to be a lover of poetry, prose, watercolors or interpretive dance. Seriously, we have had guests read poems at the fire for hours. You’ll have a captive audience so give us a show!
Huh? Yep, costume parties are known to happen, so if you’ve recently found a velvet green trench coat with matching tutu at your local thrift store, bring it along. You might have the opportunity to show it off. If you aren’t a costume person, or don’t have one, don’t worry about it! Your guides will likely have a stash to share.
Many of the camps and beaches along the way are perfect for a game of ultimate Frisbee, or a make shift game of Volleyball. If there are a few minutes to kill, you’ll likely be able to coerce at least a few guides to play with you. Just be careful not to lose the ball in the river, and be ready for some serious smack talk from the guides.
Anything you think you might want
While this is a backcountry trip it isn’t a backpacking trip. If there is anything you are on the fence about bringing, feel free to ask, but chances are we will tell you to bring it along. The boats are blessed with Mary Poppins Magic, so trust us, we can find a place for it.
It was another in a long series of preposterous ideas pursued by Dory Moon Expeditions. The Canyon of Lodore–the steepest, rockiest stretch of the Green and Colorado–in wooden dories full of gear and people. A stretch of water usually so desiccated by Flaming Gorge Dam’s paltry releases that it is all but impassable to hard-hulled boats. We tried it once in 1991, gambling on the annual Memorial Day (-ish) fishery releases, but lost the bet and had to switch to rafts and rumble through on under 1,000 cfs. We tried again in 1995 and won, rowing dories through on a falling release of about 3,500 cfs with only minor damage. But we hadn’t had the nerve to try it again in over two decades.
With several of our core dory crew now in our sixties (we like to call ourselves sexagenarians), we figured there’s not much time to left to do goofy things. So after last year’s wacky Rogue River dory trip’s success (we only crashed three or four boats), we held our breath and gambled on another Memorial Day release, hoping for at least 2,500 cfs to bash our way through.
Imagine our surprise and delight to see the Upper Green River Basin fill to over 250% of normal snowpack over the winter, and find the river running at nearly maximum release throughout the spring. Jackpot.
I headed north, picked up Coop and his dory in Dolores, and headed for Dinosaur. Coming over Douglass Pass we were astonished to see an enormous cinnamon-colored bear tumble into the road, regain his composure, and scramble up the embankment back into the forest. A good omen no doubt. As we neared our goal and the evening light grew richer, we stopped to soak in the glory.
We found Andy and Kate and two more dories doing the same. RJ and Bruce, coming in from other directions, soon joined the sunset party.
The next day at Dinosaur River Expeditions we sidled the top boats over for loading.
And the following morning drove to Flaming Gorge Dam, bursting with the water we had so been looking forward to getting. The gage held steady through our trip at over 7,000 cfs. Woohoo!
And away we go. Eighteen innocent clients (well, kind of innocent), six dories, and three rafts full of extraneous gear.
Down through Red Canyon.
A side hike up to Shorty Burton’s old cabin. A log has fallen on hole #2 of his double outhouse.
And the main cabin could use a bit of maintenance.
Camp at Red Creek–such a spectacular place. A wind storm and rain welcome us to the wilds.
Overnight Red Creek went into flood upstream, giving us a two-tone river. The good news is that Bruce, unlike the last two times we camped here, did not have a malarial attack. I think it was because of the large quantities of preventative quinine water and juniper juice we drank that evening.
At Taylor Flat, the old low bridge was finally blown away by the high water of 1983. So what did they do? Replaced it with another low bridge–too low to get the dories under at this high flow. Out come the roller tubes.
After careful measuring, we lined the rafts beneath the bridge with four inches to spare. As a reward, the bridge grew us a tasty morel for an appetizer.
We were back afloat in under two hours, but with a headwind and a long haul across Brown’s Park ahead of us. Here is the old Swinging Bridge. It was always a thrill to drive across as it swung and rippled. You always wondered if it would hold. (Like Amil Quayle’s poem, Stairways–“It feels risky and nice. I’m sure it’ll collapse someday. Somebody might get hurt. I always wonder if this will be the time.”) Well, a few years ago a tractor got the booby prize, and the bridge was formally closed to vehicles. The remains tell the story.
A beautiful evening at Crook Camp.
Best cook crew ever.
Lodore School–a remnant of more populous times.
And the Gates of Lodore open to accept us–one of the more amazing views on any river trip. We’re going in there?
