A Desolation Canyon Photo Story

By Kim Cassels   •   July 13, 2023

A Desolation Canyon Photo Story

Desolation Canyon falls into the far reaches of Utah’s most remote wilderness study area. The rare refuge gives much-needed space for migrating bison, free roaming mustangs, Big horned sheep, black bears, and many other desert fauna to go about their business uninterrupted. In that, the name of this growing canyon is much more of a tribute to its liberty from civilization, rather than its inherent nature.

Explore Desolation Canyon Rafting Trips


Desolation Canyon - View From The Plane Window - Mild to WIld

Hauling boats, gear and all, the drive to the Sandwash boat launch takes river guides 5 hours. Their journey begins with a few straigh-as-a-whistle highways, until slowly transitioning into rutted dirt roads, eventually meandering through a narrow limestone canyon so-full of oil, it seeps right out of the walls.

Desolation Canyon - View of Planes From The Ground - Mild to Wild

Meanwhile, the indubitably scenic flight to Sandwash takes about 25 minutes. Planes skim onto a mesa overlooking the Green River, where the boats can be seen beached below. Many opt to hike down to the beach, as the views make a memorable start to the expedition.

White water rafting on Green River Utah – Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours

Desolation Canyon is approximately mid-way through the Green River’s 730-mile journey that begins from Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and ends with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park.

Desolation Canyon Rafting - Mild To Wild multi-day group trips

Once at the put-in, guides often find a way to inaugurate the 84-mile drift into the confines of the Desolation Wilderness. The wily river legend known as one-f-Jef blows into a conch shell, signaling it’s time to push off.

Guide showing Desolation Canyon river map to kids - Mild to Wild

The start of Desolation Canyon is somewhat deceiving, as the mild-mannered walls have yet to climb to their 5,000-foot posture. But within a few miles, hoodoos and other abstract aeolian sculptures begin to festoon the rising cliffs.

Guide motoring through the scenery in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Woman Pointing at Scenery on Boat - Mild to Wild

In the soaring escarpments come the local climbers, which are a treat to catch bounding along the shelves. Big-horned sheep are one of the largest animal populations along the Green River, and southwestern river canyons at large.

Desolation Canyon - Mountain Goat on Rocks - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Wide shot of Boats Parked with mountains in background - Mild To Wild

Camping in Desolation Canyon is a dream. Big beautiful cottonwood groves make for shady and secluded spots along the river— especially for the groover! Once reaching home for the night, guides begin whipping up dinner while the games begin.

Desolation Canyon river guide preparing avocado toast at camp - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Girl playing ring toss at camp with guide in the background - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Guide playing cards with guest at camp - Mild to Wild

Boy fishing off a raft in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon Rafting - Green River - Mild to Wild

Deso spelled out with glow stick - Mild to Wild

Woman sitting on Green River bank in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Before the sun peaks over the canyon rim, guides are up percolating coffee and warming up the griddle. Early risers get to catch the soft glow of a glassy Green River and wildlife enjoying the cool temperatures.

Dads drinking coffee at camp in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Kids eating breakfast under cottonwoods in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Duckies and raft in the water - Mild to Wild

After tums are full and camp is packed, it’s back to the water. Many opt to voyage downstream in a ducky (inflatable kayak) since the Green River’s rapids here are quite friendly in between the flat sections.

Desolation Canyon - Smiles from the water - Mild to Wild

Woman admiring the scenery of Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

There are many, many historical sites hiding in Desolation Canyon, while others are perched right along the riverbanks. The Seamont Ranch is a spectacular piece of living history in the canyon, with century-old cabins and work tools dating back to 1913 when it was first established.

Desolation Canyon - Group of People Hiking - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Views of mountainsand people From The Ranch - Mild to Wild

Guide walking into cabin at McPherson Ranch in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Desolation Canyon - Woman Smiling - Mild To Wild

After the excursion comes lunch on the beach before running some bigger rapids. Stuffed wraps and watermelon before Three Fords anyone?

Desolation Canyon - Kid Eating Burrito At Camp - Mild to Wild

Girl laughing while eating watermelon on the beach in Desolation Canyon

Desolation Canyon - Guide and guests smiling with mountains and river in background - Mild to Wild

Three Fords Rapid is the sauciest of Desolation’s Class III drops. Even at lower water levels, the run is a thrill as the guides navigate between the riverbed’s boulders against the cliff on river right.

Desolation Canyon - Man tking photo of boat going through rapids

Desolation Canyon - Guests Celebrating Rapids - Mild To Wild

After conquering and catching a splash, paddlers will find the ancient sentinel, Gunnison Butte, loom in the distance. It marks the next phase of the trip, as the following miles drift into Gray Canyon before the journey’s end.

Wide shot of Gunnison Butte in Desolation Canyon - Mild to Wild

Group shot with Deso spelled out in paddles on the beach - Mild to Wild


More Reading

The History and Geology of Desolation Canyon

Why the Green River is one of the Best for Rafting Trips 

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