You’ll never hear a real boater complain about low river flow, a boater will always tell you that any day on the river is better than a day at work. After spending a handful of summers in Moab, this is a common topic that pops up this time of year. High water has dropped out, and the transition into autumn means that farmers upstream on the Colorado River basin are beginning to tap into the river as a water source. Other than the occasional heavy rain or flood in the western Rockies, water levels on the Daily section of the Colorado River are dropping. Luckily, for those of you who don’t know, the Daily is sweet even at low water.
The Daily section of the Colorado River is 14 miles and conveniently runs alongside Scenic Highway 128 just outside of Moab, or as the locals call it, River Road. The Daily proper put-in is Hittle Bottom, 24 miles north of where Highway 128 intersects Highway 191. Hittle Bottom houses a BLM campground and pit toilets. The Daily proper ends at Takeout Beach, although given that the river cruises just next to the highway, you can utilize a handful of boat ramps. I personally prefer to skip the first couple of miles of the Daily, all-beautiful but all flatwater, and to instead put in at Onion Creek. Onion Creek houses two decent boat ramps, plenty of parking, and another BLM campground. You know you’re at Onion Creek when you can see the Fisher Towers to the east, tall Dr. Seuss like sandstone pinnacles of the Cutler Formation. On the south end of these towers is the prominent Titan, over 900 feet tall and the tallest freestanding tower in North America. The view of the Fisher towers is best in the late afternoon when the setting sun adds an impressive glow to the incredible red rock.
This time of year the Daily is typically running at flows less than 10,000 CFS which means that lots of sandy beaches are popping up that are unapproachable at higher flows. The accessibility of the Daily alone is one of its selling points; you can spend the day on the water running the whole stretch (a leisurely stroll without too much of that classic Moab wind will take you approximately 4-6 hours) or lap the sections you prefer the most. There are a handful of campgrounds and day use areas along River Road between Moab and the boat ramp at Hittle Bottom. You’d have no problem putting in early afternoon and still making it to town in time for chicken wings at Eddie McStiff’s but if you are looking to camp on the river that too is also an option. There are a couple of designated BLM campsites river right just past Onion Creek which can be reached only by boat.
Even at high water none of the rapids exceed class III, but that doesn’t mean that the strong eddy lines or seemingly straightforward rapids won’t eat your duckie and send you swimming. This stretch of river is great for boating, kayaking, and even SUP friendly. One of my favorite things about the Moab Daily is that it is not a busy stretch of river, meaning that there are sections of flat water to relax, throw back a beverage and take a swim before tightening down all the straps in anticipation of the next set of rapids. You’ll have a good time going through Rocky Rapid, which also houses a nice boat ramp and can be used a put-in or take-out. And despite low water levels, there’s always whitewater excitement at White’s Rapid (mile marker 14). Head river right for the big hits or skirt the excitement by staying left.
With the accessibility of the Daily and plethora of put-in and take-out options, you can mix it up however you see fit but I will share a little bit of local knowledge for my paddling affiliates; I like to throw my kayak or paddle board in at White’s Sneak . This small, hard to spot pullout on the east side of the highway is approximately half of a mile north of Red Cliffs Lodge. Please watch carefully for traffic on this blind turn and note that it is inaccessible to boats and trailers. I then like to take out at Sandy Beach (mile marker 12). This quick stretch, just over two miles, has rapids and fun wave trains but you can avoid the traffic of major boat ramps and the commercial buses that are sometimes stacked at Takeout Beach. Other than the Daily being easy-to-get-to and needless to say surrounded by stunning desert scenery, it also provides an opportunity for one to see unique wildlife. It would be rare for a boater to take a trip down the Daily and not lay eyes on a blue heron; I’ve also spotted a bald eagle a time or two. There are beavers and river otters frolicking on the riverbanks, but you’ll most often hear the loud splash of the beaver’s tail while hopping into the water but not be quick enough to catch a glimpse.
During the late summer and early fall, it’s unlikely that water temperatures will drop below 60 degrees and with the outside temperatures in the 80’s and high 70’s through September, the water is inviting and refreshing. No permits are required for this stretch of river but life vests are a must!! Seemingly flatwater can still contain strong eddies. With easy access and gorgeous scenery the Moab Daily should be on your checklist the next time you head to the desert. For cheap boat rentals check out Canyon Voyages in Moab or for guided SUP tours give Josh at Paddle Moab a call. Lastly, please don’t talk to me about a low CFS; if you can’t have fun on the Daily then you just aren’t cut out for life on the river.