The Green River enters Desolation Canyon just north of Sand Wash as it exits the Uinta Basin. Canyon walls are stream and lake deposits of the Eocene age then transition into the Cretaceous delta and sea deposits of Gray Canyon.
Along the river, the riparian zone holds willow, cottonwood, box elder and other woody riparian species and provides critical habitat to neo-tropical migrant birds, nesting waterfowl, and wintering deer and elk. Moving away from the cool shade of the riparian zone, one immediately enters a desert environment dominated by salt shrubs and bunch grasses. There is a small sagebrush zone that gives way to pinyon and juniper slopes. The view is always dominated by rock and cliff. Douglas fir finds a home in protected, well-watered alcoves.
Over sixty riffles and rapids punctuate the trip. None are particularly difficult - a dozen or so can cause some trouble for the unprepared traveler. Camping tends to be idyllic on a clean sandy beach in front of a grove of cottonwood trees which offer shade and a windbreak. More than 60 side canyons descend from the plateau to meet the Green River. Every side canyon holds a surprise a few contain a cold, clear stream pouring into the Green River.
Between Sand Wash and Nefertiti Rapid, users set their own itinerary. There are a number of hiking trails in the canyon.
The Desolation Canyon National Historic Landmark (NHL) extends one mile on either side of the river from Nine Mile Creek to Florence Creek. The NHL was designated by the Secretary of the Interior in 1969 as part of the centennial celebration of the 1869 exploration of the Green and Colorado Rivers by John Wesley Powell.
There is a primitive boat ramp at Sand Wash, a primitive eight-site campground, a contact/information station, staffed ranger station and toilets. Trash receptacles and water are not provided. With the remoteness of the area groups can camp the night before at Sand Wash. Due to frequent mosquito plagues, Sand Wash offers four campsites with screened cabins. Cabins can be rented once a permit has been secured. This contrasts with the more developed Swaseys Boat Ramp where there is a large concrete boat ramp along with improved parking, toilets and trash removal services.
Spring launches see rising water, warm days that may have wind and chances of rain or snow. Summer will bring warm to hot days, steady water and fun in the sun. Fall trips mean shorter days, beautiful fall colors, and possible rain. In winter months it is a good idea to check weather and river conditions as the river does freeze over during the winter months, usually December to March and will cause the river to be unfloatable.
For more inforation please visit https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/passes-and-permits/lotteries/utah/desolationgray
The road into Sand Wash is passable, you will encounter ice, snow and mud. High-clearance, 4WD and good tires are a must. Wrinkles road is not advised. Expect these conditions into mid-April.
This permit allows a visitor to use floating watercraft to navigate the 84 river miles including camping and hiking along the west side of the river corridor.
A permit is required throughout the season, which spans February 1 through November 30. During the winter months the river freezes over and/or ice dams form in shallow braided chanels, typically leaving the river corridor impassible from December thru February.
As of September 2018, all activities on Ute Tribal Lands are strictly prohibited. Activities prohibited include, but are not limited to: landing water craft, visitation of cultural and historic sites, camping and hiking. The Ute Tribal Lands are on River left (ie the east side of the river) from Sandwash to Coal Creek. Please contact the Ute Tribe Fish & Wildlife Dept. at (435) 722-5511 if you have questions.
Trip planning video: Desolation Gray Canyons River Permit (16:24)
There is a one-time $6 reservation fee and recreation fee of $40 per person. The reservation fee and recreation fee for one person must be paid at the time that the launch is reserved. Any launch cancelled more than 30 days before the launch will receive a full refund of any recreation fees paid. Cancelling a trip less than 30 days in advance will not receive any refunds. Payment for all passengers must be completed and the permit printed in the two weeks preceding the launch date. Failure to do so will cause the reservation to be cancelled the day of the trip.
Please be mindful of cancelling reservations so you do not keep another boater off the river.
Cancellations more than 30 days in advance may be made by returning to the reservation in your account on Recreation.gov and selecting the cancel option. Refunds will be returned to the credit card originally used to pay the fees. The $6 reservation fee will not be refunded.
Cancellations made within 30 days of the scheduled launch date will not receive refunds.
If you (as the permit holder) find that you cannot make the trip and people in your group still want to go, then you can modify the permit and add an alternative trip leader. However, the permit will still need to be finalized and printed from the original permit holders recreation.gov account.
125 South 600 West Price UT 84501