An Ultralight SUP Trip Down Labyrinth Canyon

I crossed the Colorado/Utah state line going 80 in a methodically packed truck for our upcoming paddleboard trip. My buddy Michael sat shotgun, wearing a Tom Sawyer looking hat, ranting about the awe and wonder of the western landscapes and how stoked he was to get off the grid for a long weekend. I was only half listening to his rambles, zoning in and out between the soft country music playing in the background, and trying to focus on the highway ahead of me that resembled a scene from Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoon.

Michael is a hardass climber from central Tennessee, where his idea of a weekend party generally included 10-15 shirtless dudes, hanging from ropes and bolting new routes in sweet southern sandstone. Also from Tennessee, I grew up in the outdoor industry (my dad co-founded the outdoor store, Rock/Creek Outfitters), which exposed me to nearly every outdoor activity imaginable. But despite all the boats and boards I’ve paddled, SUP tops my list as my favorite outdoor sport, physical activity, and way to explore our wild and scenic public lands and waterways.

At the time, I had recently made the pilgrimage Out West to set down roots and Michael became my roommate in Breckenridge, Colorado. As a way to celebrate the start to summer and wave goodbye to what seemed like a neverending winter, we headed to the Utah desert to escape the hustle and bustle of our resort town and embark on an ultralight paddleboard trip.

We chose the lower section of the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon, which is known as one of the country’s premier flatwater paddle adventures. It’s a fairly easy do-it-yourself trip and the perfect length for a weekend away. The 47 miles from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom is all flatwater and can be completed on SUPS, rafts, canoes, and kayaks. To keep it light and minimal, we packed inflatable SUPs, instead of a raft, canoe, or kayak.

In all honesty, I prefer the perspective that paddleboarding offers and the ability to quickly get in-and-out of the water is an extra-bonus. However, it’s important to note, our approach isn’t for the faint of heart. We paddled very fast and light, completing the stretch in just two nights. If you have the luxury of time, I would break the mileage into three nights, bring a support raft, and sprinkle in a few hikes up the canyons along the way.

A permit is required for the Labyrinth Canyon section, but, it’s free and easy: just fill out a Labyrinth Canyon permit and submit it to the Bureau of Land Management’s Moab field office. It’s important to remember this canyon is super remote. Be prepared for self-sufficiency and abide by the river’s Leave No Trace principles. This includes bringing drinking water—the river contains high levels of silt and salt and isn’t easy to filter—packing everything out and being very conscious of your impact while there.

There are no designated camping spots or services along this section of the river, though sand bars suitable for camping appear every mile or so during the summer months, their placement and frequency constantly change through the seasons with the river flow. There are fewer campsites available during high-flow conditions than low-flow conditions, so at times you may have to share camps with other boating parties. Before you go, be sure to check the water flow with the USGC Gauge. And, naturally, if raging whitewater is what you’re after, this is not the section of river for you.

Day One: 18 Miles, Ruby Ranch – Dellenbaugh Butte

That Friday afternoon, we drove down a dusty BLM road and watched pronghorn antelope speed off into the distance like Olympic track athletes, making me think I was driving into an African safari. I continued down the long bumpy dirt road for 22 miles, while Michael, with the BLM map in hand, assured me I was driving in the right direction.

The private put-in at Ruby Ranch was a little tricky to find. Some of the signage is slightly misleading, but this map makes it easy to understand. By mid-afternoon we found the Ruby Ranch put-in and paid the small launch fee ($10 per boat, plus $5 a person). Before we left, we lathered on sunscreen like tribal war paint under a large shade tree, did a final gear check, and left our car for the shuttle service (Coyote Shuttle) to retrieve and move to the take-out to greet us on Sunday morning.

Tags: Outdoor

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