How To Plan An Epic Westwater Canyon Rafting Trip with OARS

Post Summary: Our Westwater Canyon Rafting Experience with OARS

What better way to enjoy the summer season than on the water?

We can see it now – laughing on a river raft with your friends, surrounded by gorgeous desert canyon walls, and roasting s’mores by the campfire at night. Too good to be true? Or simply just too good and too true to pass up?

Berty and I got to experience all of this and more on our recent river rafting trip with OARS to Westwater Canyon on the Colorado River. This was an experience unlike any other, and we’re sharing our favorite highlights, trip details, and lots of amazing photos to give you a glimpse of what you might experience on your own river rafting trip with OARS!

River rafting boats on Westwater Canyon during sunset

Rafting Westwater Canyon with OARS

This post is sponsored by OARS. All thoughts, opinions, and experiences are our own.

Westerwater Canyon during sunset in Colorado

Where is Westwater Canyon?

Westwater Canyon is located near Moab, Utah, and is one of several multi-day rafting trips that OARS offers. OARS has rafting trips all over the Western U.S.  (and some international places too!) giving rafters an amazing experience that’s right in their backyard. We actually went on an OARS trip to Machu Picchu to raft the Urubamba River, and that’s where Berty proposed!

So what makes Westwater Canyon so special? For starters, it’s located on the Colorado River, the same river that hosts the Grand Canyon! While Westwater Canyon is still quite a distance from the famous Grand Canyon National Park, it has its own stunning scenery, riverside wildlife, and the perfect mixture of serene waters and thrilling whitewater rapids.

Hiking around Westwater Canyon

National Geographic named this canyon “The West’s Best Short Whitewater Rafting Trip” and we totally agree. This three-day/two-night trip was filled to the brim with a variety of activities and new things to discover around every river bend.

Keep scrolling for insights on what you might expect on your own trip.

Portrait of River Guide with OARS (Zac)

What to Expect on a Westwater Canyon Rafting Trip with OARS

Check-In and Pre-Trip Meeting

On the day before our trip, we arrived at the OARS warehouse in Moab to meet the other rafting guests on our trip. We introduced ourselves, received our personal dry bags, and went through some important logistics for the next day. This was a good time for guests to ask any lingering questions and borrow any gear they might have forgotten at home!

Heads Up: When packing for your OARS trip, make sure to read the packing list and watch their packing videos. They are incredibly helpful and the videos have tons of knowledge on the proper gear, layers, and shoes to bring for a safe and fun trip.

Driving Highway 128 to Ruby Horsethief Boat Launch
Driving to the Ruby-Horsethief Boat Launch Site
Launching rafting boats in the Colorado River
Loading and launching the boats in the Colorado River

Getting to the Launch Site

On the day of our trip departure, we drove our car to the warehouse and left the vehicle (and our keys) with the friendly staff at OARS. After loading our dry bags into the trailer, we boarded the passenger van with all the other guests for the long drive to the launch site.

The drive from Moab, Utah to the Ruby-Horsethief Boat Launch site is 2 hours so we had a bit of time to nap, chat with the others in our van, and enjoy the desert scenery out the window.

At the launch site, everyone was able to choose their raft – there was a mix of paddle boats and gear boats. Since we had all of our camera gear, we chose the gear boat so we could spend time capturing the other boats on the river.

Zac, our OARS river rafting guide. paddling on the Colorado River
Paddling on the Colorado River in Ruby Horsethief Canyon
Paddling through the canyon

3 Days of Rafting and Camping

After launching into the river, we were off on our trip! The entire route through Ruby-Horsethief Canyon and Westwater Canyon is 42 river miles, and over the next three days, we spent time splashing in the water, paddling downstream, and enjoying the desert scenery sprawled around us.

Every day, we spent the mornings and afternoons on the river, and by early evenings we were at our campsite. We found the trip to be the perfect mix of relaxing on flat water, reveling at the towering canyon walls, and splashing through intermittent whitewater rapids as we floated downstream. Good to know: The first and second day was mostly flat water, with the occasional small rapids. The last day is when we went through the big, exciting whitewater rapids!

Good to know: The first and second day was mostly flat water, with the occasional small rapids. The last day is when we went through the big, exciting whitewater rapids!

Read More: The Top 10 Best Sleeping Bags For Camping and Backpacking Trip

Paddling on the river in Ruby Horsethief Canyon
Sunset view of Ruby Horsethief Canyon

Canyon walls along the Colorado River

Highlights of Our Westwater Canyon Rafting Trip

So, what were our favorite parts of our Westwater Canyon rafting trip? There were so many unique elements that made this trip special, but we’re listing our favorites below!

Camping along Ruby-Horsethief Canyon in Colorado

Camping at Ruby-Horsethief Canyon and Westwater Canyon

Berty and I, being used to camping in the Pacific Northwest among the forest and alpine lakes, had a lot of fun trying out a new camping environment. Being riverside in the desert of Utah, and camping in Ruby-Horsethief was a unique experience with a sandy beach, blooming cacti (it was springtime!), and lots of opportunities to hike in the canyon.

