Paddling Through Labyrinth Canyon – Shannon Pappas

One of the perks of High Trails is that we run on a normal school schedule. When it was our time to have Spring Break, twelve of us banded together and drove 9.5 hours to Moab, Utah. What were we going to do? We were gearing up to spend 5 days paddling canoes on the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon.


The Green River is a tributary of the Colorado River, with its headwaters located in West-central Wyoming. The 730-mile river runs through Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah before uniting with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014). We would be completing a 47-mile section of the river from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom.

We booked a self-guided multi-day canoe trip through Moab Rafting and Canoe Company (Moab Rafting and Canoe Company, 2014). With our rental agreement, the outfitter provided us with 6 canoes, 6 emergency throwing devices, 6 bail buckets with whistles, 12 paddles, 12 PFDs, 3 river toilets, 1 fire pan, and 1 map. We were expected to bring dry bags, food, fresh water, camping supplies, and a permit for camping in the BLM land. After signing Acknowledgment of Risk waivers, we all loaded into the outfitter’s shuttles and drove 1.5 hours to Ruby Ranch Boat Ramp.


As we were loading our supplies into the canoes, we realized one of our canoes had a leak. Unfortunately, the outfitter had already driven away, and with little cell reception, we had to leave the canoe at the boat ramp. After some quick rearranging, we proceeded with our first leg of the trip.

We were off to a late start due to the canoe taboo and were 7 miles away from our first campsite. Luckily, the river was going approximately 4000 cubic feet per second, which translates to 3 miles per hour. We were able to float most of the way downriver with one person being towed in an inflatable, stop on a sandbank to stretch our legs and eat a snack, and still reached camp before sunset. Our first night was filled with conversation around the fire, good food, and beautiful stars. The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful canyon and clear skies. We had a goal of paddling 20 miles to build in a cushion for a layover day. After loading our things into the boats, we pushed off to start the longest leg of our trip.


The best part about paddling through Labyrinth Canyon was that there was always something to be amazed by. The sheer red walls that rose up on both sides dwarfed us in our tiny 17.5 foot canoes. The silt-filled water kept us on our toes as we worked to dodge the underwater sand banks before we were beached in 2 inches of water. After exploring a few places inside the canyon, we reached our second campsite. We spent a considerably longer amount of time at this campsite. After all, we had just paddled 20 miles, so every other leg of paddling we would have to do seemed effortless. We spent the evening and following morning scrambling around on the rocks and playing cards.


We set off mid-morning on our third day. We had 11 miles to go and were excited to get to our next canyon campsite. This was the location that we planned on exploring for two days. On the way, half of the group parked the boats and hiked an hour to the top of a canyon on a well-worn path. The look-out point was called “The Saddle.” It showcased the point in Labyrinth Canyon where the Green River doubles back on itself. The view was definitely worth the uphill walk.


When we arrived at our campsite, we were ecstatic. The canyon was filled with arches, caves, and climbing routes with bolted anchors. We were in a big kid’s playground. The next day, we set off on a rock scramble of a hike to the top of Labyrinth Canyon. We were told that there was a rock with five natural arches waiting at the top. The 5 Arches were accessible to people outside the canyon as well, so this was also the first time we saw people that were not living on the river in four days. It was a little weird.


After finding 5 Arches, we headed back down to our lovely campsite. We spent the evening relaxing, bouldering, and rock climbing with trad gear. We were not ready to leave the river, but we had to be at the boat ramp by noon the next day.


We woke up with the sunrise on the final day of our trip. While making breakfast, we relished in the campsite we were able to use for the past two days. With a somberness, we loaded our boats and pushed off to complete the 9 miles to Mineral Bottom Boat Ramp. Our outfitter had warned us that we should not pass the boat ramp, unless we wanted to enter Canyonlands National Park and go through Class 4 rapids. We got to the boat ramp with enough time to unload every boat and eat a lunch before our shuttle came to bring us back to civilization.

Now that I’m back at High Trails, it’s easy to long for that trip again. I am beyond grateful for Labyrinth Canyon, the Green River, the friendships I have made at High Trails, and most importantly, the fact that we have opportunities on our scheduled Spring Break.




At High Trails Outdoor Science School, we literally force our instructors to write about elementary outdoor education, teaching outside, learning outside, our dirty classroom (the forest…gosh), environmental science, outdoor science, and all other tree hugging student and kid loving things that keep us engaged, passionate, driven, loving our job, digging our life, and spreading the word to anyone whose attention we can hold for long enough to actually make it through reading this entire sentence. Whew….

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