Little Grand Canyon | Northern Swell

Floating Little Grand Canyon - Northern SwellHiking Little Grand Canyon - Northern Swell Little Grand Canyon

Northern Swell


RATING: Backpacking, Horseback, or Float
CFS RANGE: 150 - 1,500
CURRENT CFS: Getting current CFS.... Full Details


Sunny, with a high near 84. South southeast wind 1 to 7 mph.

84 | 57


Sunny, with a high near 89.

89 | 62


Sunny, with a high near 91.

91 | 65


Sunny, with a high near 92.

92 | 66


A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 93.

93 | 68

View Full Weather Details
SEASON: Floating in Spring, Hiking in Fall (hot in the summer, but do-able).
WATER: I recommend bringing all you need. The river is dirty to filter. Virgin Springs and Cane Wash both generally have clearer water for filtering.
NOTES: The floating season is usually a 2-3 week period from the middle of May to early June but varies greatly. Some years it doesn't ever have enough flow to float. Hikers will want to avoid spring run-off when crossing the river will be more difficult. Anything less than 100 CFS should be easy to cross on foot.


Sunny, with a high near 84. South southeast wind 1 to 7 mph.

84 | 57


Sunny, with a high near 89.

89 | 62


Sunny, with a high near 91.

91 | 65


Sunny, with a high near 92.

92 | 66


A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 93.

93 | 68

View Full Weather Details
Wall in the Upper San Rafael River Gorge

Wall in the Upper San Rafael River Gorge

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. The river usually only has enough flow to float in spring runoff. Usually mid-to-late May through early June though some years it never has enough to float. Be cautious if floating for trees that have fallen across the river. Every few years it seems one falls and creates a hazard.

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.

WARNING: Bug repellent is critical in spring and summer. Mosquitoes and horseflies can be a real menace.
Note: If you haven't been to the Wedge Overlook, I highly recommend it before floating or hiking the Little Grand Canyon. It gives great perspective for what the canyon is like.
Views in the San Rafael River Gorge

Views in the San Rafael River Gorge

Getting There

Note: The trip requires a car shuttle, unless just hiking out and back. Any vehicle should be able to make it to both trailheads under most conditions as long as the roads are dry. If you lack two vehicles, this is a reasonable mountain bike shuttle that will likely take about 2 hours one way on a bike. It is about 20 miles of good dirt road between the two trailheads. Most can drive it one way in about 40-60 minutes.

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, (or want a shorter float) 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. This is the Lower Takeout on the map. It removes about 1.5 miles of river over going all the way to the bridge. When floating, I always go to the bridge and find getting out just downstream from the bridge an easy enough spot to get out. ( 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" )
Big walls midway through The Little Grand Canyon

Big walls midway through The Little Grand Canyon


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.

NOTES: Miles below are river miles from Fuller Bottom. If you are hiking, your distance might be more or less, but this gives a rough idea. Floating is generally longer because of the incessant bends.

If floating, remember this is snowmelt a day or two before you get on it. Those we met trying it using inner tubes were cold, miserable, and not having a good time. The float is easy, but still requires proper equipment. Packrafts, canoes, kayaks, or inflatable kayaks all generally work really well, and we saw a few groups on stand up paddle boards. Life jackets are required by Utah law.

First Panel (3.8 miles)
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.

Sorrel Mule Mine (4.6 miles)
Just down canyon from the first panel, on the right, is the Sorrel Mine, a copper mine from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The shaft supposedly went almost 2000 feet deep. It can be hard to see from the river, but easy to spot once you climb up the bank.

Salt Wash (5.6 miles)
Salt Wash is the major canyon coming in on the right. There are a few rock art panels up Salt Wash. If time allows, this can be a nice side hike. See the Salt Wash - Western Swell hike for details.

Virgin Spring Canyon (8.7 miles)
Virgin Spring Canyon comes in on the right at about mile 8.7. 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 the impact of the many backpackers and boaters. The mouth of Virgin Spring is littered with recent graffiti; please do not add to it. Just a few minutes up canyon, on the right when looking up canyon, is a fantastic pictograph panel about 15 feet above the canyon floor. I could not find this panel on my first few trips, wrongly assuming it was on the left side. Be sure to take the time to find it, It is astoundingly detailed.

This is a little less than the halfway point, and makes a great lunch spot.

Cane Wash (14.1 miles)
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 spectacular 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.

Johansen Corral (18.3 miles)
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. If you are floating and parked a vehicle and Johansen Corral, make sure you don't miss it.

Bridge (20.1 miles)
By boat, continue down until you see the San Rafael Bridge, this is the takeout. There is a reasonable spot to get out on either side just before or after the bridge. River right is usually a bit easier and more popular.


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Floating the Little Grand Canyon - Memorial Day 2023.

By: ryancornia


Route / 20.09 miles / Elevation Range 4,993 - 5,233 ft.
Printable Maps:
Fuller Bottom

12S 512610mE 4329894mN

N39° 07' 05" W110° 51' 15"

First Panel

12S 515263mE 4328190mN

N39° 06' 10" W110° 49' 25"

Sorrel-Mule Mine

12S 515180mE 4327193mN

N39° 05' 37" W110° 49' 28"

Salt Wash

12S 516283mE 4326470mN

N39° 05' 14" W110° 48' 42"

Virgin Spring Canyon

12S 519336mE 4326266mN

N39° 05' 07" W110° 46' 35"

Virgin Spring Panel

12S 519331mE 4326028mN

N39° 04' 59" W110° 46' 35"

Virgin Spring Pool

12S 519129mE 4325685mN

N39° 04' 48" W110° 46' 44"

Pictograph Panel (view from River)

12S 522464mE 4327201mN

N39° 05' 37" W110° 44' 25"

Cane Wash

12S 523280mE 4327118mN

N39° 05' 34" W110° 43' 51"

Cane Wash Panel

12S 523242mE 4327053mN

N39° 05' 32" W110° 43' 52"

Lower Takeout (Johansen Corrral)

12S 527245mE 4325421mN

N39° 04' 39" W110° 41' 06"


12S 528790mE 4325822mN

N39° 04' 52" W110° 40' 02"


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