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The Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael

Best Time and Water Levels to Float/Hike/Ride the River

All visitors must be aware of flash flood potential. Do not enter the canyon if there is a possibility of flash flooding.  Remember:  The skies can be clear where you are, but a cloud burst upstream can send a wall of turbulent water down the canyon.  The San Rafael River is fed by streams originating in the Manti-Lasal.  Check the weather report carefully before venturing into these desert canyons.  Flash flood potential is greatest July through September. National Forest

The "Little Grand Canyon" can be floated in small craft (hard shell/inflatable kayaks, small canoes) at flow rates above 200 cubic feet per second (cfs).  Higher flows (over 500 cfs) should provide an easier, smoother, and faster trip, and enable floaters to use small rafts in addition to kayaks.

Hikers and horses will cross the river many times while traveling between Fuller Bottom and the bridge, therefore, trips should proceed when flows are low (below 50 cfs).

See the graph:  It shows the monthly maximum, average and minimum flows in cfs at the San Rafael near the BLM Recreation Site, for a typical 10-year period.

How Long and Difficult is the Trip and What Should I Bring?

The stretch between Fuller Bottom to the bridge is approximately 15 river miles and requires a full day to float, one to two days to hike, or 6 to 8 hours to ride, depending on river flows and side canyon exploration.  This is a relatively easy float trip with Class I+ water (swift water, riffles and sand waves).  Hazards include wall shots, undercut rocks, shallow rocky sections at low water, strainers and debris in the water.  Everyone must be prepared for heat and insects (in season), and muddy banks which can make footing difficult.

If riding, your horse must be comfortable wading muddy water and walking through muddy spots.  Care must be taken when leaving the trail as the river's quicksand and deep mud can bog down a horse.   The trail is sometimes difficult to follow; we recommend riding with an experienced leader who has been through the canyon before.  Since there is little grazing within the canyon, extended stays are not encouraged.  Trips should be limited to one or two days.  Only certified weed-free feed should be carried for the animals.

How to Access the River

The most convenient put-in for the San Rafael's Little Grand Canyon is Fuller Bottom.  The road to this area is signed, just south of the well on Buckhorn Flat; it heads southwest toward the river.  High clearance vehicles are recommended.  At the put-in, do not block the launch site with your vehicle or gear as this area is quite busy in season.  Park you vehicle on impacted sites away from the river. 

The take-out is just before the "swinging bridge."  Park your take-out vehicle within the log-fences area near the bridge.  The shuttle between the bridge and Fuller Bottom takes about one hour each way.  Most horse-back riders start their ride from Fuller Bottom, on the west bank.

Which Maps Are Needed? 


The San Rafael River is located on the "Huntington" and "San Rafael Desert" BLM Surface Status maps (1:100,000 scale).  These are sold for $4 each at most BLM offices in Utah.
 
The more detailed USGS 7.5 minute quads should also be carried. 
 
USGS maps are available directly from the Utah Geological Survey, some visitor centers, private outlets, and some government offices.  The Price Field Office does not sell USGS maps.  The Canyonlands Natural History Association sells relevant maps and other publications.
 
Utah Geological Survey
Department of Natural Resources Library
1594 West North Temple
P.O. Box 146100
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6100
Telephone: 801-537-3333
Fax: 801-537-3400,
 
Canyonlands Natural History Association
3031 South Highway 181
Moab, Utah 84532
1-800-840-8978