Dinosaur River Expeditions blew my expectations out of the water (pun intended) on my first ever white-water rafting trip.
Visiting Dinosaur National Monument had been on my Colorado Bucket List for years and visiting by river is one of the best ways to see The Monument.
The entire Dinosaur National Monument is 210,000 acres. The Green River and its tributary waters encompass 58 miles of the monument with a majority of that being inaccessible by roads and barely by foot. Dinosaur National Monument also includes The Yampa River which converges with The Green River to make up for the rest of the park.
The waters inside the monument are highly protected. I was unbelievably lucky to have been able to join a chartered expedition. Only a handful of groups can be on the river each day.
Two chartered and one private expedition can launch on The Green River per day, and only one private and one charter expedition can launch on The Yampa River daily. These restrictions keep the landscape in the monument beautiful, clean, and wild.
Check out the Dinosaur River Expeditions website to learn more about all of their trips through The Green River, Yampa River, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
There are other companies allowed to go through Dinosaur National Monument, but Dinosaur River Expeditions is the only locally owned operator!
This was my first guided river trip ever, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or pack before we left. After going through Dinosaur River Expeditions online checklist, I felt well-prepared.
After the trip, there were a few things I really wish I had packed including:
Other than clothes and personal items, the only other thing we had to pack were our tents. It was as easy as that! Everything else like food, water, and chairs were all covered by Dinosaur River Expeditions.
It was a luxurious trip to have every meal cooked and guides rowing me down the river, except we were all pretty dirty by the end of the trip! That being said, to be so well taken care of did feel like pampering.
The entire four-day trip is documented in my video below! Watch it to see just how gorgeous this national monument is.
Here was our itinerary for our four days on The Green River:
Pre-Trip – Dinosaur River Expeditions Office
The night before we left for our trip, we all met for the first time at Dinosaur River Expeditions’s office in Vernal, Utah. We went over safety procedures, general guidelines and information, then received our dry bags.
We each received an overnight bag to hold our clothes and other things along with a day bag for personal items to keep near us on the boat.
After we all asked questions and met the guides; the owners, Jen and Tyler; and all the other rafters, we were dismissed to go pack up and get a good night’s rest before meeting early the next morning.
Day One – The Gates of Lodore
Before we hit the water, we met at The Dinosaur Inn to load our bags and tents into the vans around 7 a.m. Once we were all in the vans, we rode nearly two and a half hours from Vernal, Utah, to The Gates of Lodore.
When we arrived, the guides were already there with the boats and waiting to load them with our gear. It was a quick process, and before I knew it, we were pushing off!
Our guides rowed for only a few minutes, and we were entering The Gates of Lodore. It felt like we were entering into another world when we crossed through “The Gates”. The landscape changed from an open beach area to a narrow, steep red-rock canyon that dwarfed us.
The first half of the day was nice and smooth before we stopped for lunch at Winnie’s Grotto. We took a quick hike into the canyon while the guides prepared our first lunch. After a lunch of taco salad wraps, we hopped back into the boats, but not for long before we stopped to scope out Disaster Falls.
Disaster Falls was named during the famous John Wesley Powell expeditions. They crashed their boats here and only saved a barrel of whiskey. When we made it past the falls safely, we arrived at Whiskey Beach where our guides aptly had a bottle of whiskey waiting for us! It wasn’t long until we set up camp at Pot Creek. The guides prepared dinner for us and set up a nice little bonfire in the middle of our circle of chairs.
Day Two – Hell’s Half Mile and Triplet Falls
It was the Fourth of July, and all of us were cheerful and chipper despite the lack of sleep during the storm the night before. After the guides cooked our breakfast of French toast and sausage, we packed away our soaking wet gear and right away started the day on the water with some rapids.
First up was Harp Falls and then Triplet Falls before Hell’s Half Mile. This was our most eventful day on the water with all of these rapids coming back to back to back with stopping and scoping the river required for Triplet Falls and Hell’s Half Mile.
All the guides successfully navigated the falls, and we stopped for a nice sandwich lunch when it was all over. We didn’t have a far float to our campsite after lunch, so I hopped in a “ducky” inflatable kayak for the rest of the day.
