My 4-Day Gates of Lodore Rafting Trip with OARS
This summer I had the opportunity to spend 4 days rafting the Gates of Lodore section of the Green River with OARS rafting company. It was an exciting way to get off the grid, connect with nature, challenge myself, and meet new people.
The Gates of Lodore is located in Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Utah and Colorado and is full of wild landscapes, fun rapids, and interesting history.
In this blog post and my new YouTube video, I review my OARS Gates of Lodore trip and share what my experience was like so you know what to expect on a multi-day whitewater rafting trip with OARS.
OARS Gates of Lodore Highlights
Before I get into the details of our Gates of Lodore trip, I want to share a few stand-out moments that left a lasting impression.
- Encountering a large group of male bighorn sheep 10 feet from the trail during the hike on our final night
- Cooling off in a 30 foot waterfall on a lunch-time hike
- Challenging myself in a duckie for the first time in the rapids. Make sure to watch my Gates of Lodore YouTube video below to see the action
- Meeting a fun and diverse group of people from all over the country and seeing people come out of their shells and work together over the course of the trip
- Enjoying the river and the non-stop gorgeous landscapes, while being completely disconnected from the outside world.
Gates of Lodore YouTube video
Watch my GoPro travel vlog from our OARS Gates of Lodore Trip!
OARS Gates of Lodore Trip Details
Our OARS Trip was a 4 day / 3 night trip on the Green River’s Gates of Lodore section. Our specific trip was one of the OARS Adults-only departures, which is a nice option for solo travelers and couples. If you are a family, OARS also offers normal group trips where the kiddos are welcome and encouraged.
The Gates of Lodore sits in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument on the northern Utah / Colorado border on the edge of the Unita mountain range. The landscapes were absolutely stunning and we were surprised by the diversity in the geological features. This area is where mountains meet desert, and the canyon consists of huge red walls covered in lush evergreen forest.
In mid-July 2017 during our trip, water levels in the Gates of Lodore were running around 1800-3200 cfs. This resulted in class II & III rapids that offered some excitement (especially in a ducky), but not so much that it would overwhelm whitewater novices. Earlier season trips see bigger rapids if you are looking for a high-adrenaline experience. Between the rapids are plenty of sandy beaches, opportunities to jump in for a swim, and awesome side hikes to fill the afternoons at camp.
Every trip will have different campsites depending on the permit. We stayed at Pot Creek #2, Limestone, and Jones Creek #4. All of them were beautiful with plenty of space to spread out and nice sandy beaches.
Our OARS Guides
Our trip had 12 guests and 3 guides – Sean, our trip leader, Russel, and Courtney. Every morning we watched them cook breakfast in a full kitchen that they set up everyday, then break down camp, pack everything away on the boats along with our luggage, and then row all day long. It quickly became apparent how hard these guides work, yet they each carried a positive attitude and a smile on their face the entire trip. They appeared to truly enjoy their job and to be having as much fun on the river as we were. They made it feel like a 5-star vacation because of all the effort they put in, with no expectation from us to help out.
In addition to their attitudes, they each had a wealth of guiding experience. Russel, for instance, had been guiding on the Gates of Lodore for over 11 seasons and had a ton of knowledge. You asked a question, he generally knew the answer, whether that was about the geology or the history of the area. He even had a library filled with books about the river, including an old National Geographic magazine discussing a potential dam that was almost built in the Gates of Lodore.
I felt very confident in their abilities to get us down the river safely. Before we set off we had a thorough safety briefing where we learned exactly what to do in the case that we fell out or the boat flipped. Our guides also maintained an open line of communication between each other and us throughout the trip, so there was no questions as to the plan or what we should expect.
Our trip had three different options. First we had the oar rigs that could hold 3-4 people plus a guide. In these, the guide did all the rowing, while we held on for the ride. These boats were very comfortable and had plenty of places to strap down your day bag for easy access.
Next was the ducky. Our trip had 3 double duckies and 1 single ducky. I had never been in a ducky before, and I hesitated because I was a little intimidated by the rapids. Our guides encouraged me though, so I decided to try it out, and I’m so glad I did. The class II rapids that seemed small in the boat, offered plenty of thrills when down in the duckies. Almost everyone in our trip rode in the duckies at some point and raved about how much fun they were.
The third option was an inflatable stand-up paddle board. Ryan mastered this in one morning and enjoyed the challenge going through the rapids.
On most other trips, OARS also brings along a paddle boat where the guests can work together to run the river.
