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Green River, UT- Labyrinth Canyon in High Water

Dec 24, 2020
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Park City, UT
Labyrinth Canyon at 24,000 CFS. June 14, 2023

This will be a quick trip report which may be of interest to those considering travelling to Utah to run the Green river through Labyrinth Canyon. Our trip was 64 miles, starting at Crystal Geyser (4.5 miles south of Green River State Park) and ending at Mineral Bottom. This is typically advertised as a “family friendly” trip with no rapids and great scenery. Having run it several times before, I was invited to accompany my son-in-law and a group from his neighborhood consisting of six men and nine boys (mostly sons of the men) age 11-15. Most had little, if any experience canoeing.

The river had been running as high as 28,000 CFS earlier in the month versus a median for this time of year of 18,000 and a typical summer flow of 2,000 CFS. It dropped to 19,000 the week before our departure but then increased to 24,000 CFS the day we put in. I was concerned about the ability of the group to pull off of the river in the current and the danger of whirlpools, eddy lines and strainers. I met a guy with 8 canoes on a trailer on the way down who had just come off the river and said they had no problems, despite several novice teams. This eased my worries somewhat. The outfitter (7 boats were rented in Moab) said that his clients had had no recent problems due to the high water either.

The rentals (from Moab Canoe and Kayak) were surprisingly good- nearly brand new Old Town Discovery (16’4”) and Penobscot (17’4”) polyethylene canoes. We had no portages so the weight (75 and 90 pounds!) was not a big concern. I used my 1980’s vintage 16’ Mad River Royalex Explorer. After a stern, and I thought graphic, lecture on the hazards of strainers, we set off one canoe at a time. The put in at Crystal Geyser had a very small eddy for loading and launching. My GPS indicated that we were going 8-9 MPH with easy paddling and 6-7 MPH when just drifting with the current just below Crystal Geyser! I was then surprised to go around a bend and see a wave train (avoidable) with 1-2’ waves- despite the reports that there were no rapids on this section. 24,000 CFS changes the river dramatically.

About 15 minutes into the trip we, paddling in sweep position, came around a bend and saw a yellow and blue paddle stuck in the branches of a tree which was hanging out over the river. I thought “that looks like one of the rental paddles, but it couldn’t be”. Then yells from downstream “they’re over!!!”. Somehow one canoe had reportedly hit another one and knocked it in toward the shore. 14 year old George, the bowman, hit a strainer, had the paddle ripped out of his hands and the canoe flipped from under he and his partner. He had at least obeyed instructions and grabbed onto the canoe and was trying to swim it to shore. We paddled over, backed in toward him, threw him my stern line and towed him to the shore, where some of the other canoes had pulled out. He was shook up and bruised, but alive and fortunately his head had never gone under the surface. A little more subdued group headed down the river, taking more care to leave space between the boats and not fool around.

Lunch stop was uneventful as we pulled into the backed up water in a side canyon, out of the river current. Our goal was to camp the first night in Trin Alcove, (Three Canyons) which has several relatively large campsites which are accessible in high water. It was 25+ miles from the put-in, but we had no trouble covering the distance thanks primarily to the current. The GPS showed 4.8 hours moving time and an average speed of 5.3 MPH for the day. Very strong upriver wind in the afternoon had lowered our average speed substantially. The three canyons consist of large splits located in the sheer 100+ foot rock walls which line the river at this point. The river was backed up for several hundred feet into the canyons, and we were able to paddle up to a premier campsite with shade from mature cottonwood trees and the canyon walls. The only drawback was the mosquitoes. The reduction in flow from 28,000 to 19,000 CFS the prior week had left substantial pools of stagnant water along portions of the river and, despite the normal desert climate, the mosquitoes bred prolifically and were waiting for us. I had anticipated some mosquito activity and advised the group to bring headnets and long pants/shirts as well as repellant. Each boy showed up with a headnet, but some insisted on wearing only tee shirts and shorts. The insects feasted and the boys complained. The kid who was assigned to my canoe counted 52 bites on his arms alone by the last day- but still would not wear long sleeves!


Day 2- After a leisurely morning we set off about 9:30 for the Bowknot Bend, where we could hike up on a high ridge and see the river on both sides of us. The canyon walls were spectacular in the clear morning sun and the paddle down was my favorite part of the trip. However, the mosquitoes at the pullout for the hike were the worst of the trip. They were actually pretty comparable to Boundary Waters in June, which I had experienced while in college, and never forgotten. The hike wound up switchbacks and we quickly left the bugs behind. I think that the hike up is worth the effort, even for a 76 year old, and enjoyed the change of pace as well as the views.

The wind arrived earlier that afternoon, and was later accompanied by moderate, then heavy rain and hail. Most storms are short in this high desert climate and we were all surprised when the rain continued for about four hours. Fortunately we had room to set up a rain tarp for shelter while we cooked dinner.

