The Salt Lake Scene

San Rafael: Easy-Access Canyoneering

p3270092_adjusted_lresThere's a slot-canyon paradise just a little over three hours' drive to the south of Salt Lake City: San Rafael Swell. In any other state, this area would most definitely be a State Park at least, but Utah simply has so many natural wonders that it still hasn't caught the attention for such a place.

The bright side of that is that it's still a well-kept secret and it makes for a very cheap and convenient area to visit -- no entree fees and you can camp anywhere you want.

I had the chance to visit San Rafael for the first time this weekend past. I had to ask myself what I've been thinking of not taking advantage of this area more often. Here's how we made most of a weekend of canyoneering on a tight schedule:

img_2193_lresWoke up early and hit the road. Arrived at the San Rafael area around 10:00 AM. We did an eight-mile loop hike up Little Wild Horse Canyon and back down Bell Canyon. We arrived at the first narrows after a quarter mile. The narrows continued, mixed with wide drainage canyons for a few miles. Eventually, we walked through a vast valley to swing around and drop into Bell Canyon and down to the trailhead.

The eight miles took us about three hours going at a comfortable pace. After the hike, we swung by Goblin Valley to see the rock formations, then we found an excellent camp site in the Lower Chute area of San Rafael. After setting up camp and before dinner, we had some daylight left. So we found a few great bouldering problems on near by sandstone rocks. It was a great way to end the day's activities.

Woke up at 7:00 AM, got some breakfast in us, and hit the dirt road to the trailhead. Saturday's hike was more of a push. We did a loop hike starting through Baptist Draw, dropping into the Upper Chutes, and ascending back to the car through a beautiful drainage canyon. Mileage was closer to 12 miles for this one. It took us a little more than six hours.

Saturday was more technical, involving three repels. The first repel was around 30 feet, the second one--which dropped us into the Upper Chutes section--was 80 feet, and the third was about 40 feet. After we finished the hike, we headed back to camp, had a hearty dinner, and slept very well.

We woke up at a comfortable hour, ate a big breakfast, and headed home. We were back in Price by 1:30 PM. We spent a lazy afternoon there, but could have been back to Salt Lake by 3:00 PM had we gone straight home.

I think we chose a great time to go visit San Rafael. We saw less then 10 people on the hike on Friday and only three people on the whole hike on Saturday. It was solitary bliss. However, I hear that as long as you avoid holiday weekends, that's what you get every weekend.

The temperature was nice during the night, but the early-morning hours proved to be colder than we expected. But in the end, it was the perfect temperature for slot-canyon hiking during the day.p3280115_adjusted_lres

I recommend visiting San Rafael Swell for outdoor adventure, family fun, or casual camping. It's got it all. And it's close to Salt Lake City--proving once again that Salt Lake is a premiere gateway city for adventure and travel. Here are a couple sites to get you excited and provide you with additional information:

Have fun and be safe by always checking the forecast!