Packrafting in Utah?

Guess I had better go walk that East Fork section first before thinking about a PR trip there that would end at the park boundary with a walk out to the road near Checkerboard Mesa.

Dave what leads you to think the park service would allow a permit to go into the narrows when there is enough water to actually float it? Or are you just talking about walking up that lower few miles? If I were running the Narrows I sure would be hoping to do the whole 16 miles. The other trick would be getting up there - I do not know that there is a shuttle running until the river is sufficiently low to be walkable; and walkable does not sound like much fun to raft?!

Doug, the Zion NPS has been giving out free boating permits for the Virgin River for years. Got one myself to take duckies down the Virgin from the Temple to the visitor center years ago. More recently they’ve capped the Narrows boating permit level at below 450 cfs. In my experience boating the Virgin below the Narrows at 300 cfs, and hiking portions of the Narrows at 150 cfs, 2-400 would be ideal range for packrafting.

You are correct that in the spring the road up to Chamberlain gets pretty nasty as it dries. However, there ought to be a good window when that road (6k elevation or so) is dry but the head waters of the Virgin (10k+) are still melting and providing plenty of water for floating.

The Virgin should have a significant flow this spring. The drainage is at 150-225% depending on how the agency measures (precip vs. snow/water). Enjoy Zion. Will be good to have a group of experienced folks to qualm the NPS’s recent fears and experiences.

Dave when do you think that time window for getting up the road to access the full length of the Narrows would be good and still have the necessary water to float it? Interested in teaming up on that?

Do you live in Whitefish, MT or somewhere up that way? I’ll be driving from Alaska to Grand Junction, CO the first week or 10 days of March. Maybe I could drop in to visit with you?

Hey Phillip!

I imagine there’s a good window, in May most likely, when you can find a dry road and the tail end of meltoff at the same time. Just a guess.

I would recommend running the lower gorge, along I-15, as well. Should be runnable for a long period this time for packrafters. Its be running steady for a month since the big floods in December (the had to Evac Springdale). With a packraft you could easily run from Saint George to the last exit in the Gorge in a day. Solid class III run interspersed with several class IV rapids and class V low head dams (easily portaged if you don’t let them sneak up on you). The run is a blast as long as you are careful and can keep a low profile in the tamarisk jungles.

There is also a kayak/gorge run below Virgin if you are a Class V boater.

The Chute of Muddy Creek may also be runnable this year and is much closer to Grand Junction.


Hey Dave,

Getting closer to buying one of the Alpacka products. Just bought a dry suit to start pushing the season in the SW. I can probably get a loaner from Matt if you ever want to do a trip down here. He’s pushing some new canyoneering terrain with the packrafts he bought. Should give him a call.

Hope all is well, buddy. Give me a heads up if you are going to be in the area.


Anyone in Utah (or nearby) have a boat they would be willing to rent out the week of May 1-May 8th? I have a Llama and a Yak but I need a third boat for a trip in southern Utah with a couple friends. Obviously packrafts are a large investment, so we’re willing to pay a significant rental fee for the week. Please let me know if you can make a boat available, and let me know how much you’d being willing to rent it for. I live in the Salt Lake City area so I’m hoping to find someone relatively close by, but I’d be open to offers from pretty much anywhere right now.


Alex Richardson

I packrafted the East Fork of the Virgin last spring through the Barracks. There is a way around the waterfall. You have to scramble about 50 feet up on river left, right before the falls. There is an eddy to take out among some vehicle sized boulders in the stream. Once you climb 50 feet up, there is a cave you have to slip through to get back down to the stream. The takeout is a few minutes down stream, dont miss it if the stream has a decent flow or you will enter a cataract full of seives and falls, with no way to go back up stream. At the takeout, its a class III and IV climb for the first few hundred feet, then a half day hike across petrified sand dunes and through some narrows west of Checkerboard Mesa. The route out requires great map reading skills. I only paddles the bottom 5 miles of the barracks an 80 cfs from the gage near Sprindale. If you want to paddle from the top of the gorge down to the Zions boundery you will been at least 50 cfs on the USGS gage above the gorge. It looks like may be class III if the stream was higher, say 200 cfs. There are some clear feeder streams and springs for drinking, and slot canyons to explore along the way. The Barracks dont get unreasonably narrow. I didnt encounter any wood portages in the bottom 5 miles, but there maybe some above. The gradient is low and the canyon is plenty wide for portaging above the bottom few miles. The river mostly has a sandy and gravel bottom.

The Uintah Rivers are plenty big enough for paddling. Ive done Chalk Creek, Provo, Duchesne, Yellowstone, and the Uintah Rivers. Ive known of other paddles doing the Weber, Lake Fork, Rock Creek, Whiterocks, Ashley Gorge, Red Rock Creek, Henries Forks, Blacks Forks, East Fork and Stillwater Forks of the Bear. There are other streams that are raftable but have wood. The best whitewater is inside the uintah slate boxes on the south slope. The upper reaches of many of these boxes contain bedrock slides, ledges, and waterfalls. All of these rivers peak around 1000 to 3000 cfs and are pactraftable May through July. Watch out for fallen trees! Best level for safely packrafting these rivers is under 500 cfs visual. You will have to wait till mid May/early June to escape the snow in the lower elevations of the High Uintah Wilderness. And be very careful to not attract bears while camping here, not only for your safety, but because the locals of Utah and rangers are trigger happy for bears that have raided camps even once.