6 Easy Overnight River Rafting Trips in the Western US
Here are 6 easy overnight river rafting trips with gorgeous scenery, gentle rapids, & awesome camping.
There is no outdoor experience like an overnight rafting trip. You spend your days swimming, floating, and soaking in the scenery. Then at night, you get to sit around the campfire, eat delicious food, share stories, and stargaze on remote riverbanks with (typically) no one else in sight. If you’ve done day river trips and are looking to extend your time on the water to multi-day rafting trips, we’ve got you covered.
While a dose of rapids and whitewater is always fun, it can be intimidating (and dangerous) if you don’t have a lot of experience behind the oars. We focus on more mellow and scenic overnight rafting trips in this post to ensure you have equal parts relaxation, exploration, and adventure. Many overnight rafting trips can be done with different types of watercraft, but if you are planning to kayak, read our beginners kayaking guide here.
Here’s our list of easy overnight rafting trips out West that are packed with gorgeous scenery and plenty of flat water to get comfortable.
Important Reminder: As outdoor recreationists, it’s our responsibility to know how to recreate responsibly on the water whether we’re kayaking, paddleboarding, canoeing, rafting, or boating. Learn how to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species with 3 easy steps that have a huge impact on our ecosystems.
Easy Multi-Day Rafting Trips
Labyrinth Canyon (Utah)
Desert beaches, a mellow meandering river, and quintessential southern Utah canyon landscapes – that’s what you’ll get during an overnight rafting trip through Utah’s Labyrinth Canyon. Starting in Green River, Utah, and ending at Mineral Bottom in Canyonlands National Park, three to four days are needed to cover this 68-mile section of the Green River. This easy float can be done in any kind of boat and chances are you’ll have most of the river to yourself. While this overnight river trip is a little logistically challenging due to car shuttles, getting a permit is easy, and there are a number of outfitters in Moab who rent boats and can help organize transportation. I’ve done this river trip twice and wrote a detailed guide (linked above). For updated permit information, be sure to check the Labyrinth Canyon page of Recreation.gov.
Black Canyon (Nevada)
The Black Canyon Water Trail is a 12 mile stretch of flatwater on the Colorado River that starts just below Hoover Dam, less than an hour away from the Las Vegas strip. Although Black Canyon extends further, most people only paddle the first 12 miles and pull out at Willow Beach, AZ. The Black Canyon can be done as a day trip, but to experience the best of this canyon, you really need to do an overnight river trip. Early summer is the best time to paddle Black Canyon as the water is a consistent 53 degrees year-round – perfect for cooling off in the summer heat. Camping is done on the sandy riverbanks, and mere steps from your tent are some of the state’s best hot springs, including Arizona Hot Springs and Gold Strike Hot Springs. For more information on permits, boats, and the hot springs, visit my guide linked above and check out the official National Park Service page on the Black Canyon National Water Trail for the latest updates.
Rio Chama (New Mexico)
The most popular overnight river trip on Northern New Mexico’s Rio Chama River is a 31-mile section through the 1,500 foot deep Chama Canyon. Best enjoyed in an inflatable kayak over 2-3 days, the Rio Chama offers isolated beach camping among rugged sandstone cliffs, dense forests of ponderosa pine, and just enough excitement with its mild class II-III rapids. Overnight rafting trips begin just below the El Vado Dam, and permits are issued by the Bureau of Land Management through a competitive lottery for peak season (April 15-September 15). For more information, see the official BLM page for Rio Chama. If you have trouble getting a permit or want to go on a guided trip, check out New Mexico River Adventures, who are authorized to run private trips on the Rio Chama.
Lower Gunnison River (Colorado)
While the Gunnison River in Colorado is known for big water, the 26-mile section from Escalante to Whitewater through the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness is perfect for a multi-day rafting trip. Featuring mild Class I and II rapids, this leisurely portion of the Lower Gunnison can be done in almost any kind of boat, including rafts and inflatable kayaks. In addition to the high-desert slickrock landscapes, the Lower Gunnison also has a number of awesome side hikes to waterfalls and petroglyphs and offers scenic riverside camping. The put-in is located 45 miles from Grand Junction, and no advanced permits are required. The river season runs from April through October, although streamflows early in the season are cold and fast – best suited for rafters. Later in the season is best for people looking for calmer water. For more information, visit the BLM’s Lower Gunnison River website.