The next morning was sunny again and let us dry out our gear before packing. The river was now wider and slower in most sections than the prior two days. We lunched at Register Rock, which has a cliff wall and boulders covered with names carved into the soft stone surfaces. There was a small wave train across from the eddy where we pulled out and one of the adults and his son managed to flip when they backed into the waves after the lunch break. The final miles were relaxing and we arrived at the Mineral Bottom takeout in the late afternoon, well ahead of our designated rendezvous with the outfitter/shuttle at 10:00 the next morning.

The trip was pretty much a success, as everyone made it back alive and at least some of the boys said that they liked it. A few others, generally those who didn’t want to paddle, were less enthusiastic, and might not opt to go canoe tripping again. We travelled 25 miles the first day, 19 on day two and 20 the last day, with relatively short days on the water. I enjoyed the paddling, even though I was basically soloing in a relatively slow tandem canoe with a 140 pound dead weight in the bow most of the time. I would advise those travelling to get here to come in the fall, versus spring. The bugs are generally gone and the scenery is even more spectacular when the cottonwood trees along the river have turned to gold. The slower current in the fall also makes for a more mellow trip and less concern for the safety of novice paddlers.
Really interesting trip report. I would not have expected mosquitoes in the desert. Good to know. We've been thinking about this trip for a long time so it's good to have your information. Thanks!
The Green deserves multiple trips. You never get tired of it. I have to go back; only run it twice. Once in spring but a tamer spring!
I've run the lower Green several times now, starting at Crystal Geyser once and Ruby Ranch once, but starting from Mineral Bottom several more. I just prefer the run through Canyonlands Park, I guess mainly because that was my intro to the river and in my limited experience with the run above it seemed less crowded. We try to run it in April or October, can start earlier than those calendar months, like later March or midish September, but March weather is often iffier and September hotter. The April and October hiking is usually great as daytime temps are lower than summer, and the mosquitoes either haven't ramped up yet, or have died back to almost nothing. If you're hoping to take school-age kids along, those months won't work well for you. We never take bug repellant or head nets or any other bug stuff on the April or September into October shoulder season runs. We've never had any problems. The mosquitoes are pretty much a summer phenomenon. The stagnant water probably has little to do with it other than making them maybe a little bit worse. Reports I get indicate they're always there in summer.

I've also heard from one of the outfitters that there are no mosquitoes below Turks Head area, which ends at about 20 miles upstream from the Confluence with the Colorado, so well below Mineral Bottom where Halpc ended his trip. The claim there is that the skeets require large expanses of riverside vegetation to thrive, and the people who work there think there aren't any big acreages below river mile 20, or at least not until you get past the Confluence. If you're there in the summer, you will find mosquitoes in the skinny benches, though they are greatly reduced in intensity from that experienced in the "bottomlands" above Turks Head. The maps show those places as named bottoms like Mineral Bottom, Fort Bottom, Anderson Bottom, Valentine Bottom, Cabin Bottom, and the big bottom at Turks Head that seems to not be called Turks Head Bottom. There are many other named bottoms; those are just a few. Go in summer and get mosquitoes and hot, hot, hot weather not conducive to hiking around unless you're a Death Valley diehard type. There is lots to see when you get away from the river.

Those shoulder season months are usually also much more benign with water levels, although local storms can flash the side creeks and the river on you, so don't consider yourself home free. We went down for an October run one year and got a huge rainstorm while provisioning in Moab before hitting the river, and we found several of our hiking spots inaccessible because of the mud that widespread storm left behind. The water had receded, but left it's mark in bottomless muck. April flows are usually in the 4000-6000 cfs range, but I've also paddled on 12,000 and 18,000, and that's way before the mountain snowmelt has started. None of those levels are anything to worry about. Water level in October can be below 4000 cfs, and we ran Mineral down below 1500 cfs one year, but the river is always runnable. Low water just means you have to be more careful choosing channels. Sometimes it's just easier to step out of the boat and walk it until you hit deeper water again. I've walked before, will end up doing it again.
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I've run the lower Green several times now

Nick Pending, welcome to site membership! Feel free to ask any questions and to post messages, photos and videos in our many forums. Please read Welcome to CanoeTripping and Site Rules! We look forward to your participation in our canoe community, especially since you've made such an informative start.
Nick Pending, welcome to site membership! Feel free to ask any questions and to post messages, photos and videos in our many forums. Please read Welcome to CanoeTripping and Site Rules! We look forward to your participation in our canoe community, especially since you've made such an informative start.
Thanks, Glenn.

I've already looked at the rules and other stuff, most of it several times, as I've been lurking here now for several years. Most of it seems to be pretty much just commonsense. Another (nonboating) site I used to frequent just folded so I'm looking for another to get involved in, not that I'll actually post all that much. I usually at least check out most posts, though me and kitchen don't get along well. I'm also not a fisherperson. Used to when I was a kid, but lost interest and just did the canoeing part after high school. I'll try to chime in on topics that interest me and like to think I know something about and skip those I can't offer any concrete help on.

