Family Rafting in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13215A, Raft


  • Run exciting rapids on the Green River
  • Explore towering desert canyons and view rock art
  • Learn about conservation through games and activities


  • Oar and paddle rafts with licensed river guides
  • All meals and snacks
  • Van transportation to the put-in and take-out locations


DatesJul 18–21, 2013
Price$925 (Adult)
$825 (Child)
Min. Age8
StaffTim Wernette

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Ride whitewater Class II-IV rapids and float down peaceful stretches of Utah's spectacular Green River. Canyon walls tower above as we float back in geologic time to when dinosaurs dominated this land. We'll also swim, hike, see American Indian pictographs, and enjoy games in camp. The perfect family vacation, this trip is suitable for river novices and children ages seven and older.

We will use three or four 18-foot, oar-powered rafts, each guided by an experienced and licensed river guide. Trip members may freely switch boats during the course of a day and throughout the trip. In addition to the oar boats, we will have inflatable kayaks and a paddle raft for part-time, shared use.

Each night we will make camp at a different site along the river. After everyone helps unload the equipment off the rafts, we will each set up our own tent sites, and have some time for other activities while the river guides begin dinner preparation.


Pre-Trip: All trip members must participate in an orientation meeting the afternoon before the trip departs. At this meeting, each trip member will receive a large waterproof river bag and tips on packing. We'll also answer any last-minute questions and finalize arrangements for the following morning's departure. After the meeting, trip members will pack all personal clothing and gear (except tents) into the waterproof bags to be ready for a prompt departure. Tents will be stored collectively on the rafts in other waterproof bags.

We're planning to have our orientation meeting mid-afternoon on July 17th at the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal. In addition, we're planning free admission to the museum and a guided tour of the museum prior to our orientation meeting for those interested.

Day 1: The morning of our departure, we will meet in Jensen, Utah and then take a three-hour van ride to the launch site in Colorado. Shortly after we begin our four-day float, we enter the dramatic "Gates of Lodore," a dramatic portal to the colorful maze of the Green River's Lodore Canyon.

Day 2: We'll experience several dramatic rapids, including Harp Falls, Triplet Falls, and the exciting "Hells Half Mile." We'll stop later in the day for a hike up a quiet side canyon.

Day 3: On the next day, we'll pass through Echo Park, where the Yampa (the last undammed tributary of the Colorado) joins the Green River from the east. The river curls right around imposing Steamboat Rock, which rises 1,000 feet above us.

Day 4: The final day we'll travel through Whirlpool Canyon, Island Park, and Rainbow Park to our take-out location below Split Mountain Gorge, Utah, near the quarry that gives Dinosaur National Monument its name.

Each day we'll stop for lunch at a secluded beach and spend the night in a reserved campground listening to the river flow. While we will have some group activities, there will be plenty of time for individual exploration and children will find plenty of interesting activities. You will have a chance to hike side canyons, build beach castles, look for lizards, scan the canyon walls for eagles and bighorn sheep, view rock art, swim, or simply find a quiet place to absorb the beauty of the canyon and the music of the river.

We will return to Jensen after our take-out, via a 30-minute van ride. Our arrival time in Jensen is usually mid-to-late afternoon of day four. The trip closes with a "no host" farewell dinner in Vernal.



Getting There

Although the departure point for our trip is Jensen, we recommend staying the nights before and after the trip in Vernal, Utah, about 12 miles west of Jensen. Round-trip transportation from Vernal to Jensen is provided for those who need it. Directions will be available. The nearest major airports with commercial service are Salt Lake City, Utah, or Grand Junction, Colorado. Flights directly into Vernal are available from Denver on Great Lakes Airline, a United partner. If you arrive in Vernal by car, you can drive to Jensen on the morning of departure and store your car there. A van will take us to the put-in. If you don't have a car, you will be picked up at your motel in Vernal and driven to Jensen. 

Accommodations and Food

You don't have to cook or plan! All meals from lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day will be provided, as will snacks. Remember to eat breakfast and bring a snack before you arrive at our meeting place on the first day. Please indicate any dietary issues on your trip application; most dietary requirements can be accommodated.