Leave No Trace
One thing that left a lasting impression was the emphasis that our OARS guides put on Leave No Trace. Campsites on these river trips have very high usage. If everyone came and peed on the beach, left microtrash lying around, and forgot to put food away at night, our impact on the river would accumulate fast and be very apparent. Our guides not only taught us how to Leave No Trace, they also taught us why we do things the way we do on the river. For example, we learned WHY we are supposed to go #1 in the river and #2 in the groover. We learned WHY we should avoid trampling on cryptobiotic soil. This is a type of microbacteria which is the foundation of all life in the desert and takes hundreds of years to regenerate if its been stepped on. For someone who has never been on a river trip or hiked in the desert, these are key pieces of knowledge that our guides passed on to us.
I was also impressed how our guides led by example. They put down mats under the kitchen for every meal so food scraps could be easily picked up rather than buried in the sand. They had a compost bin for leftovers, a recycling bin for beer cans, and they left the beaches spotless each morning as we departed downriver.
Finally, they provided us with these cool mugs that had the 7 basic principles of Leave No Trace printed on them as a daily reminder about how to be a good steward of the places we recreate in.
Don’t expect to come and lose weight on your OARS Gates of Lodore trip. The food was plentiful and delicious. Each meal was freshly prepared.
Every morning we had the choice of hot or cold breakfast. Hot breakfasts included breakfast sandwiches, blueberry pancakes and bacon, and a hearty egg scramble with potatoes. If you didn’t want the hot breakfast, they offered an assortment of cold cereals and fruit. Coffee was unlimited, which was important since we got up pretty early every morning.
Lunches were simple and fresh, ranging from cold cut sandwiches to quinoa salad, and chicken caesar wraps. We also got chips, cookies, and fruit to round off the meal.
For dinner we feasted on Alaskan salmon, locally raised steaks, and an Asian stir-fry loaded with chicken and veggies. The guides put their own personal touches on the menu, and there was always enough for seconds.
Finally, I don’t have much of a sweet-tooth, but the deserts were something to look forward to every night. We had dutch-oven baked brownies and pineapple upside cake, and it left me wanting to learn more about dutch-oven cooking.
As for drinks, they had a small selection of beverages, but they didn’t provide any alcohol. We stopped at a liquor store in Colorado for folks who wanted to pick up some beer, wine, or whiskey for the evenings.
Camping & Gear
When we arrived at the OARS warehouse in Vernal, each person was provided two big dry bags to pack their camping gear and clothes in, as well as a small personal dry bag for your camera and sunscreen to carry with you during the day. Tents were provided free of charge.
OARS offers the option to rent a full sleep kit, which includes a SUPER COMFORTABLE sleeping pad, a sheet, pillow, and a sleeping bag. We took them up on this and recommend that you do too. The sleeping bags were roomy and could even be unzipped to make a two person blanket if you want to snuggle. I’d also recommend trying to sleep out one night under the stars if the weather permits.
OARS provided camp chairs and all group gear, and they even had a book library and some games to keep you occupied at night. We also had a fire at camp two out of the three nights, although it was mostly for the atmosphere as the air temperature was quite warm.
If you’ve never been on a river trip, you’re probably curious about the bathroom situation. #1 goes in the river. At night, OARS provided small plastic buckets that you could take to your campsite and pee into, and then you’d dump that in the river in the morning. This was a nice touch, so you didn’t have to walk down to the river and get wet in the middle of the night.
For #2, OARS provides a portable toilet, otherwise known as the groover. Now, no groover is going to be as nice as your toilet at home. The key is to relax and enjoy the view and get over your fears of the group toilet. OARS does their best to make the process as smooth as possible. The groover was as clean as it could be, and they had a system to let people know when the groover occupied so no one would surprise you when you were doing your business. Afterwards, they had an easy hand-washing system to keep things sanitary around camp.
Hiking in the Gates of Lodore
On past river trips I’ve gone on with friends, I never explored much beyond the river banks. On our OARS Gates of Lodore trip, we went on three different hikes, and it was great to continue the activities off the water. Without our guides, we probably wouldn’t have known these trails even existed as they were unmarked and planning your stops and campsites around them would’ve required a lot of advanced research.
Ryan and I’s favorite hike was to a small grotto with a waterfall that you could stand under. After hoofing up the hill in the sun, it felt amazing to cool off up there.
Another hike left from our campsite on day 2. It led to an incredible overlook where we peered down into the Gates of Lodore and the river meandering through it.
The final hike was on our last night. It was flat 4-mile round-trip hike that passed a cool swimming hole and a series of pictographs painted by the Freemont people, the native tribe that occupied the area between 800 and 1400 years ago.
For More Info
I hope this post inspires you to plan a river trip. There’s truly nothing like being out there. If you are looking for an outfitter to take you out, I whole-heartedly recommend OARS. Head to the OARS website to learn about the Gates of Lodore trip and read reviews of all of their offerings.
Thanks to OARS for inviting Ryan and I on this trip. As always, all words and opinions are mine. For more information on my sponsored post policy, see this page on Bearfoot Theory.