Notable Western Rivers

The Colorado River is the father of all western rivers, draining the Colorado River Basin from Canada to Mexico.
Colorado River. Photo by Doug Vavrick

Photo by Doug Vavrick

Originally a high flow, sediment-rich river with relatively warm waters, the 1,450-mile long river and its tributaries have been broken up by dams. The Colorado River Plateau drains 242,900 square miles of basin and range land between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The river, whose every ounce of water is counted and allocated, once flowed freely to the Gulf of California. There are reports of Spanish explorers sailing upstream from the gulf during the mid 1500s.

That is no longer the case. The river is dammed a number of times and provides water for irrigation and consumption to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam, Davis Dam and Parker Dam all created recreational lakes that supply critical water supplies to thirsty neighbors. Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Mojave and Lake Havasu, respectively, were created above the dams.

These lakes are some of the largest manmade lakes in the world, and certainly within the U.S. Lake Havasu is the deepest dam in the world with 73 percent of its structure below water.

The Colorado is one of three major Utah rivers with whitewater rapids. Where the Colorado runs through Cataract Canyon is considered one of the best rapid runs in the country.

And many people extol the beauty of floating through the Grand Canyon.

The section of the Green River where it runs past Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area is another highly-regarded rafting spot that sports Class 1 and Class II whitewater.

Further down, where it feeds into Dinosaur National Monument the rapids offer Class I to Class IV rides. Keep floating downriver to Desolation and Gray Canyons, that, together feature 60 rapids from Class I to Class III.
The gentlest major river is the San Juan, which runs past remote petroglyphs and wildlife and offers Class II to III rapids. The river still flows red, like the Colorado once did.

The Dirty Devil River flows through Glen Canyon and into Lake Powell and is the melding of the Fremont River and Muddy Creek just north of Hanksville. Butch Cassidy loved using its tributaries to hide from the law.

The banks and canyons of the isolated Yampa River in Colorado was another favorite hideout for Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall Gang. The river runs through Dinosaur National Monument and some of the most scenic territory in the region. The Yampa is the only major tributary of the Colorado that is undammed. The last 46 miles is extraordinary, providing one of the U.S.'s top 10 toughest rapid experiences before it flows into the Green River. The Yampa offers only 300 private permits per year and gets 2,500 applications that are allocated by lottery.

The Provo River is a favorite fly fishing destination. It meanders through the middle of Heber Valley between flowing from the Uinta Mountains and into Utah Lake.



Virgin & Santa Clara Rivers

Zion is characterized by the flows of the Virgin & Santa Clara Rivers.

Zion Canyon

Must-See Natural Wonders in Zion National Park

If you have the time and good shoes, take a ride on The Narrows, an unforgettable wade in cold waters of the Virgin River.


Lakes Neighboring Utah

Awe-inspiring lakes outside of Utah are worth a side trip for visitors wanting exceptional hiking trails, photography and wildlife viewing.


Canyons of Zion National Park

The high cliffs of Zion were formed about four million years ago through a process where layers of rock were broken, pushed up and on their side


Explore Large Lakes in the Utah Desert

Utah offers many natural lakes and man-made reservoirs. They attract people for far more than fishing. Boating, houseboating, and swimming are all popular.

Utah Honey Bee and Thistle by James Phelps

Wildflowers in Zion National Park

With housing the most wildflower species in Utah, beauty is all around in Zion. There are well over 1,000 plant species and counting, said Walt Fertig.

Island in the Sky District with the Green River

Utah Rock Formations, Mountains and Caves

Some of the most spectacular can be seen at Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges, Cathedral Valley, and Monument Valley.

Emerald Pools Waterfall

Waterfalls in Zion National Park

Somehow, one doesn't expect desert terrain to be home of some of the world's most spectacular water features. But, Zion is full of waterfalls from snow melt.

Lower Calf Creek Falls in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Waterfalls in Utah and Beyond

Visit these stunning waterfalls around Utah and in Arizona's Grand Canyon.