Rafting the Yampa River (1) 30-May-2022

Well before we decided to upend our lives and move to Minnesota, we made plans to raft the Yampa River with our friends Wayne and Diane and his sister (Bonnie) and her husband (Jim). This trip was to start on May 30th. We began our move on March 15th and – despite the usual glitches and forced errors – were done with it (almost miraculously) by May 27th. Two days later, we lit out for Utah, leaving behind a house full of unopened boxes, a somewhat bewildered cat, and a lot of moving generated anxiety.

Except for a few weirs, the Yampa River is the only unregulated and naturally flowing major tributary remaining in the Colorado River watershed. Because its flow isn’t managed by any dams, the rafting season on it is short – just three months or less. Private party permits are extraordinarily hard to obtain and often a guided trip is one’s only chance to experience the canyons of the Yampa.

We were on the Yampa once before (in 1992) but then well upstream of its most spectacular section – which traverses Dinosaur National Monument between Deerlodge Park and Echo Park. To see this section, we again signed on to a guided trip offered by OARS. We got this adventure going by flying (uneventfully) to Salt Lake City, where Wayne and Diane picked us up and drove us east to Vernal, Utah where we met the rest of our group and Lee, our trip leader.

Day 1: Deerlodge Park to Ponderosa Camp

The next morning we were driven to the put-in at Deerlodge Park, about 90 miles (144 km) east of Vernal, where we met the other five guides for this trip. As weโ€™ve come to appreciate from our several previous trips with OARS, our guides were friendly, outgoing, and skilled professionals who worked hard to make our trip run smoothly and successfully. It was through their excellent efforts that we had this opportunity to experience the Yampa River (and revisit some favorite spots on the Green River). ๐Ÿ˜

L > R: Kayla, Lee (trip leader), Abby
L > R: Conner, “Soggy”, and Shaun

Today was planned as a short one on the river. Which was just as well since the weather, after appearing to cooperate, turned on us. We began under cold, but sunny, conditions and floated down to Anderson Hole, where we stopped for lunch and visited Stubs Cabin, an old settler dugout.

Rigging the rafts at Deerlodge Park
Lee gives the required safety talk at the put-in
At the put-in (L > R): Wayne, Diane, The LovedOne, Bonnie, and Jim
Ready to go
Heading downstream
An enigmatic rafter smile graces the Yampa
Entering Happy Hollow, the first of the canyons we’d encounter on the Yampa

The air temperature was cold at the start, with dark clouds mixed with sunbreaks and a few sprinkles. By the time we reached Anderson Hole, the clouds were still threatening but things had warmed a bit. Lunch was consumed in pleasantly warm (and dry) sunshine. ๐Ÿ˜Ž The attraction here – Stubs Cabin – was built around 1918 by wrangler Stub Adams who trapped wild horses when they came down to the river for water.

Stopping for lunch at Anderson Hole
Claret Cup cactus
Stubs Cabin (c1918) – logs piled with dirt to create a dugout

There are no rapids on this stretch of the Yampa, so after lunch – and now under sunnier and warmer skies – we continued floating downstream.

On downstream
Choppy water but no rapids
Colorful strata in Thanksgiving Gorge
Thanksgiving Gorge
Still under mostly clear skies
Looking upstream from Ponderosa Camp

We pulled into camp under mostly sunny skies and were able to get things set-up under dry conditions. So a fireline to bring the gear ashore, followed by deployment of the chair circle (which didn’t exist on our first rafting trip in 1994 – we sat on the ground), a search for a good tent site, and then the setting up of our tent. We’ve been on a rafting trip where the guides setup your tent for you, which seemed really unnecessary to us, given everything else they have to do. OARS isn’t like that, so we picked a spot and unfurled our tent ourselves.

The chair circle under sunshine
The LovedOne in our tent
Annual Townsend Daisy
Clouds gather after dinner

We got almost all the way through dinner before the first sprinkles arrived. We kept eating as the number of raindrops increased. It was a dead heat between dessert and magic sky water. After the last bite of cake, we retreated to our tent. It rained with some intensity for the rest of the night. But the forecast we’d received just before leaving Vernal had indicating improving weather for the week, so we were hopeful that sunshine would eventually return (which it did ๐Ÿ˜„). Regardless of the weather, it felt GREAT to be outside on a river rather than stuck at home staring at a pile of unopened moving boxes! ๐Ÿ˜

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5 thoughts on “Rafting the Yampa River (1) 30-May-2022

  1. Sounds like a beautiful area! Thank you for the suggestions. I’ll have to look into these more. We’ve only done one weekend canoe trip but it was in an ocean bay, so we only had to worry about tide levels. We do have a week long Boundary Waters trip later this year though that I’m looking forward to. But we have yet to dip our toes in moving water trips! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip.

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  2. Years ago we did a DIY kayak/canoe trip on the Green River between Moab, Utah and its confluence with the Colorado River. We had Tex’s Riverways in Moab shuttle us from Moab to the river and from the confluence back to Moab. They also rented us canoes. This is an easy (no rapids) scenic stretch of the Green that would be good for an intro to rivers. Since then, we’ve only gone on guided trips on more active rivers – we don’t have the permits, gear, or skill to do these ourselves. We’d recommend OARS or Momentum (based in Ashland, OR) if you want to give rafting a go. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

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  3. How pretty! Do you guys normally do guided raft/canoe trips? Or have you done some un-guided? Water trips like this have been something my Partner and I have wanted to get into more but have barely scraped the surface.

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