To echo yellowcanoe (hey, yellow, I got one of those too!) I also think the Green River is worth multiple runs as there's just so much to see there. My wife and I have done better than a dozen trips, I think, starting back in '96 if I remember right. I can offer tips on the lower run (Mineral Bottom to Spanish Bottom on the Colorado), but haven't collected much other than the general guidelines for above Mineral Bottom. The runs above the town of Green River (just above Crystal Geyser) are whitewater. Below Green River, the 120+ mile run to the Colorado is pretty much all flat. Really low water does make a couple "rapids" noticeable, but they mostly have just hard eddylines that people tend to trip over.

Thanks, again.
Nick Pending, welcome to site membership! Feel free to ask any questions and to post messages, photos and videos in our many forums. Please read Welcome to CanoeTripping and Site Rules! We look forward to your participation in our canoe community, especially since you've made such an informative start.
We have rules? Oh yeah, no decked canoe pictures.
Just to be contrary. This is a canoe TRIPPING site, right? Thelon River, Nunavut a couple of weeks ago. Day 36 of 42.

Hey, Glenn, do "soft" decks count in the "no decks" rule? (I'm joking here). Gotta keep warm somehow when paddling north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Not much gradient, but those kind of flows put you up in the salt cedars. Beaches are hard to find.
It is a great trip and I have fond memories from around 1996. We went in July which was too hot.
Shoulder seasons for sure.
Not much gradient, but those kind of flows put you up in the salt cedars. Beaches are hard to find.
It is a great trip and I have fond memories from around 1996. We went in July which was too hot.
Shoulder seasons for sure.
There's basically no gradient on the lower Green. If I remember right, I think all the way from Green River town up at the I-70 bridge down to the Colorado River Confluence, it's only about a foot a mile, foot and a half at the most. That's basically because continual slippage (over geologic time) at Cataract Canyon acts as a dam and the resulting natural lake behind it has totally silted in and is now just a (pseudo)meandering stream through the area. The Colorado is basically the same up until about Moab.

Ppine, if you haven't been on the Green since '96, the river vegetation is changing. The NPS and other authorities authorized releasing of the tamarisk beetle and it has done a great job of killing it. It's a job that'll never be finished, of course, but the natural willow is coming back and replacing the invasive tamarisk (your salt cedar). I always worry enough about wind and the river coming up so we never camp on beaches, especially since we often lay over at many of our camps there for often all-day hiking. We're usually up on the first usable bench above the river. There are enough sites, but you often do have to know where they are in some areas.
Glad to hear about the reduction of Tamarisk. It is still all over the Grand Canyon. Afternoon winds on the Green can be serious and whip up some good sized white caps. I like your idea about camping on the first river terrace, normally the edge of the primary flood plain. In flood it is a different story.

It is a great flat water trip. In the heat of summer I remember sleeping with a flannel sheet and little else. The red sandstone formations radiate a lot of heat. Avoid July and August. We spent a lot of time in the water drifting with the boats when the temperature was 112. Fond memories of reading from John Wesley Powell's book around the campfire.

We had two kids on our trip aged 5 and 8. Recently I met up with an old friend that was on the trip. His daughter is now 32 and married with her own kids. She claims she has vivid recollections of the trip from so long ago. Time is flying along a little too fast for my taste.
My last Grand Canyon trip was 2002, and that was before the release of the beetle as far as I know (around 2010? I'd have to look). On the Green it's a tammie reduction, not an elimination. My guess would be that in Canyonlands, it's down to half or less of what was there 15 years ago. Still a lot left. Above the park I doubt much has been done with them other than natural beetle kill. The park service goes in and helps them along, chopping out big fields of them. Quite a few stands of dead shrubs in places, many of them "inland" away from the water. My guess with those is lower watertable stressing the plant and the beetle doing them in with not enough water for little replacement plants to gain foothold. My worry is what happens when there's no longer enough to support the beetle population and the beetles die out, but there's still lots of little starts of tammie to grow up? I don't know if that question can be answered until it happens. I won't be around to witness it.

There can be lengthy wind events on the Green (and in the Grand Canyon), spanning days, sometimes, but the usual scenario is calmer mornings and windy afternoons, slowly dying again in the late afternoon or evening. We've been on the water with long-period 2+foot swells rolling upstream. Loads of fun (/sarc). One time my wife were paddling downstream and got wind ferried to the side into an eddy as we came around a bend. We couldn't get out of that danged eddy until the wind slacked off (minimally) maybe an hour later. We've been extremely lucky with wind on our trips there, relatively few problems. Some of that is our long time periods, usually taking 10+ days to do 50 miles, and we can pull over and camp if it gets bad, don't have a real schedule we have to hold to like those doing the same trip in 4 or so days.

A couple of our early trips had kids along, but none recently. Trips are really mixing together for me, also. Time compression seems to be crowding the speed of light and relativistic effects are really getting noticeable. I remember as a kid, summer used to last forever, but they go by so fast now that I hardly notice them, sure don't have time for all we want to do then.