Little Grand Canyon |

San Rafael Swell

Floating Little Grand Canyon - San Rafael SwellHiking Little Grand Canyon - San Rafael Swell Floating Little Grand Canyon
San Rafael Swell

Overview | Getting There | Route | Photos | Maps | Comments


RATING: Backpacking, Horseback, or Float
CFS RANGE: 150 - 1,500
CURRENT CFS: Getting current CFS.... Full Details
LENGTH: 1-2 days.
MAPS: Sids Mountain, UT; Bottleneck Peak, UT


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SEASON: Any, but hot in the summer. The floating season is usually a 2-3 week period from the end of May/early June.


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Named the Little Grand Canyon, the San Rafael River carves an impressive gorge as it flows about 18 miles from Fuller Bottom in the west to the San Rafael bridge. This impressive canyon can be easily viewed from the Wedge Overlook, but to fully experience its grandeur and scale, it is best to spend a day or two traversing it from top to bottom. There are several options for making the 18-mile journey. The easiest is to float the river; however, this option is only available for 2-3 weeks every spring when the spring runoff peaks. The rest of the year, you are relegated to traveling by foot or horseback. If you are floating or traveling by horseback, this is a relatively easy trip to do in a day. If you are hiking, it is a long day, and likely best done as a backpack. The route description gives some suggestions for the best camp spots along the way. If doing an overnight trip, please practice minimum impact camping techniques.

If floating, you need a CFS of at least 100 to pass with a lightly loaded canoe. 150+ CFS is better. At 500+ CFS, you will have a very easy, fast float. The river is rated Class 1+, and has only a few small riffles and obstacles to avoid. The float is suitable for beginning boaters with a little experience. Keep a sharp eye out for trees and other debris that can block the river.

If traveling by horseback or foot, check the river flow before setting off. It should be below 50 CFS for easiest travel. Above that level, crossing could be difficult.

Note: To check the current CFS, you can visit the USGS website ( ).
WARNING: Bug repellent is critical in spring and summer. Mosquitoes and horseflies can be a real menace.

Getting There

Note: A car should be able to make it to both trailheads under most conditions. If you lack two vehicles, this is a reasonable mountain bike shuttle that will take about 2 hours.

Take highway 10 south out of Price for about 28.2 miles.

  • Just before the town of Castle Dale, at milepost 39.4, go east on the signed San Rafael Swell Access road. Reset your odometer as you turn off the highway onto the dirt road. ( 12S 500218mE 4341289mN / N39° 13' 15" W110° 59' 51" )
  • Continue on this road, passing a cattle guard after 12 miles, and reaching a 4 way junction at 12.7 miles. ( 12S 518059mE 4336281mN / N39° 10' 32" W110° 47' 27" )
  • Exit Trailhead
  • To leave a car at the takeout, continue east at this 4 way junction for 2.4 miles to the signed Buckhorn Wash road. ( 12S 521483mE 4335782mN / N39° 10' 16" W110° 45' 05" )
  • Go right (south), heading down Buckhorn was as it deepens. It is about 9.6 miles from the top of Buckhorn Wash to the bridge. Park on the south side on the bridge in a small fenced area on the left if you are floating (this is the takeout). ( 12S 528856mE 4325842mN / N39° 04' 52" W110° 39' 59" )
  • If you are traveling by foot or horseback, continue past the bridge 0.4 miles to a road on the right. ( 12S 528342mE 4325411mN / N39° 04' 38" W110° 40' 20" )
  • Take this well travelled road 0.8 miles to its end at a parking area and trailhead. ( 12S 527245mE 4325421mN / N39° 04' 39" W110° 41' 06" )
  • Start Trailhead
  • From the 4 way junction, reset your odometer and go right (south) on the road signed The Wedge/Fuller Bottom. After 0.5 miles, go right on a small road signed Fuller Bottom. ( 12S 518121mE 4336092mN / N39° 10' 26" W110° 47' 25" )
  • At 5.5 miles, you will reach a parking area and information kiosk right before the road descends into the San Rafael River. Park here. If hiking or going by horse, follow the road down and across the river to begin the trail. Boaters can put in anywhere. ( 12S 512545mE 4330054mN / N39° 07' 10" W110° 51' 18" )


If traveling by foot or horseback, the trail starts across the river, on the south side. It is easy to follow and well traveled. Expect to cross the river many times, especially early on.

As you travel down the canyon, keep an eye out on the left for a petroglyph panel. The panel is just beyond where the canyon walls start to rise and is relatively easy to spot from the river if you keep a sharp eye out. The river goes close to a cliff, then veers back right. Just down canyon from the first panel, on the right, is the Sorrel Mine, a copper mine from the late 1800's and early 1900's. The shaft supposedly went almost 2000 feet deep.

Continue down from the mine until Virgin Spring Canyon comes in on the right. This area has good spots for camping, a spring and pool are about 15 minutes up from its mouth. Please clean up any garbage you find, this area is starting to show impacts from the many backpacker and boaters. The mouth of Virgin Spring is littered with recent graffiti; please do not add to it. There are supposedly some pictographs up the canyon on the right about 10-15 feet off the canyon floor, but we could not locate them on our trip.

From Virgin Spring Canyon down, you are in the deepest parts of the gorge. High on your left (looking down canyon) is The Wedge Overlook. This stretch of river is amazing and punctuated by a large wall on your right with a small window in it. If you look high on the cliff, you can spot a pictograph panel here. At this point the river swings north, then around a bend and back south. The next side canyon on your right is Cane Wash.

Cane Wash is another great area to camp in. If you are filtering river water, let it sit in a container to settle out before running through a filter. There is a nice pictograph panel 3 minutes up Cane Wash on the left, and exploring up the canyon as far as you like makes a nice diversion.

Cane Wash is the home stretch, with only a few miles left. When Bottleneck Peak becomes visible on your right, the end is near. If you are on foot or horseback, you will end at the parking area. By boat, continue down until you seen the San Rafael Bridge, this is the takeout.


Route / 17.20 miles / Elevation Range 5,094 - 5,371 ft.
Printable Maps:
Upper Trailhead

12S 512546mE 4330055mN

N39° 07' 10" W110° 51' 18"

First Panel

12S 515263mE 4328190mN

N39° 06' 10" W110° 49' 25"


12S 515180mE 4327194mN

N39° 05' 37" W110° 49' 28"


12S 519337mE 4326266mN

N39° 05' 07" W110° 46' 35"

Panel (from River)

12S 522464mE 4327201mN

N39° 05' 37" W110° 44' 25"

Cane Wash Panel

12S 523242mE 4327054mN

N39° 05' 32" W110° 43' 52"

Cane Wash

12S 523196mE 4327041mN

N39° 05' 32" W110° 43' 54"

Lower Takeout

12S 527246mE 4325422mN

N39° 04' 39" W110° 41' 06"


12S 528791mE 4325823mN

N39° 04' 52" W110° 40' 02"


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