The friendly OARS staff took care of everything food-related, so it was our job to find our campsite, set up our tent, and then return to join the others for dinner. The afternoons were free for us to roam around and explore, or really, do anything we wanted to do.

Read More: Camping Hygiene Guide: 14 Tips For Staying Clean When Backpacking

Our tent at sunset in Westwater Canyon in Utah
Hikes around Westwater Canyon in Utah

Hiking Around Westwater Canyon

One of our favorite memories from the Westwater Canyon rafting trip was actually off the river! When everyone settled into camp for the evening, Berty and I would spend some time hiking and exploring the canyon. We almost always went looking for higher ground to get a better perspective on the river bends and canyon walls.

It was pretty cool to know that the spots we discovered were only accessible by river! We found some amazing rock formations and experienced incredible sunsets, too.

Read More: 15+ Incredible Hiking Trails in Sedona, Arizona

Petroglyphs on the canyon walls in Utah

Enjoying Meals by the Fire

“How do meals work on these river rafting trips?” you might ask. If you were to plan a trip yourself, you’d have to think about things like packing enough water, keeping food cold, and figuring out how to cook it. But booking a rafting trip with OARS, they take care of all of these details…and even take it to the next level! We ate like kings on this trip – despite being in the backcountry!

From steak to salmon, gourmet salads to desserts, the river guides had these recipes down to a perfect science. As they prepared meals, it gave guests time to explore, relax, or chat with one another.

Preparing meals for us might feel like a minor detail, but those extra moments gave us the opportunity to connect with others and really soak in our surroundings. It’s the little things that make a huge difference for us!

Read More: 10 Insanely Easy Camping Meals To Make On Your Next Outdoor Adventure

OARS prepared dinners on a Westwater Canyon Rafting trip
OARS staff preparing lunch on a Westerwater Canyon rafting trip

Tackling The Whitewater Rapids!

Note: We didn’t have proper underwater gear with us, so most of our photos from this day are with our phones!

The last day of our trip started off with exciting rapids right away! Our guide Zac was really looking forward to carving through them, and his excitement rubbed off on us! He knew all the names of Westwater Canyon’s rapids, why they were called that, and the precise moves the raft needed to take to navigate the tumultuous waters. Most of the guests were in paddle boats and had an active role in paddling, but Berty and I were in a gear raft with just our guide, Zac. That meant all we had to do was hold on and not fall out of the boat!

Our favorite part of this day was going down Skull Rapid. We heard stories of high-water levels that made rafts spin around and toss boats into a corner of the river that was hard to exit. Thankfully, all the boats on our trip made it through without getting stuck!

The rapids took about 1.5-2 hours to get through, and it was a really exciting part of the canyon. We had a great time getting splashed on the bigger dips, and hearing fun stories from our guides!


Westerwater Canyon rafting

Our Tips for a Great Experience with OARS

Book a Trip With Your Friends

On our trip, we met a group of guys that had been friends since their college days. We learned that they book an OARS trip together every couple of years to reunite and catch up! We think this is such a great idea, and we’re trying to convince our friends to do the same for another trip in the future.

Booking a trip with friends is an excellent idea because you can experience a new adventure together, catch up on stories around the campfire, and connect without the distractions of phones and the internet.

Consider an OARS rafting trip like an all-inclusive resort (in the river and dirt, of course), with catered meals, a jam-packed itinerary with tons of fun, and lots of opportunities to kick back and enjoy the ride with the people you love most.

Read More: 8 Fun Reasons Why You Should Travel With Friends

Westerwater canyon rafting trip boats
relaxing around the campsite on a Westerwater Canyon rafting trip

Be Open to Meeting New People

On our trip with OARS, Berty and I met some incredible people! The great thing about trips like these is that you meet people from all around the country. On our trip alone, we met people from California, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, and more western states.

It was really cool to hear why people booked this Westwater Canyon rafting trip and hear about other rafting trips they’ve taken in the past.

Hiking around Westwater Canyon in Utah
Hiking around Westwater Canyon in Utah

Explore On Foot

Surprisingly, one of our favorite parts of the trip was off the river! At night before we all went to sleep, Berty and I spent time hiking around the canyon, and we ended up discovering some pretty cool spots! Not only could we wander to get a better perspective of the canyon, but we had the opportunity to discover petroglyphs, pictographs, and photograph some incredible desert plant life.

Read More: The Compete Utah National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Westwater Canyon at sunset

Find A River Trip Near You

OARS runs trips all over the Western U.S., and even some international destinations too! No matter where you live in the country, there’s likely to be an OARS rafting trip just for you.

We definitely recommend experiencing a river rafting trip with OARS at least once in your lifetime! If you are looking for rafting trips in the Pacific Northwest, OARS runs some of the most popular whitewater rivers out West! We’re listing a few of the most popular ones below!

OARS trips in/near the Pacific Northwest

Westwater Canyon walls

Have you ever booked a trip with OARS? Have you ever rafted the Colorado River through Westwater Canyon or another river? Share your river experiences with us in the comments below!

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