Ghost Town: Westwater, Grand County, Utah


Moderator & Supporting Member
Site: Westwater
Alternate Names: N/A
County, State: Grand County, Utah
Years of Occupation: 1890's to 1940's (ranch use to current)
Status of Site: Mix of public, private and rail road property
Classification: Class 1 - Barren Town
Type: Agriculture
Remnants: Foundations
GPS Coordinate: 39.086° N 109.110° W
NRHP Reference#: N/A
Date of Last Visit: Have not been to the site yet


Upstream from Moab on the Colorado River, near the Colorado state line, there is a relatively short, deep canyon that has become one of the most popular river-running destinations in America. The canyon is known as Westwater. Its popularity is largely due to the thrill provided by possibly the most, certainly one of the most, dangerous and challenging stretches of white water on the Colorado-Skull Rapid. Near the head of the canyon are the remnants of the tiny town of Westwater, which has had an interesting and eventful history of its own, partly because of the river and canyon, partly because of the railroad that passes through it, and partly because of its remoteness.

It has attracted over the years more than its fair share of colorful characters-government explorers and agents, boosters and get-rich-quick dreamers, cattle and sheep men, outlaws and bootleggers, and, of course, river runners. Mike Milligan, who came to know the area as a river guide, has written a thorough history of this out-of-the-way place. While it has a colorful history that makes its story interesting in and of itself, Westwater's significance derives more from a phenomenon of the modern West-thousands of recreational river runners. They have pushed a backwater place into the foreground of modern popular culture in the West.

Westwater seems to represent one common sequence in western history: the late opening of unexplored territories; sporadic, ultimately often unsuccessful attempts to develop them; renewed obscurity when development doesn't succeed; their attraction of a marginal society of misfits or loners; and modern rediscovery of them due to new cultural motives, especially outdoors recreation, which has brought a great number of people into thousands of remote corners of the West.


Read all about Westwater in Mike's book, available for free online as a downloadable PDF here:

Further Reading:
Milligan, Mike, "Westwater Lost and Found" (2004). All USU Press Publications. Book 145.

Directions to Get There:

  • Westwater Ranger Station (the put-in):
    From Interstate 70, take exit 227. Turn south at the stop sign and proceed for nine miles to the Ranger Station. Alternate Route: From I-70, take exit 221. Turn north at the stop sign. Turn right onto the road paralleling I-70. Turn left shortly after passing over Westwater Creek. Follow this road for 4.5 miles to the Ranger Station. These directions take you to the Westwater BLM Ranger Station which is just a few hundred yards from the site of Westwater (town) proper. See GPS coordinates and maps for more detailed directions.

(Site Map, courtesy of


(Westwater town in the back ground, courtesy of
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