Dinosaur National Monument (DINO) is a truly spectacular part of the National Park system. The Monument was established in 1915 to protect one of the most productive fossil quarries in the world and preserve the wilderness characteristics of two premier river corridors: the Gates of Lodore section of the Green River, made infamous by Powel’s 1869 expedition; and the Yampa River, which is considered the last major free flowing river in the west. Both rivers converge at Echo Park within the Monument and then slice through a huge geological uplift called Split Mountain on their journey south. River history, stunning geology, ancient human artifacts, sublime river meanders, and wild class II-IV rapids make both the Gates and Yampa a “trip-of-a-lifetime” and are some of the most sought-after of American West river permits.
Packrafting in DINO began in 1825 with William Ashley’s bullboat descent of the Green and continues today. The APA has been working with DINO Park officials since 2013 to facilitate packrafting in the Monument. This culminated with an APA – DINO River Manager packraft trip on the Split Mountain daily section in 2014 and a comprehensive review of the APA’s request to modify the DINO River Management Plan (RMP) by the monument Superintendent (request and response) in 2015. A key issue for packrafters is the RMP requirement that all river trips begin and end at hardened boat ramps. Thus hiking down a side canyon (e.g. Jones Hole, Pot Creek, Moonshine, Bull, Red Rock, etc.) and putting in on the river is not permitted. Similar exits are also against regulations. Some of these canyons already have established hiking trails and river camps (e.g. Jones Hole and Bull Canyon) and thus see human activity throughout the year. The APA’s request to allow packrafters to utilize alternative launch and exit locations was considered a significant enough change in usage to necessitate a formal review of the RMP. This is a time- and budget-intensive activity that includes developing multiple alternative usage plans, public hearings, public comment review, and justified decisions. The last review was 38 years ago. So, it is long overdue.
That said, the DINO River Office has been quite helpful in making some changes to accommodate packrafters under the existing RMP. One change they were able to make for us was with the three chamber rule. Packrafts with an attached two-piece seat now qualify as three-chamber boats. The Monument has also become rather flexible with what constitutes an acceptable river toilet and a river rescue/z-drag kit for packrafters. So long as your packraft trip begins and ends at an established boat ramp you are good to go.
Also, even under the current regulations, there are at least two real packraft trips available in DINO. The first is a week-long trip on the Gates of Lodore using the Outlaw Trail as an approach. The second is a weekend-long trip that starts at the Josie Morris Cabin, and makes a difficult climb over the Yampa plateau before finishing on the Split Mountain one-day run. More details on the shorter trip are available HERE. Thus packrafting in the park continues and will hopefully improve considerably with the next RMP review.
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