We set up camp and dried our things before dinner and the Fourth of July festivities. Our guides brought hair coloring, leis, costumes, and glow sticks to get us in the mood for Independence Day. They even put on a “fireworks” show at the end of the night by throwing glow sticks and banging mats on the ground to imitate a real show. It was a great way to end the very silly night.
Day Three – Echo Park
We awoke to the daily yelling of, “Coffee!” by the guides and a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs. We had all slept much better than the first night, so we packed things up a bit earlier.
It was a much calmer day on the river compared to the first two in terms of rapids, but geologically, the scenery was the most dramatic on the third day; We passed through some of the most famous parts of Dinosaur National Monument.
Echo Park and Steamboat Rock are near the convergence of The Green and Yampa Rivers. Echo Park is named for a massive rock wall that when yelled at can echo over a dozen times. That day, we only heard three echoes, and the guides said timing is everything here!
Next, we went through Whirlpool Canyon before stopping for lunch and a hike at Jones Hole. This beautiful stream comes from a fish hatchery above the canyon walls, so some of us opted out of the hike to do some fishing. We didn’t have any luck, and I regretted missing out on things like “Butt Plug Falls” and some ancient petroglyphs.
We had a pretty gritty dinner with the wind blowing sand all over our plates and the cooking area, but the guides lifted our spirits by building a water slide out of one of the boats being flipped upside down. Another group of guests took it upon themselves to put on a shadow puppet show against the canyon walls, and we all had a great laugh before getting into our tents.
Day Four – Split Mountain
The final day of the expedition was bittersweet. Many of the kids on the trip couldn’t wait to get home, shower, and sleep in their own beds, while some of us - myself included - wished the trip never had to end. As we sat around and ate our pancake breakfast, we all reminisced on how sweet the trip had been and how much we cherished each other’s company.
We had a very easy day boating through Island Park. The water was almost lake-like in its stillness, and there were no rapids at all. Our guides actually had to work the hardest here to push us through. Island Park was the hottest, and frankly most annoying part of the entire trip.
We circled back into Split Mountain, and because of the open landscape with still water, the biting bugs and mosquitoes were out in full force. We were here midday, so the sun was also beating down. Luckily, this section didn’t last too long, and we were back between the walls of the canyons for lunch.
After our last meal on the water of Caesar salad wraps, we played a fun game of “Yee-Haw” - a game that requires people to memorize moves to throw at their neighbors in hopes to get them out. After a sweet, young girl won the game with her great impersonation of a pumpkin, we hopped back into the rafts one last time for the final stretch.
Split Mountain was a gorgeous final area. The swirly mountains surrounded either side of the river appearing to have opened up for the water to pass through. I sat in awe knowing this was the last view I would see from the river.
The exit off the boat was just as quick as our entrance. Once we docked, we quickly grabbed our belongings and loaded them into the vans. Just like that, we were back where we started!
We rode back to The Dino Inn and unloaded the dry bags into our respective vehicles. It all happened so fast that it felt like a big slap in the face by reality, but once we said our final goodbyes, it hit me how truly incredible this trip had been.
I could never say enough great things about Dinosaur National Monument, Dinosaur River Expeditions, the guides, the other guests, or the overall experience I had during this four-day white-water rafting trip. It was truly remarkable.
Book your own adventure with Dinosaur River Expeditions, here!
After I finally came down from the clouds and reality truly did set back in, I spent the next few days exploring around Dinosaur National Monument and the Vernal, Utah area.
Read more about that entire solo road trip in my blog posts here!
Dinosaur National Monument is one of the lesser-visited areas in Colorado because of its remote nature, and most peoples’ common misconception is that there is nothing to do or see in the surrounding area. They’re really missing out!
There was so much to do around this area of Colorado and Utah called “Dinosaurland” that I ended up spending an entire week exploring!
You can read about my entire week-long road trip here and see more in my YouTube video below:
After I spent four days and three nights inside the monument on The Green River with Dinosaur River Expeditions, I finally went back into Dinosaur National Monument to see the bones, petroglyphs, and all the viewpoints I had seen from the river.
