Ruby and Horsethief Canyons

Colorado River

Floating Ruby and Horsethief Canyons - Colorado River Floating Ruby and Horsethief Canyons
Colorado River


TICKS & TODOS: 5 Todo Lists / 0 Ticks
CFS RANGE: 1,000 - 30,000
LENGTH: 1-3 days
GEAR: Standard paddling gear, bug spray in the summer.
MAPS: Mack, CO; Ruby Canyon, CO; Bitter Creek Well, UT; Westwater, UT
SEASON: Spring through fall.
NOTES: This float requires a shuttle. Local shuttles can be hired if two cars aren't available. On busy weekends, it is likely you can share a ride with others, it is a popular trip.

Looking for a casual family float trip? Ruby / Horsethief provides a very mellow 25-mile float with one rapid, generally considered class II. This is a good trip for beginners or families. Aside from the one rapid, and short section of turbulent water, the other 24 miles is very easy and relaxing. The scenery is second to none, with ample opportunity for side hikes.

The flow should be BELOW 30,000 CFS for rafts. For those in a canoe, less than 20,000 CFS if experienced, less than 10,000 CFS if inexperienced. For family trips, lower is better. Note that afternoon winds can slow down the trip greatly.

Note: It is important to sign up for a campsite at the put-in, and stick with that site. This reduces confusion and conflicts later in the day. All campsites are good, but the Black Rocks area are typically the first to be filled. Black Rocks 4 is right BEFORE the rapid, with 5 being right after it.

Getting There

Wed Hi:83 Lo:54 Thu Hi:87 Lo:57 Fri Hi:91 Lo:59 Sat Hi:91 Lo:60 Sun Hi:91 Lo:62

Take the Loma exit (exit 15) off I-70 just inside Colorado. Go south off the highway, making an immediate left at the T. The boat ramp and parking is less than a mile from this junction.

Travel back into Utah on I-70 for about 5 miles to the Westwater exit. (Exit 227). Travel south off the highway for about 9 miles to the ranger station, picnic area, and boat ramp.

The shuttle takes about 45 minutes each way.


From the put-in, simply float down the river. Ruby Canyon is the first canyon you'll enter. Watch the walls for impressive numbers of swallow nests clinging the cliff overhangs. Ruby is relatively short, but Rattlesnake Canyon comes in on the left in this stretch. Rattlesnake Canyon has the second largest concentration of arches in the world, after Arches National Park in Utah, although it is a strenuous and long hike to reach them from the river. Soon Ruby Canyon gives way to Horsethief Canyon. It is easy to recognize the difference, as the railroad beginners parallelling the river at the start of Horsethief and follows the river for the rest of the trip.

Several side canyons along the way provide ample hiking opportunities for the ambitious. The water is flat, and easy paddling until about 2/3 of the way through, when you reach Black Rocks.

Black Rocks is easy to recognize, as it is the place where the river makes an abrupt left turn and black metamorphic rock appears. This is some of the oldest rock in the area and marks the beginning of a mile long section of turbulent water. About 1/2 way through this mile long section, several large boulders form the obvious rapid. Staying far left will avoid it for the most part. Once past the rapid, the turbulent water quickly eases, and it's back to flat water.

Down from Black Rocks, the first side canyon on the right provides a short hike to pictographs. It is not entirely obvious, but you should pull the boat up under the railroad bridge. The hike is on the east (right side) of the canyon and has a register at the beginning. It is short, and will take about 20 minutes round trip.

From there down, the canyon opens and becomes somewhat less interesting. Pay attention when the canyon opens fully, as you are nearing the Westwater takeout.

12S 689430mE 4338424mN Put-In
12S 684666mE 4337254mN Rattlesnake Canyon
12S 678600mE 4340884mN Old Cabin
12S 676824mE 4336339mN Mee Canyon
12S 673242mE 4335884mN Black Rocks Start
12S 673006mE 4335072mN Rapid
12S 672453mE 4334341mN Black Rocks End
12S 670933mE 4334042mN Pictograph Side Canyon
12S 670787mE 4334296mN Pictograph
12S 670993mE 4333315mN Knowles Canyon
12S 664242mE 4328163mN Takeout


Printable Maps:



  1. by: ffelix 2010-08-22 01:45:24.0
    This description is for quite high flows. You would be in for a somewhat unpleasant workout if you assumed you could hike a lot & still get through this in 2 days during low flows. Wear lifejackets for swimming or cliff jumping at Black Rocks. The river narrows & the water becomes deep & swirly. Several people have drowned here, including a boy scout [no surprise] & a Navy Seal [big surprise].
  2. by: whare 2012-12-24 04:10:59.0
    Ruby Horsethief went on permit this year and starting in May, 2013 there will be a fee for the permit. You can go to the BLM web site for Colorado, then Grand Junction to get more info, or call the Grand Junction field office at 970-244-3000 for more info. The fee schedule is not yet cast in concrete and is being re-thought. But there will be a fee, and camping permits are required every day of the year, all year long. The fee applies from May 1st thru September. No permit required if you're doing a day trip. Canyon sequence: Actually, the first canyon is Horsethief & 7 miles downriver, as you round the oxbow and encounter the railroad, you enter Ruby Canyon. I think it was just easier to say Ruby Horsethief than the other way around. Either that or it was named by some jet boater who came up river. Some craft are faster then others. I reguarly paddle from put in to take out, in a flat water kayak, at low water in about 5 hours. Plenty of time to hike on a two day trip. Many folks hike to the arches and there's a smallish campsite right there on the river. Winds can be and often are brutal in the spring. More than one party has spent more days on the river than planned for. The so-called class II rapid is actually some swirlies and mid-river eddies thru the narrow Blackrocks section. Never a problem for rafts, even in 2011 when the river peaked just shy of 50,000cfs, but rather turbulent in the teens and very difficult for canoes at those flows - and a horrible place to swim without a PFD. There have been several drownings, but the Navy Seal actually died in flat water down below Westwater Canyon quite a few years ago.

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