Rafters run popular Onion Creek Rapid along colorful Fisher Towers on the Colorado River outside of Moab.

It’s a pleasant ride—at first. The sun is warm, the seat comfortable, the stroke of the oars steady and the soft and soothing sound of the flowing water. Then all hell breaks loose.

The slow-moving river turns into a tempest of churning water, violently tossing anything that invades it. What was a low rumble, like rolling thunder, suddenly turns to a deafening and continuous roar. Then, almost as quickly, the water grows still and the only sound is of oars striking the surface.

So ends one section of a whitewater adventure and the beginning of another.

Whitewater trips are a laid-back experience fused into a high-adventure ride. They are peaceful, challenging, threatening and, perhaps best of all, primitive. No phones, email or any idea whatsoever what the Dow is doing. All you need fits nicely into a single water-protected bag the size of a large suitcase and a small tin ammo can for luxuries such as cameras, sunscreen, sunglasses, a toothbrush and paste and maybe a candy bar or two.

Riding the Whitewater

For centuries, even before the well-known ventures of John Wesley Powell on the Green and Colorado Rivers, people have been drawn to river adventures. Here in Utah are some of the best whitewater rafting rivers in the country, and one neighboring section of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is recognized around the world for its stark landscape and remote wilderness.

Utah’s premier rafting rivers include Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River below Moab, Westwater on the Colorado as it flows into Utah, Desolation Canyon on the Green River, San Juan River feeding into Lake Powell and the Colorado Daily, known as Fisher Towers, slightly north of Moab.

To accommodate time tables, river outfitters offer a full slate of running options, from hours to weeks, with the most popular being shorter trips, which make it possible to include other activities like four-wheel excursions, horseback riding, rock climbing, biking tours and national park hiking adventures.

Trips typically begin with an introduction to policies, procedures and a list of “what ifs,” like falling off a boat. Once bags and cans have been secured, oars meet water and the adventure begins. From then on, the river dictates the course. This is the moment most rafters begin their love affair with river running. Flowing water is a natural pacifier, like murmuring fountains and summer breezes. It doesn’t take long before time loses all value. Daily meals become the only reference to time, and days begin to blend together.

Sleeping is generally done in small tents and sleeping bags, sometimes with a cot, and meals are tasty. For some reason, food eaten on the river bank tastes much better than it does at a dining table.

And once the boats have been beached and bags and cans claimed, that’s when thoughts quickly turn to the next whitewater trip. And the anticipation begins.

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