Scouting Disaster Falls, where Major Powell lost the No Name. It goes on and on.
Go that way. But watch out for that.
The mid-section of Disaster was completely huge, but we all bounced through. Camp at Pot Creek.
Leah finds a friend.
Morning story time. We each tell the intertwined sagas of our dories’ lives.
Harp Falls rocks and rolls.
Triplet Falls. More scouting as ice balls fall from the sky.
Melissa shows us the way, pausing to blow us a kiss half way through.
And finally, the crux move. Hell’s Half Mile. So well named. Routinely portaged at great labor until 1922 when Bert Loper said “to hell with it!” and ran it. Fast, powerful, studded with boulders and logs, and endless. A long, busy, difficult run.
The raftsmen show us the way, and Bruce tries to convince us it works for a dory. Wowzers.
And we make it through with only one minor flesh wound. A late but exuberant lunch at Rippling Brook and a walk to the falls.
Evening festivities at Wild Mountain.
A morning hike to a vista above Alcove Brook.
And Lodore comes to a dramatic end as we hit the Mitten Park Fault and enter Echo Park.
A visit to one of Pat Lynch’s monogrammed caves.
Cooling off in Whispering Cave.
Kate’s sore knee hitchhiking back to the boats.
Steamboat Rock. It would have been a wee island in a large reservoir but for David Brower and Martin Litton’s leadership in defeating Echo Park Dam. Thanks again, guys.
Lunch on the backside of the Mitten Park Fault.
What is RJ looking at?
The Denis Julien inscription. A trapper who plied the Green back in the 1830s.
Evening light at Stateline Camp. We are cautiously optimistic about this voyage. Okay, not that cautious.
Inventing our own parking lot at Jone’s Hole.
While the others hike the creek, I celebrate four years of ukulele abuse under the tree where I first laid hands on one.
We exit Whirlpool Canyon into Island Park. The bison on the wall is there to welcome us.
So are the mosquitoes. They are drilling through Carhartts in this shot.
But the sunset is marvelous.
Marching through the cheatgrass to the Wedding Panel.
Amazing petroglyphs accessible by a scary climb or via sensible binoculars.
Entering Split Mountain Canyon, the final gauntlet.
After a raucous ride through Moonshine, SOB, and Schoolboy Rapids, we stop for lunch. So do the bighorn ewes.
After cutting into Split Mountain, the river parallels the mountain crest, then turns to cut out the far side.
At Split Mountain boat ramp, where most people, eyes looking downward, scurry to pack their boats away and leave, we camp and admire the uncommon beauty.
We spend one final morning cruising the Big W–a winding stretch of river below Split Mountain that offers magnificent views of the cliffs we just exited.
And life-size petroglyphs.
And lichen art.
As we turn south into the gray Mancos Shale, our passengers depart and we push the remaining six miles to Jensen Bridge.
Against odds, the ancient mariners made it through again. We’ll be back in another twenty-two years.
Thanks to Tyler and Jen Callantine of Dinosaur River Expeditions for supporting this madness. And our support crew: Brett Smith, Sweet Melissa Frogh, and young Jacoby. And our stalwart dorymen Andy Hutchinson, Kate Thompson, RJ Johnson, Tim Cooper, Bruce Keller, and myself.
White Water River Rafting the Green River Gates of Lodore Dinosaur National Monument
Beginning in Brown’s Park, Colorado the Green River Gates of Lodore river rafting adventure takes its travelers on a 44 mile journey through the center of Dinosaur National Monument. This white water river rafting trip is a favorite among veteran river rafters and novices alike. The Green River has a consistent water flow year around, great rapids, beautiful camps a little bit of something for everyone along its way.
Flaming Gorge Dam located up river from the put in point to the Gates of Lodore trip provides a constant water source for this desert river. Because of this constant water supply the Green River is a great rafting trip all summer long. Whether you choose to take this trip in June or August it will be fabulous. The Green River Gates of Lodore has a sister river in Dinosaur National Monument the Yampa River. The Yampa River is one of the last free flowing rivers in the Colorado river system. With its free flowing nature the Yampa River has a limited time frame where it is navigable. The Yampa River has its best rafting Mid May through Mid June during the time of the snow melt from the Colorado Rockies.