Over half of the monument is only accessible by raft, and only a few people are permitted each day. See more from this adventure-filled expedition in my blog posts and videos here!
Here is how I spent one jam-packed day hitting the highlights of Dinosaur National Monument on a self-guided auto tour:
Note that it costs $25 to enter the park, or you can purchase an annual National Park pass for $80. I recommend the annual pass so you can spend multiple days in the park. Three visits, and it pays for itself. Throw in some other national parks and protected areas, and you’re covered!
The Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall
From Vernal, Utah, the first place I went in Dinosaur National Monument was the famous “Wall of Bones” at the Quarry Exhibit Hall. I arrived at the visitors’ center and walked around for a good bit learning about the geologic makeup of the park and the bone quarry.
A shuttle leaves from the visitors’ center to the quarry every 15 minutes. There is also a hike that leads to it, but I opted for the free ride.
The dinosaur bones were discovered here in 1908. After 20 years of excavating, the exhibit hall was built, and no bones have been removed in decades. The wall of bones is bigger than I imagined. It is massive! It’s over 800 feet long with hundreds of bones inside including 20 complete skeletons.
It is remarkable to behold. I probably spent over an hour - maybe closer to two - reading every detail and observing the wall as much as I could.
See more from “The Wall of Bones” in my video below:
When I left the quarry exhibit hall, I grabbed a pamphlet for a self-guided auto tour up Cub Creek Road (the main road in this portion of the monument).
Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs
The first stop on the auto tour was called The Swelter Shelter. This stop was a quick walk to a wall full of petroglyphs which are ancient rock carvings.
The next few viewpoints were of Split Mountain, the wild, tilted rocks along the edge of the skyline. Split Mountain is called so because The Green River splits it and divides the mountain in two.
It’s a geologically fascinating formation to learn about. You can read more on the NPS website here!
Turtle Rock & Elephant Toes Butte
The next stop was Turtle Rock, a precious rock formation named for its shape. Right up the road from it was Elephant Toes Butte, another cute rock formation easily seen from the side of the road.
The Lizard Petroglyphs can also be seen from the road with a pair of binoculars or a zoom lens, but I suggest walking up the steep path to the top. There are so many more petroglyphs than just the lizards! Plus, the views of Split Mountain around the corner are stunning. It’s steep and strenuous but well worth the walk.
Josie Morris Ranch
The last stop on the Utah side of the auto tour was Josie Morris’s Ranch. She built the cabin in the early 1920’s and lived there until her death in the 60’s. She was an incredible pioneer woman who outlived five of her husbands. She might have been a cattle thief with the outlaw Butch Cassidy, but she was never charged.
See more from the cabin she built around minute 6:25 of my “One Day in Dinosaur National Monument” video below:
Entering into Colorado:
For touring the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument, I downloaded The National Park Service’s App and followed a guided audio tour through my car’s stereo system.
You can download The NPS App here!
Canyon Visitors Center
My first stop on the Colorado side was the other visitors’ center. It was nowhere near as impressive as The Quarry Exhibit and “The Wall of Bones”. It was still very informative and provided great information about the park.
This side of the park is essentially just scenic overlooks that have some long trails. I pretty much just pulled over for a few minutes at each to learn about the geology, see the views, and snap a few pictures.
I drove north stopping at Escalante, Canyon, Island Park, and Echo Park overlooks.
I saved the best for last with Harpers Corner. It is the pinnacle point on the auto tour of the aptly named “Harpers Corner Road”, and it leads to some of the most beautiful viewpoints in the preserve.
From Harpers Corner, you can look back into time and see millions of years of formations twisting and swirling before your eyes. I say in my video that it is more beautiful than the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, and I stand by that. The scenery is truly unlike anything else I have ever seen.
I was so lucky to have been up there alone, because I got emotional. To look at something so truly unique and fascinating was absolutely surreal. I had to pull myself away from the view as the sun started to set and ended my week-long road trip at the top of Harpers Corner Trail.
I could never recommend strongly enough for people to take the time, go out of their way, and step back in time at Dinosaur National Monument. You’ll view, what is in my opinion, our country’s greatest scenery.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!