A cooling and thrilling jet-boat river ride is a definite must-do in Moab, Utah
By J.C. Thomas
Moab, a small city with big attractions in eastern Utah, draws visitors from all over the world with its close proximity to Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Those natural treasures with their stunning red-rock landscapes offer remarkable hiking, photography and scenic driving opportunities, and both are just a few miles outside Moab. The city is also famous among the adventure-seeking crowd who come for world-class mountain biking and off-roading.
There’s another thrill not to be missed in Moab – and this one requires no action skills and minimal physical endurance. Following a recent late-summer visit, I enthusiastically recommend a high-speed jet-boat ride down the Colorado River with Moab Jett. The local, family-owned company offers one- and two-hour adventure jet boat tours, slower-paced scenic tours, and combination tours that also include 4×4, canyoneering, helicopter or zipline adventures.
Our party of two small kids and two adults took Moab Jett’s signature two-hour Adventure Jet Boat Tour. It was an unforgettable highlight of a Utah road trip, combining a high-adrenaline ride with guided sightseeing from the unrivaled perspective of the Colorado River. A major bonus on the 100˚-plus day were frequent splashes and the occasional drenching with cool, fresh water.
This is zero-effort excitement, so if the rest of your time in and around Moab includes endurance activities or lots of time behind the wheel, this trip is ideal. You get to sit back, take in the scenery and sunshine while cooled by the wind and spray, and experience some of the greatest excitement Moab has to offer.
Preparing for a Moab Jett Boat Tour
The Adventure Jet Boat Tour is available in one-hour and two-hour versions for anyone aged 4 and older. Morning, afternoon and evening departures are available. Moab Jett has three 10-person jet boats, and can accommodate group sizes of up to 30. Our trip included two groups of four plus Jeremy, our driver and guide, with similar sized groups on two other boats in our fast-moving flotilla.
The Moab Jett office is in downtown Moab, just off Main Street. The company offers complimentary in-town shuttles, but you can also park at the office. You are advised to wear clothing and shoes that dry quickly, given you’re guaranteed to get wet. A bathing suit, quick-dry shorts and T-shirt, and water shoes or sandals are ideal. Hats should have a tie, otherwise they are likely to be blown away, and a sunglasses strap is recommended.
The jet boats feature individual mesh storage bags, but anything you store in there will get wet, so keep items to the essentials only. Moab Jett will give you a Ziplock bag for your phone, but it’s best to leave bulkier cameras behind. Due to Covid precautions, we checked in and signed waivers outside the office, and then groups went inside individually for safety briefings. Lifejackets are provided, as are cold drinks during the tour.
The Moab Jett Experience
From the downtown Moab office, we boarded a van to take us to the launch area at the Moab Bridge. The drive took approximately 10 minutes, and our friendly driver Grant was happy to answer questions about the tour and local area. When we got there, we all received life jackets and instructions on their use. One of the experts checked the fit of every life jacket before we boarded our jet boats. Getting on to the boats was very easy, simply stepping from the dry riverbank edge onto the nose of the boat and clambering to our seats – no wet feet at this stage.
We backed out from the riverbank with the fluidity of a sports car and immediately were scooting down the river and getting prepped for our first test spin. These are New Zealand-style jet boats, which means they’re super-fast, nimble, relatively quiet and pleasantly free of engine fumes. The only needed instruction from Jeremy, our guide, was to look for his circular hand signal and then hold on tight to the railing with both hands. The signal was followed shortly by a donut spin, which came with a drawn-out moment of grin-inducing G-force and a chilling splash of water down our necks. Different sides of the boat get the brunt of the wave depending on whether the spin is clockwise or counter-clockwise, for equal opportunity dampening.
The tour took us upriver along the edge of Arches National Park, and then back downriver to return to our original launch spot. We switched often between different moves, adapting to the sections of the river that appeared smooth and calm, although with a powerful current under the surface, and occasional sheets of rumply white-tipped rapids. Sometimes we’d bolt straight and smooth at thrilling speeds, broken up by just-for-fun fishtailing as well as tight turns around boulders and the river’s twisting course. Those donuts came frequently enough to cool us down as soon as the hot, hot sun had dried us off from the previous spin.
Most exciting of all were the “water dump” moves. Jeremy would check with our group before performing these dramatic maneuvers to make sure we wanted to be drenched. (The informal vote went to “yes” all but the final time, when the sun was going down and we were already sufficiently damp.) Our expert guide would steer the boat side-to-side in a deep-churning shimmy, then abruptly pivot and charge head-on into the chaotic slosh. We passengers would brace ourselves… allow a moment of anticipation… then another… and in an impossibly belated climax feel a bathtub’s worth of cold, turbulent water crash down over our heads. There were happy screams, shocked faces turning to giggles, and footwells filled with great quantities of the Colorado River. We loved it!
Incredible Colorado River Scenery
In contrast to the speedier charges, we also enjoyed stretches of slower paced cruising. During these parts of the tour, our Moab-born-and-raised guide told us all about the river and its dramatic flanking canyons. The Colorado River is 1,450 miles long, coursing from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, most famously through its great work of art, the Grand Canyon, and into Mexico where it tries its best to reach the ocean. We saw only a few miles of this incredible force of nature, but it must be one of the river’s most spectacular stretches.
The landscape of the region around Moab is dramatically sculpted into pinnacles and parallel fins, with boulders balanced on spindles, and caves scooped out of sheer cliffsides. The rocks are famously red, but up close you can see that they actually display variegated hues in dramatic stripes, each representing eons of geologic history. Jeremy pointed out the shiny, darkened patina of the ancient river-carved canyon, most noticeable next to spots where it’s absent due to rockfalls. Pale and jagged vertical scars show where sections of the cliffs have finally fallen into the river, crashing their boulders down to create new navigational landmarks for river guides to avoid. The most recent such event, we learned, was just a week before our tour.
Hardy big-horn sheep inhabit the canyon and are often spotted on Moab Jett tours. Perhaps they were hiding in shadier spots on such a hot day, or we weren’t keeping a keen enough eye out, but none of these cliff-dwellers were spotted during our tour. We did see several blue heron, beautiful and unbothered by our boat. We shared the river with plenty of other adventurers, too, including kayak, SUP and rafting groups along with others sunbathing on larger rocks or cooling in waist-deep water along the river’s pocket-sized beaches. Otherwise, the ancient canyon seemed barely touched by man, subject to an unfathomably different timeframe to our own.
So, take a jet boat ride on the Colorado River with Moab Jett, have a great adventure, and ponder the fabric of the universe. You’ll love it!
50 West 400 North Moab, Utah 84532
Planning a trip to Utah? Check out “A Family Guide to St. George, Utah”
Disclaimer: California News Press and its contributors received goods, services and/or other professional courtesies to facilitate this review. All opinions are those of the author.