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San Rafael Swell

Offers a less crowded alternative for those who are willing to make the journey to the more remote spots on the map.
The San Rafael Swell, a 70 by 40-mile geologic upheaval located in southeastern UT, has been cut, shaped, and formed over thousands of years into a crazy assembly of sandstone buttresses, canyons, and plateaus. The northern Swell, located north of Interstate 70, offers fantastic hiking, backpacking, biking, and camping at all levels of fun.
  • Buckhorn Wash

    Buckhorn Wash

    Photo: Dean Krakel

  • Swell Prints

    Swell Prints

    Photo: Dean Krakel

  • San Rafael Swell

    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

Hiking

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

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

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.

Kayaking

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.

BASECAMPS


 

The Underrated Trails Within the San Rafael Swell

by Matcha

Utah's San Rafael Swell features a vast landscape of winding gorges carved deep by rivers, and you'll find multi-colored sandstone mountains and mysterious slot canyons. Here's a quick guide to some of the best trails to explore the region.

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:: Start Over

A peculiar little town combines rich heritage and relaxing moments with rugged landscapes and adventures.
HIGHLIGHTS
  • Western Mining and Railroad Museum
  • San Rafael Swell
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • Swasey's Beach
Camping smack dab in the middle of the great outdoors? Use this five-day, budget-friendly itinerary to explore wild places around Capitol Reef National Park and the San Rafael Swell.
HIGHLIGHTS
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Goblin Valley State Park
  • San Rafael Swell
  • Moab Area BLM
Utah’s Dinosaur Diamond Highway is the perfect guide to experience ancient history, millions of years in the making. Along the way of your seven-day trip, veer off the highway and discover the state’s magical, lesser-known landscapes and adventures.
HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Jurassic National Monument
  • San Rafael Swell
  • Dead Horse Point State Park

What's Nearby

Goblin Valley State Park

The whole family will love hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the whimsical, Mars-like geology of Goblin Valley.

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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.

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Capitol Reef National Park

It is difficult to rival Capitol Reef’s sense of expansiveness. Lose yourself in the Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.

Explore the Park