Water, juices, coffee, and tea are provided; sodas and alcoholic beverages are not. You may bring a limited supply of your own preferred beverages in aluminum cans, wine boxes, or plastic bottles. Glass containers are not allowed.  

Trip Difficulty

This trip is for beginner to intermediate rafters. Our day-to-day itinerary is flexible and will depend on river levels, weather conditions, and the inclinations of the group. We will move at a leisurely pace, allowing plenty of time for swimming, hiking, photography, and exploring.

Our first priority will be water safety, on and off the river. Flotation devices will be provided. Children ages seven to 11 will need to wear their life jackets at all times while on the rafts, swimming, or playing near the river. The most serious rapids will be run in oar-powered rafts to provide the safest possible experience. A parent, grandparent, or guardian must accompany each child on the trip.

Our side-canyon explorations will range from easy walks to more difficult hikes that require some scrambling. Although these hikes are optional, good physical conditioning is important in any wilderness outing. We strongly recommend that you engage in a program of regular exercise prior to the trip. Also note that participants who wish to spend part of the time in the inflatable kayaks or the paddle raft will need to be in good physical condition.

Trip members are expected to assist in loading and unloading the rafts. Families must be able to take care of their personal needs and attend to their own tent sites, although the staff will be able to work with parents and children who need assistance with getting their camp set up.

Daytime temperatures range from 70-95 degrees, but low humidity makes it quite comfortable. Nighttime lows will be in the 60s and 70s. Thunderstorms are possible, although early August is usually a pleasant time on the plateau.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will provide a detailed equipment list to registered participants. Please also note that there are some items you should leave behind, including stereos, radios, electronic games, and even your watches -- we'll be on "river time" once the trip begins! Tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads will available for rental at additional cost. 


Having some basic background on the desert Southwest's natural and human history will greatly enhance your experience on this trip. The following books are especially recommended:

  • Belknap, Buzz, and Loie B. Evans, Dinosaur River Guide. Strip maps of the Green and Yampa rivers, showing rapids, points of interest, and river lore. Made of waterproof paper to be used while on the river.
  • Hansen, Wallace R., Dinosaur's Restless Rivers and Craggy Canyon Walls. A guide to the geology of Dinosaur National Monument. Printed on waterproof paper to be used while on the river.
  • Cosco, Jon M., Echo Park: Struggle for Preservation. The complete story of the battle to save Dinosaur and defeat the Echo Park Dam, featuring the leadership role of the Sierra Club.
  • Harvey, Mark W. T., A Symbol of Wilderness: Echo Park and the American Conservation Movement. An in-depth account of the battle to save Dinosaur and defeat the Echo Park Dam, and the role this struggle played in the growth of the conservation movement in the post-World War Two era.
  • Cole, Sally J., Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Describes the rock art and cultures of prehistoric and modern people of canyon country.
  • Powell, John Wesley, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons. The historic, heroic 1869 descent of the Green and Colorado rivers. 


The Green River was listed #2 on American River's "America's Most Endangered Rivers 2012" list. We will take time to consider and discuss the conservation issues facing northeastern Utah and the rest of the state's public lands. Our trip will take us through or close to several wilderness study areas proposed for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. After you have experienced these areas for four days at river level, it's our hope that you will find it easier to champion them -- or others closer to home. We will also consider the area's conservation history and the tremendous battles that were fought to save Dinosaur National Monument in the 1950s. 



Tim Wernette has been leading Sierra Club Outings for more than 25 years. He is an avid white-water river rafter and flat-water kayaker, and has led numerous Sierra Club water/rafting trips on the Yampa/Green and Green/Colorado rivers, including the Grand Canyon. Tim also leads Sierra Club service and international trips (the latter to Nepal, Bhutan, Belize, Ecuador/Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, and S.E. Asia). Tim is semi-retired and continues to work part-time at the University of Arizona doing educational equity work. Tim enjoys hiking/backpacking and, with his wife, tandem recumbent bike riding and sea kayaking. The canyon country we will visit is Tim's geographical "spiritual home," and he loves sharing it with fellow Sierra Club members.

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