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Muddy Creek - Know Before You Go


"The Muddy," a low-flow desert creek slices through the San Rafael Swell revealing a cross-section of rock strata from Mancos Shale at I-70 to the sensational cliffs of the Coconino Sandstone in "the Chute." During spring runoff "The Muddy" provides an exciting floating excursion. Proper planning is essential for a safe and enjoyable experience.

Your outing will be enhanced if you know...

The Best Time to Go

The biggest dilemma one faces when planning a float trip on Muddy Creek is timing a trip when flows are sufficient for floating. Because farmers take water from the Muddy for irrigation downstream from the gauge at Emery, we recommend that you cautiously wade into the Creek at the bridge over I-70 and measure how high it is flowing. If the Creek is at least 2 feet high, it is minimally floatable in small craft (such as inflatable kayaks or hardshells). On average, May and June are the only months that the river is potentially floatable.

Note that although there is a gauge at the I-70 bridge, it has not been operable since 1986. Therefore to avoid disappointment always be prepared for an alternative activity should you arrive and find insufficient flows. For example, if the flow is ankle deep or lower, the Tomsich Butte to Hidden Splendor Mine section of the Muddy is an exciting and challenging hike.
Another essential consideration for all visitors is flash flood potential. Do not attempt the Muddy especially “the Chute” if there is a possibility of flash flooding. Remember, the skies can be clear where you are but a cloud burst upstream may send a wall of turbulent water down the canyon. Check the weather report carefully before venturing into these desert canyons.

Floatable Segments

This chart divides Muddy Creek into floatable sections based on road access. Each section is classified for difficulty. Classes are to be used only as a general guide. Classes will change with flows (cfs). For example, the first part of the float between I-70 to Lone Tree Crossing can turn into a Class III run with complex hydraulics during high water. Alternatively, it can be a rocky nightmare to negotiate with low flows. In addition, hazards such as strainers (e.g. fallen trees), dead livestock, new rock falls, and wall shots change constantly. All visitors must float with caution.

SectionLength in between miles/suggested float timesEstimated DifficultyUSGS 7.5 minute serues topogramphic map/1:100,000 Land Status BLM quad mapWarnings, Potential HazardsAttractions

Class I: moving water, riffles and small waves.

Class II: easy rapids, regular waves, usually no need to scout.

Class III: rapids, irregular waves, narrow passages, scouting may be necessary.

 The Muddy is remote and far from help. Floaters must be competent in wilderness travel and first aid. Wear personal floatation devices (PFDs). Cell phones do not work in these remote locations. All of the Muddy may harbor biting gnats, flies and other insects in season.The scenic splendor of the Muddy slices through geologic history. Its wilderness characteristics such as solitude and lack of modern clay structures, along with the occasional sighting of wildlife, attracts visitors.
I-70 to Lone Tree Crossing11 miles/3-5 hoursClass I, II, and III. Do not attempt when flows are low, advanced skills needed when flows are high.Mesa Butte/Salina QuadFirst half very rocky, second half very narrow. Potential for boat jams. Swift water, strainers, and wall shots are possible. Not recommended for canoes. Put-in is on private land, respect gate closures; do not leave vehicles on private land.Slices through Mancos shale and Morrison and Summerville Formations, volcanic dikes; small canyon; creek lined with willows; cabin and mine; wild horses, beavers, deer; remote.
Lone Tree Crossing to Tomsich Butte19 miles/2 daysClass I, IIMesa Butte, Big Bend Draw, Ireland Mesa, Tomsich Butte/Salina and San Rafael Desert QuadsWatch for fences. Sand waves. Backpackers will have to ford Creek (may have to swim in deepest part of channel.)Slices through Entrada and Navajo sandstones and Kayenta. Scenic side canyons to explore; popular with backpackers due to remoteness.
Tomsich Butte to Hidden Splendor Mine15 miles/1 or 2 daysClass I, IITomisch Butte, Hunt Draw, San Rafael Desert QuadReal potentail for hypothermia for both floaters and hikers due to narrow canyon with high walls blocking out the sunlight. Bring wetsuits, drysuits or appropriate long underwear. Wall shots hazardous at high water; rocky stretches are common at lower water.Slices through Meonkopi Formation and Kaibab Limestone Slices through Coconino Sandstone in "The Chute," a very narrow four mile canyon with 300 foot vertical walls, 20 foot high "log jam." Considered the most scenic part of the Muddy and the one most often hiked during low flows. Scenic side canyons to explore.
Hidden Splendor Mine to "Crossing"5 miles/2 hoursClass I, II if water is highHunt Draw, San Rafael Desert QuadCreek goes under a deep overhang. Proceed with caution as this spot could be deadly at high flows. Once Creek breaks out of Reef it can be very shallow out of main channel.Creek flows out of the layers and exits the San Rafael Reef. Wildlife.
"Crossing" to State Highway 2422 miles/1 very long day or 2 daysClass IHunt Draw, Little Wild Horse Mesa, Skyline Rim, The Notch/San Rafael Desert and Hanksville QuadsDifficult to locate oneself in this area (bring compass, maps, GPS). May have to drag boats near end of float. May encounter off-highway vehicles (ATVs and motorcycles) near crossing. Takeout is on private land. Do not leave vehicles on private land.Mostly open, relatively flat lands composed of aluvium and colluvium channel and flood plain deposits; one small canyon.