South Fork of the Snake River (Idaho)
The canyon section on the South Fork of the Snake River between the Conant Boat Ramp in Swan Valley and the Byington takeout in Heise, Idaho offers some of the best trout fishing in the country. And with soaring bald eagles, giant moose, cottonwood groves, and Idaho’s rugged mountains, a two-day, 25-mile overnight river trip is the best way to experience it. While this section is very popular for daytime anglers, it sees very few overnight boaters, meaning you can expect solitude at the designated camping areas spread through the canyon.
Ruby-Horsethief Canyon (Colorado)
The Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River stretches 25 miles from Lomo, Colorado to Westwater, Utah, and is perfect for an easy overnight rafting trip. It is mostly flat water with a small section of Class I/II rapids, and has many day hiking opportunities along the water. You will be surrounded by beautiful red rock canyons and amazing wildlife, including blue herons, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and desert bighorn sheep. Permits are required year-round to paddle Ruby-Horsethief Canyon and are available on a rolling basis, 60 days in advance of your trip.
Are you planning an overnight rafting trip or have you been on one? If so, what rivers would you add? Leave us a comment below!
The Rio Chama..whoa. That looks amazing, although if apps for summer weekend trips are due before New Years, must be a popular run.
Any plans to head out this summer and share the lowdown?
Not sure I’ll make it down to New Mexico this summer since I just moved to Salt Lake, but I’d really love to at some point soon. I think you can probably get a permit as a cancellation too. Stay tuned!
Do you have more information on the south fork of the snake? That’s super close to use here in Driggs and I totally want to run it in our canoes! Thanks!
Hi Jess. I live in Driggs also and have floated the South Fork several times. There are a variety of ways to go about it. Because of the high volume of water I prefer to wait until August to float it. There is still a lot of water and the river flows swiftly but more safely than earlier in the season. It’s also usually hot enough that the water feels great and swimming is nice. Have never floated above Conant (South Fork Lodge), where the waterfalls are. Conant to Cottonwood/Fullmer can be done in a day, with a lunch spot somewhere in the canyon. Cottonwood is on the opposite side of the river and the shuttle is long, or you can pay for your vehicle to be shuttled. Conant to Byington is a really nice overnight. Shorter shuttle due to the launches being on the same side of the river. Permits are required but free, cost for overnight parking is marginal.
Camping zones are plentiful though sometimes fill up, first come first serve. You can get a great river map at the link below. I prefer to camp above the Cottonwood launch in the zones on river left, in case people want to stop for the pit toilets the next morning. It is 25 miles from Conant to Byington. The river moves quickly enough however that you can cover about half of the length in half of a day. i.e. If you didn’t launch until 2 pm, you would still be able to cover 10 – 15 miles by dinner and nighttime. Most of the time you’ll be in the canyon and eventually it opens up as you approach the real world again (Byington).
Trying to remember if I’ve seen canoes on the South Fork. Lots of rafts and drift boats. I prefer kayak or raft. But later in the season when it is more mellow, people float on paddleboards and I’ve even heard of people going down on their paco pads. The South Fork is certainly a bigger undertaking than the Teton River but the rewards are worth it! Stunning float.
I am looking for a trip that would be 2 or 3 nights camping. Is it possible to add onto the South Fork on either side to extend our trip?
Are there rappelling opportunities in black canyon?
Hi Reed, I’m not sure about that! I would do a quick Google search. Let us know if you are able to get out there and rappel some!
I would add Meander Canyon on the Colorado river in Moab, Utah. This is canoeable, and requires a river boat shuttle because you start in Moab and float downstream to the Confluence with the Green River. This is a brilliant section because the scenery is better than Labyrinth Canyon and the shuttle boat can pick you up anywhere along the way, so if you want to slow down you don’t have to “get to the takeout.” You can be on the river for a couple days or up to two weeks, it is 45-50 miles. The jetboat shuttle is a bit pricey but still my favorite section of flatwater ever. The two shuttle companies are Canyonlands Day and Night and Tex’s Riverways.
Thanks for the tip, Eric. Sounds like a great trip!
Eric, I hope you get this. I’m trying to plan a trip -could you reach out to me? I’d love to get more information on this section.
Any suggestions for the same type of easy river trips in Oregon or southern Washington? Thanks!
We’re not familiar with river tips in those regions… yet!