U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
 
San Juan River Information
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Visitor Activities

You may encounter archeological ruins. Please treat them with respect so that future generations can enjoy them.

Float trips on the river are the dominant recreational use, but hiking and visiting archaeological and historical sites such as River House Ruin and San Juan Hill are popular as well.

There are two boat ramps along the river at Sand Island and at Mexican Hat, and a take-out at Clay Hills Crossing in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Developed cultural sites include the Sand Island Petroglyphs, Big Kachina Panel (also known as the Butler Wash Panel), River House Ruin, and San Juan Hill on the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail.

Camping is available at Sand Island Campground or at Comb Wash Campground.  Lodging is available in the towns of Blanding, Monticello, Mexican Hat, and Bluff.

Dispersed vehicle camping is allowed upstream of Comb Wash, along the Lime Creek Road, or in the Mexican Hat area only.  Vehicle camping is restricted to previously disturbed areas within 150 feet of designated routes.  Campfires are allowed with a fire pan.  Campers must have carry-out toilets.

Accessibility

Accessible facilities are available at the Sand Island boat ramp and at the Mexican Hat boat ramp but road surfaces are gravel.  Commercial boat operators may be able to provide limited accommodations.  Accessible facilities are very limited.

Access and Directions

The Sand Island boat ramp and campground is located about 3 miles west of Bluff just off State Highway 191.  The Mexican Hat boat ramp is located on the east end of Mexican Hat just off State Highway 163.  The Clay Hills take-out is accessed by taking State Highway 276 to San Juan County Road 278, an 11 mile dirt road that may become impassable by 2WD vehicles when wet.  Vehicles with moderate ground clearance are recommended.  Detailed maps showing road and river access are available at the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service offices in Monticello, Blanding Visitor Center, Monticello Visitor Center, Moab Information Center, and the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

Permits, Fees and Regulations

A permit is required year-round to float any section of the San Juan River between Montezuma Creek and Clay Hills.  From November through February, the permit is free.  From March 1 to October 31, there is a fee for the permit.  The cost depends on the number of people and the stretch of the river you are floating.  Maximum group size is 25 persons.  No pets are allowed.  Launch calendars, permit application forms, and other permit information are available on the San Juan River Permits Webpage.  A number of commercial outfitters also offer guided trips on the river.

No permit is required to hike or drive designated routes within the San Juan River SRMA.  Dispersed vehicle camping is allowed upstream of Comb Wash, along the Lime Creek Road, or in the Mexican Hat area only.  Vehicle camping is restricted to previously disturbed areas within 150 feet of designated routes.  Campfires are allowed with a fire pan.  Campers must have a carry-out toilet system. 

Preparedness and Safety

The San Juan River is in a desert environment.  Temperatures here may exceed 100 degrees in the summertime.  Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.  On the river, always wear a whitewater life jacket.  Spring and fall are the best times to visit. 

Wildlife

The San Juan River has many interesting wildlife species, including desert bighorn sheep, ringtail cats, bobcats, coyotes, and many species of birds. 

Grazing

Grazing in the riparian area is restricted to winter and spring.  Livestock use of the canyon is limited because of the rugged terrain.

Points of Interest

Geology

The San Juan River canyons are cut into the Colorado Plateau, which is a regional uplift that began millions of years ago.  These rocks were once below sea level.  The canyons have been eroded by the streams which flow through them; and most erosion occurs during times of high water.

Comb Ridge is a monocline, which is a fold in the earth’s crust.  To the west the rocks are lifted higher than to the east.  Mexican Hat is in a syncline, where the rocks are folded down but rise to the east and the west.

Comb Ridge and the canyons upstream to Sand Island are cut in Navajo Sandstone of the Jurassic Glen Canyon Group.  Downcanyon, the upper canyon walls and the area of Mexican Hat and the last part of the river before Clay Hills Crossing are sandstones and shales of the Permian Cutler Group.  The canyons on both sides of Mexican Hat have eroded into the Rico Formation and into Pennsylvanian age rocks of the Hermosa Group.  Quaternary age stream terraces are formed along the wider canyon bottoms.

Additional Information

  • Food and supplies can be purchased in the towns of Blanding, Monticello, Mexican Hat, and Bluff.
  • There are no first aid stations in the vicinity of the San Juan River on BLM administered lands.  Hospitals and clinics are found in the towns of Blanding and Monticello.  Emergency services may be obtained by dialing 911, however, cell phone service may be very limited.
  • Preserve the area for future generations through Minimum Impact Practices.

 
Last updated: 10-28-2011