We are thrilled to announce that we can now take you packrafting on the Dirty Devil River! Spend two days paddling through winding red sandstone canyons, exploring side slot canyons and camping under dark, starry skies on sandy beaches. Want in? We will take a group of no more than eight on a trip this March 18-20. Children who have experience in backcountry settings are welcome. Click here to learn more!
A Silty Desert Waterway
“How is she, Jack?” Someone from the boat hollered as John Wesley Powell and his crew passed the mouth of one of the Colorado River’s tributaries on their historic 1869 expedition.
“Oh, she’s a dirty devil,” he replied. Though Powell eventually tried to change the name, the Dirty Devil River stuck.
The Dirty forms at the confluence of the Fremont River and Muddy Creek, northeast of Hanksville. It drains 80 miles southeast into the Colorado and Lake Powell, carrying with it an estimated 86,000 tons of salt and so much silt that the water is barely drinkable even with a high-quality filter.
Tributaries feed the Dirty along the way, including ones used as hideouts by Butch Cassidy and his gang in the 1890s.
Cliffs, Canyons & Towers
At points the sandstone walls rise upwards of 2000 feet in the canyon, and at other points they’re just a few hundred feet high. But always they’re stunning and varied. Some are perfectly sheer, streaked with black and brown water stains, while others are goblin shaped drizzle towers like the sandstone castles kids make on beaches. And then there are the weirdly-shaped towers that seem to perch precariously off the ends of those cliffs or sometimes stand by themselves in stoic repose.
Slot canyons abound, where water has carved grooves and tunnels in the sandstone, and sandy beaches offer excellent campsites. But despite its spectacular scenery, the Dirty Devil river is inhospitable, remote, and the terrain is dangerous, requiring 4WD vehicles to reach any of the put ins. And once you enter, there are few ways out.
A Dangerous Ephemeral River
Flash flooding is always a possibility. Avid paddlers watch for the elusive storms that turn this ephemeral river into a raging beast. But it’s hard to catch the big flows. Late summer 2021, the river rose to over 15,000 CFS due to heavy rainfall. It quickly fell the next day back down to below 1000, and then rapidly back to 100cfs within the next few days. The morning it started rising, paddlers started trading a flood phone calls and text messages.
“Did you see the Dirty is at 20K!”
“Can you go?”
“I’m out of town!”
“I can’t get off work!”
No one got lucky in 2021. But in the past, Doom has caught it at 3000cfs, and got to experience a wild, extremely muddy ride. Depending on the cfs, big (or giant at 20K) brown wave trains form, and the river runs fast through it’s narrow channel, with few to no places to exit or eddy out. It only takes just a few hours to run its full length!
However, more often than not it runs between 100-200 for a standard paddle, which means it’s lazy, shallow in spots and totally cruiser.