San Rafael Swell
Photo: Dean Krakel
Photo: Dean Krakel
San Rafael Swell
Good Water Rim Trail
Where to Start
The Wedge Overlook is a good place to begin exploring the northern Swell. The view from here offers a bird’s eye perspective of the Little Grand Canyon, a 14-mile path cut from the Earth’s crust by the San Rafael River. This 1000-foot deep gorge reveals towering sandstone cliffs that overlook the canyon’s bottom which is lined with cottonwoods, rabbit brush, and greasewood. The overlook also offers great views of Sids Mountain, Assembly Hall Peak, and the highest point in the Swell, Window Blind Peak.
Things to Do
Just beyond the Swinging Bridge and BLM campground is the east trailhead of the Little Grand Canyon. From this trailhead or the one at Fuller Bottom on the western edge, follow a well-used footpath along the river making your way beneath the towering cottonwoods and through the tamarisk. This pleasant hike has minimal elevation change and is moderate, making it one of the most popular San Rafael hikes for visitors. More hiking at the swell
Mountain biking any of the dirt roads in the Swell is suitable for the whole family, but for those looking for single-track action with minimal climbing, the Good Water Trail on the Wedge will do the job. Designated for foot and mountain bike traffic, this trail is perfect for those with intermediate biking skills and some endurance.
Camping at the Wedge in designated sites offers some of the best sunrise and sunset views just feet from your tent. These campgrounds are free of charge and are available on a first come, first serve basis. A Bureau of Land Management fee campground with pit toilets, tables, and fire rings is located near the San Rafael Swinging Bridge at the east end of the Little Grand Canyon. Tip: All campgrounds here are dry so be sure to bring plenty of water, especially in the hot summer months.
Floating the class I-II 14-mile length of the Little Grand Canyon in kayaks from Fuller Bottom to the Swinging Bridge is a popular activity open to those with the basic boating experience, and is completely dependent on a water flow rate above 200cfs.
More to Do
- Buckhorn Draw Pictograph Panel- Human presence in the Swell goes back thousands of years. Evidence of the Barrier Canyon and Fremont Culture are on display at the Buckhorn Draw Pictograph Panel, which can be seen on your drive or ride down to the river from the Wedge.
- Old Spanish Trail - From the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries the Old Spanish Trail trade route passed through the Swell on its northern flanks. More recently livestock and uranium mining have brought in the most traffic.
- San Rafael Swinging Bridge - You can visit this historic site built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps to aid cattle crossing the San Rafael River.
- Backpacking - If you choose to backpack the length of the canyon you will find many sites suitable for camping.
- Backcountry - Toward the south end of the swell, near Goblin Valley State Park and the northern stretches of Capitol Reef National Monument, backcountry roads access excellent features like the slot canyons of Little Wild Horse and Ding and Dang and the excellent Hondu Arch.
- Byway (The Energy Loop: Huntington-Eccles Canyons Scenic Byway) - The Wasatch Plateau is one of Utah’s most important geographical features, marking the division between the vast Colorado Plateau and the Great Basin. The Energy Loop road trip combines Huntington Canyon and Eccles Canyon and provides an excellent introduction to the spectacular wilderness of the Wasatch Plateau high country.
- Horseback riding
Getting There + Logistics
This is a very isolated area so come prepared. Be sure to drink plenty of water and fill up your gas tanks before heading in. There are no fees to enter the San Rafael Swell. Since the roads are gravel, travel can sometimes be difficult after a storm. There are access roads to the San Rafael Swell from S.R. 10 near Huntington and Castle Dale. Visit Utah's Castle Country for mile-by-mile directions to the Wedge Overlook, Little Horse Canyon and a number of other regional San Rafael attractions.
Goblin Valley State Park
The whole family will love hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the whimsical, Mars-like geology of Goblin Valley.
Canyonlands National Park
The currents of the Green and Colorado rivers molded Canyonlands into a rugged and beautiful place, with experiences ranging from the iconic Mesa Arch and White Rim Trial to remote backcountry.