Our Green River Gates of Lodore trip begins in Vernal, Utah. We have a pre trip orientation the evening before your trips departure. This orientation gives your group a chance to meet the guides, get your dry bags for the trip and answer any last minute questions. The following morning the bags are loaded and we drive you from Vernal to Brown’s Park where you will meet the guides and begin the river adventure.
At the put in point the crew will direct you on how to most safely travel on a white water rafting trip. Fit you with a PFD or personal flotation device. Help guide each guest on the different white water craft that will be on the trip and give you a short overview of some of the back country travel concepts you will follow on this journey. This orientation takes about 30 to 40 minutes in length depending on your groups size. Once you are loaded on the rafts the journey truly begins. You are free of cell phones, traffic and work getting to relax enjoying some of the most incredible scenery in the state of Colorado and Utah.
As you enter the canyon of Lodore you will experience your first rapid Winnie’s a fun class two rapid with a little excitement to it. The rapids on the Gates of Lodore trip range from Class two to occasionally class four (depending on water levels). On this section of river the rapid classification is based on Class one being calm water to class six being unrunable white water. The most famous rapid on this trip is Hell’s Half Mile a class 3 or class 4 rapid which has been ranked as one of the 10 most famous rapids in North America. Do not let the classification scare you the guides on our trips are very experienced and take every precaution to navigate the white water rapids as safely as possible. The river is a wild place and things can happen that are out of anyone’s control.
The white water is one of the trips highlights but not the only thing that makes it special. The camping and hiking is also phenomenal. Each camp has great swimming, beautiful tent sites and the scenery never stops taking your breath away. At each evenings camp the guides will set up the main camp equipment while you take care of your tent and sleeping gear. Early evening the guides will astound you with a dutch oven dinner and all the extra’s. A typical dinner would begin with appetizers followed by an amazing meal prepared by your guide staff. You will even be surprised by their baking skills when they serve up the evenings desert cooked in a dutch oven under the coals. In the morning the smell of freshly brewed coffee will fill the air. A hearty breakfast will begin your day followed by breaking down camp and preparing the rafts for that days river adventure.
We have talked about camp and rapids but what about hiking? Dinosaur National Monument has some of the most incredible hiking opportunities of any of the National Parks. Your guides based on group interests, weather and assigned camps will lead you on some incredible hikes throughout the trip. A couple of the hikes that are most popular are Jones Hole Creek. This hike can be a 5 mile round trip hike where you will see some fantastic Native American rock art, waterfalls and wildlife. All the while you will be following Jones Creek a beautiful spring fed creek, crystal clear and teaming with trout. In Echo Park your guides will lead you to Whispering Cave (do not forget your headlamp) and to another fine rock art site. Winnie’s Grotto is a short hike with spectacular scenery, this hike is typically a first day lunch stop.
The Yampa River is one of the most prized stretches of river in the American West. The Yampa River received its name from the Snake Indians word for the Perideridia plant “Yampah”. The plant was found abundant in the watershed. The headwaters of the Yampa River are in the Park Range of Colorado near the town of Steamboat Springs. From its starting point the Yampa River takes a westward course towards Dinosaur National Monument stretching an approximate 250 miles till it joins the Green River in Echo Park. The Yampa drains 7,660 square miles of area in northwestern Colorado and a small area in Wyoming. The river is mostly fed from snow melt and has a small window of time when it is a navigable river way for recreation. It is one of the last free flowing rivers that has only a few small diversions and dams along its course and tributaries. Because of its natural free flowing characteristic people boat many different sections of the Yampa but the most popular is through Dinosaur National Monument. The put in point is at Deer Lodge, Colorado to the take out point 72 miles downstream at Split Mountain, Utah. Taking 4 to 6 days in length to raft, camp, hike and explore this incredible section of wild river.
Through Dinosaur National Monument the river flows through a productive riparian zone supporting a variety of plant and animal life. The rivers natural state makes it an ideal habitat for many of the Colorado river systems native fish. Some of the fish are endangered and rely heavily on the Yampa River for spawning and habitat. The primary native fish that rely on the river is the Colorado Pike-minnow which uses the gravel bars for spawning in the late spring and early summer months.
The area has a rich human history archaeological studies conducted in the area reveal evidence of human habitation up to 7000 B.C. The Fremont culture inhabited the Yampa River area starting about 800 A.D. but disappeared for unknown reasons during the 1400’s. There are many cultural sites that can be visited along the river where you will see petroglyphs and other important archaeological evidence of the areas early human inhabitants.
