The San Rafael River
The "Little Grand Canyon," the section of river between Fuller Bottom and the San Rafael Bridge Recreation Site, offers spectacular scenery in the sandstones of the Glen Canyon Group, the heart of the San Rafael Swell. Downstream from the bridge, the river enters the Black Boxes in Coconino Sandstone, the oldest exposed formation in the San Rafael Swell. Competent hikers, horseback riders and boaters can enjoy "The Little Grand Canyon," but only experienced canyoneers should explore the Black Boxes. All visitors must be properly prepared and knowledgeable to have a safe and enjoyable experience.
The 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-La Sal National Forest. Check the weather report carefully before venturing into these desert canyons. Flash flood potential is greatest July through September.
Both sections of the San Rafael River are far from emergency help; therefore, all visitors must be self-reliant. Search and rescue is difficult and costly to organize due to communications problems and access into these steep canyons. Emery County Sheriff's Department is in charge of search and rescue and can be accessed by dialing 911. Note that cell phones will not work in the Black Boxes.
All visitors should carry detailed maps, water, high energy foods, a first aid kit, a patch kit and air pump for inner tubes if used in the Boxes, and waterproof their packs. Boaters and canyoneers should wear personal flotation devices (PFDs).
Are permits needed?
No permits are needed for small, private groups. However, a commercial permit is required when anyone intends to make recreational use of the river for business or financial gain, or for educational or scientific purposes. A "Letter of Agreement" may be used as an alternative to obtaining a special recreation permit for noncommercial, individual or group use in specific circumstances such as Boy Scouts, or college classes. Contact the Price Field Office for clarification.
"Leave No Trace" and WSAs"
The San Rafael River runs through Sid's Mountain and Mexican Mountain Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). The roads to the Black Box trail heads end at WSAs or areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC) boundaries. Please obey all boundary signs; motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed to proceed past these closures.
Proper outdoor ethics are expected of all visitors. These include using a portable toilet when camping near a vehicle, using designated campgrounds when available, removing or burying human waste in back country, carrying out or burying toilet paper, using camp stoves in the back country, never cutting or tearing live vegetation, carrying your own firewood in, and using a fire pan for all open fires. Carrying out more trash than you carry in will help keep the canyon clean. Please be courteous to all users---this means not blocking launch sites with vehicles or excess equipment, not leaving litter (which includes organic waste), not yelling in the canyons unnecessarily, and traveling in small groups. Horse riders are asked NOT to bring horses into the San Rafael Bridge Creation Site (campground); rather, camp at the corrals (located one mile upstream from the campground). Please avoid using the corrals during the month of May or when livestock is present.
More Information and Other Floating Opportunities
During high spring runoff, visitors with small craft can float other sections of the San Rafael River and its tributaries. A pleasantly scenic section for beginners is the last approximately 25 miles of the river before its confluence with the Green River. To avoid conflicts with landowners, please launch below private property (see BLM Land Status Map). Other low-flow desert rivers in our area are Muddy Creek and Price River. The Price BLM office can be contacted for further information, telephone 435-636-3600.
What maps should I take?