Discharge of Muddy Creek in Cubic Feet (per second)

Normal Max CFS39.074.46.4201.6504792502335400650737338.2
Normal Average CFS12.316.521.233.592.995.237.215.912.418.513.512.2
Normal Minimum CFS22.

The normal peak is about 150-300 cfs in May or early June. Past history is no guarantee of current conditions. Floaters should obtain current flows by calling: 801.539.1311.

Where to access: put-ins, trailheads and maps

We highly recommend purchasing BLM Surface Management Status maps (1:100,000 scale) sold for $4 each at most BLM offices in Utah. These maps show the complex of non-paved roads which lead to the put-ins and trailheads. The more detailed USGS 7.5 minute quads should also be carried. They are available from the U.S. Geological Survey directly on the internet or by telephone: 801.975.3743 and at some private outlets, and the visitor centers of government offices. The Price BLM office does not sell USGS maps, but does sell the BLM Surface Management Status maps.

The put-in off I-70 is not sign-posted; one must pull of the east-bound lane onto a clearing just after crossing the Muddy Creek Bridge on the Interstate. The Lone Tree Crossing is signed and there are signs in the San Rafael Swell to Hidden Splendor mine area and Tomsich Butte (Hondo Arch). The “Crossing” is not signed; drive to the Muddy via the road to Goblin Valley/Little Wild Horse and proceed past the Little Wild Horse signed parking area until you reach the Creek. Crossing the Creek by vehicle can be hazardous.

Motorized Crafts

Motorized craft such as jet skis and motorized vehicles such as ATVs and motorcycles are etiher not permitted on Muddy Creek or their use is inappropriate due to its rocky, shallow nature. Below Hidden Splendor Mine, motorized vehicles including jet skies are not permitted in order to protect natural resources such as riparian vegetation, soils and wildlife.

Outdoor Ethics

Proper outdoor ethics are expected of all visitors. These include using a portable toilet when camping near a vehicle, using existing, impacted campsites, carrying out or burying toilet paper, using camp stoves in the back country, never cutting or tearing live vegetations, carrying in your own firewood 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 sits with vehicles or equipment, not leaving litter, including organic waste, and traveling in small, quiet groups.

Additional Information

From Lone Pine Crossing to below the Chute, Muddy Creek runs through the Muddy Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA).

During high spring runoff, visitors with small craft can float sections of the San Rafael and Price Rivers, the two other low-flow desert rivers in the BLM’s Price Office Area. This office also manages the Desolation-Gray Canyons and Labyrinth Canyon, on the Green River.