Through erosion 23 unique rock layers have been exposed in Dinosaur National Monument. These geologic features create a landscape that is unbelievable in its scenic beauty. The Green River flowing through the Gates of Lodore and the Yampa River through steady down cutting have revealed rock formations that have been twisted, folded and formed during the past 2 billion years. These rock layers are the remnants of extinct ecosystems spanning 1.2 billion years from ancient seas, the time of the dinosaurs to a Sahara like desert. These rock layers make up one of the most complete stratigraphic columns exposed within a National Park.
The white water rapids on the Yampa River range from small splashy waves to one of the biggest rapids in the Colorado River system Warm Springs Rapid. The rapids are thrilling and fun for everyone on a raft trip, guides are highly skilled and well trained to navigate the many drops encountered along the way. The most noted rapid on the Yampa River is Warm Springs. Before 1965 it was nothing but a ripple, an unimportant spot that had little significance other than beautiful scenery. This all changed overnight on June 10th, 1965 when a major thunderstorm came through northeastern Utah and northwestern Colorado. This storm caused major flash floods filling the river bed with boulders and debris that changed a once tepid riffle into one of the most talked about drops on the Colorado river system. Warm Springs rapid with all the lore and hype is a highlight on the Yampa River and a rapid that you will talk about for years after going through it on a raft.
Camping on the Yampa River is phenomenal with spectacular views and beautiful shorelines for relaxing. Camp is set up and taken care of by the expert guide staff who will prepare delicious meals and cater to most of your camping needs.
The Yampa River has a limited availability and trips fill up quickly. This adventure is great for families, groups or individuals and has something to suit everyone from exciting white water to stunning scenery. This is a vacation to add to your bucket list and see at least once in your lifetime. Choose Dinosaur River Expeditions Vernal, Utah’s only locally owned and operated river raft trip outfitter.
A river rafting adventure is a great way to spend time with your family and friends. First of all, you lose cell phone signal so the office is not calling you and your kids cannot text their friends non-stop. You truly get to unplug from the electronic life. Second who doesn’t want to float beautiful canyons, raft wild rapids and sit around a campfire at night enjoying each other’s company free from distractions. One of the best areas in the United States for a river rafting trip is Dinosaur National Monument. Located in Northeastern Utah crossing over the border into Colorado Dinosaur National Monument is home to the Yampa River and Green River Gates of Lodore two premier white water rafting trips. The Yampa River is the Colorado river systems last undammed tributary. Making this a top choice for river rafters looking for a truly wild river experience. The Yampa River because it is water flow is not controlled by a dam is a spring and early summer river trip. With the spring snow melt the Yampa becomes a great raft trip in mid-May and goes into the middle of June. We recommend taking this trip as a 5-day excursion. This allows ample time to take in the breath-taking scenery of the canyon walls, enjoy the exciting rapids, hike to fabulous vistas. The Yampa River has some great white water rapids rated from class 2 to class 4.
Warm Springs rapid can be one of the biggest and fun rapids in the American west. This rapid some consider to be one of the 10 best drops in North America. Rapids are not the only thing that make this trip great the incredible scenery, wonderful meals, expert guides will all make the Yampa River a trip you will not forget. The Green River Gates of Lodore is an all-around favorite stretch of river to raft. Starting in Browns Park, Colorado the Green River winds its way through the center of Dinosaur National Monument. The Green River starts its long journey in the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming eventually joining the Colorado river. Flaming Gorge Dam controls the water and flows of the Green River through Dinosaur Monument. Because of this water regulation the Gates of Lodore is always a great trip whether you go in June or August you will have fun water and exciting rapids. The Gates of Lodore canyon has some unbelievable geology. The towering red rocks will leave you speechless from there grandeur. Kids love the Green River, camps have fun sandy beaches, great swimming holes and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the inflatable kayak or a stand-up paddle board. Either trip the Yampa River or the Green River Gates of Lodore will take you at least 4 days of perfect unplugged, wilderness river rafting. A few suggestions when looking for a trip like this. First find a reputable outfitter, Dinosaur River Expeditions is the only locally owned and operated outfitter in the region. We have the firsthand knowledge of the area, a rich family history and world class service that makes your trip extra special. When you book a trip with Dinosaur River Expeditions you will work with us the owners we will help you find the right trip and date perfect for your family or group. Call today and find your families next unplugged river rafting adventure.