Desolation Canyon
Guide

Introduction

Desolation Canyon is part of an extensive BLM-managed Wilderness Study Area in south-west Utah. The immense, isolated canyon was forged by the force of the Green River and carves its way through the rugged slopes of the Tavaputs Plateau for more than eighty miles before terminating just north of the Green River State Park. The red rock walls of the canyon are exceptionally steep and over a mile high in some places. Almost exactly one hundred years after explorer John Wesley Powell navigated the canyon on an exploratory research expedition in the late 1860s, Desolation Canyon was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Desolation Canyon is one of the remotest and most difficult spots to access in the entire southern United States. That's not a fact that stops numerous whitewater rafters heading to the canyon to challenge their skills on the endless rapids of the fast-flowing Green River. Hiking through the base of the canyon is practically impossible if not combined with kayaking or rafting and a few nights of camping on the riverside banks and beaches. It's a worthwhile venture, though, as there are lots of historic and ancient sites to explore in the side-canyons and along the confluence of the river. For serious trekkers, there are some roadways running across the Tavaputs Plateau where you can hike out to experience both solitude and the majestic scenery around the Desolation Canyon.

While there are no RV campgrounds in the rugged terrains of Desolation Canyon, there are several great campgrounds relatively close by. To be close to civilization and in the right place to go rafting, try the Green River State Park. You'll find alternative RV campgrounds in the Arches National Park and in the Ashley National Forest.

RV Rentals in Desolation Canyon

Transportation

Driving

Desolation Canyon is a difficult to access BLM property and wherever you're arriving from, expect a lengthy drive. The nearest town is East Carbon from where there are stunning mountain views but no way to reach the canyon unless you make a six-hour detour along the US 191 or a seven and a quarter one via the I 70. There is a maze of twisting county roads leading off from the US 40 between Naples and Jensen to the south-west of the Dinosaur National Monument. These roads are not suitable for rigs and don't lead down to the base of the canyon but along high ridges in the Tavaputs Plateau.

If you've flown into Salt Lake City and rented an RV from there, the trip down to the town of Green River will take you around three hours. If you've been spending a few days RV camping in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, you can join the US 40 near the Wasatch State Park south of Heber City for a tricky three hour drive through the mountains. As an alternative, take the US 6 through Provo. It's about the same length of journey but easier driving that will take you along the northern border of the Manti-La Sal National Forest.

Parking

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Desolation Canyon

Campsites in Desolation Canyon

Alternate camping

Green River State Park

The campground at the Green River State Park is located in a picturesque wooded setting with the pitches distributed around a spacious grass field. While they may be bordered by lawns, the campsites are paved and the internal roadways asphalted. The campground can be accessed via Green River Street off Green River Boulevard.

The campground has just over forty campsites for RVs that are well-spaced out and have standard furnishings of grills and picnic tables. All the campsites are fitted with water and electricity hook-ups. The majority of pitches are back-in, suitable for RVs less than thirty feet in length. There are a few sites that can accommodate rigs up to fifty feet.

On-site amenities at the campground are modern and include hot showers, restrooms with flush toilets as well as a sewage disposal station and a spigot for drinking water. The site has a ramp for launching boats onto the Green River. There is also an eighteen-hole golf course and a disc golf course a short distance from the campground within the state park.

Seasonal activities in Desolation Canyon

In-Season

Hiking

Any hiking around the Desolation Canyon is done along county roads winding over the Tavaputs Plateau. They're hard treks with lots of ups and downs to contend with. The treks are remote and any hiker heading out onto the plateau should go fully prepared and carrying a backpack of provisions.

A lengthy, but less challenging hike can be had along the road that leads to the Crystal Geyser from Green River. Hit the Little Valley Road and it's a twenty-mile out and back trek to a stunning geyser surrounded by bright red rock that spouts almost continuously. If that's too long a hike for you, it's possible to negotiate the roadway in a four by four or high clearance vehicle so long as it hasn't been raining.

Whitewater Rafting

Desolation Canyon is an exciting location to go whitewater rafting, but one you'll need to be prepared to camp out overnight for several days to enjoy. There are several private companies with professional guides that organize rafting trips along the Green River and through Desolation Canyon.

Most trips begin at the Sand Wash Ranger Station to the north of the canyon and last for between four to six days. If you don't have that much time on your hands, shorter whitewater rafting experiences can be had from the Green River State Park along the Labyrinth or Stillwater Canyons.

Fishing

While you may not be able to get down to the base of Desolation Canyon to go fishing, there's plenty of the Green River that is accessible to anglers. If you pitched camp at the Green River State Park, you won't have far to go. Cast your hook from the banks there and you'll reel in some catfish or bass.

There's also a fishing pond in the park which is stocked with fish too, including trout, so there'll be no shortage of something to grill up for dinner. All anglers fishing on the Green River should be in possession of a Utah State Fishing license.

Off-Season

John Wesley Powell Museum

Discover how adventurer and explorer J.W. Powell navigated down the Green River and through Desolation Canyon at the John Wesley Powell River History Museum. The museum is located on the main street in Green River and has extensive exhibits about the river and the expedition.

There are also displays of artifacts relating to the Native American communities of the area plus the town and people who settled there. The museum has seasonal operating hours, so check it's open before you go.

Mountain Biking

If you loaded your mountain bike onto your RV before setting out in the direction of Desolation Canyon, you'll be thrilled to find the Athena Mountain Bike Trail. The five and a half mile long trail is just a few minutes south of the town of Green River off the New Area 51 Road.

The trail is a challenging dirt track carved out along the hillsides. There are lots of rocky sections, ruts and dry creeks to contend with, so the trail is recommended for intermediary and experienced riders.

Green River Melon Days Festival

If you're around the Desolation Canyon area toward the end of September, don't miss the fun event happening in Green River. The Green River Melon Days Festival is an annual two-day event focused on melons. Join in with a melon pip spitting contest, a melon run, a three-man scramble and many other entertaining activities all including some type of melon.

Some festival events are held at the Green River Golf Course and others in the town's Anderson Park.