San Rafael Swell

The San Rafael Swell is a land of canyons, striking sandstone formations and breathtaking panoramas. An area covering 2000 square miles, it is located in southern Utah and is divided by I-70. In a part of the country with many National Parks and Monuments, the little known San Rafael Swell area rivals them all in beautiful scenery.

San Rafael Swell Highlights

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Wander through the hoodoos in this Mars like landscape. A popular state park and a great jumping off point for exploring the San Rafael Swell south of I-70.

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Canyon is one the most beautiful slot canyons in the area. Near Goblin Valley State Park and easily accessible.

The Wedge Overlook

The Wedge Overlook

The Wedge is a massive gorge in the northern section of the San Rafael Swell. It is sometimes known as the "Little Grand Canyon".

Petroglyphs and Pictographs

Buckhorn Wash Pictograph

There are a few different areas in the San Rafael Swell with outstanding and well preserved petroglyphs and pictographs, left by the ancient inhabitants of the region.

There are abundant recreational opportunities including hiking slot canyons, wandering through the odd rock formations in Goblin Valley State Park, seeing ancient petroglyphs and pictographs and much more. The Swell itself is a geological feature called an anticline, essentially an upheaval in the earth, and erosion over time has formed the deep canyons and odd rock formations that stand today. It cuts through south central Utah and is approximately 75 X 40 miles. It is truly a geological wonderland full of towering buttes, spires, multi colored rocks, and canyons. The San Rafael Reef is the dramatic eastern edge of the Swell, composed of upturned sandstone, with deep canyons cut by erosion. The San Rafael Swell is still a work in progress, as erosion by wind and water continue to shape the land.

I-70 cuts through the middle of the Swell, separating it into northern and southern sections. Most of the roads leading into the Swell are gravel. Most roads are passable in good conditions in a car, although some require 4 wheel drive or an ATV. These roads are largely left over from the mining days of the past. Nearby towns include Green River to the east, Castle Dale to the west, Price to the north and Hanksville to the south.

A trip to the San Rafael Swell area offers vacationers isolated wilderness experiences. There are also modern conveniences in the towns surrounding the Swell. As far away as it seems when you're there, it is only a few hours away from Salt Lake City. There are plenty of hotels, rv sites, and camping in the vicinity of the San Rafael Swell area. Activities in and around the Swell include camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting on the Green River, golfing, ATVing, museums, and more. For those passing through there are still beautiful vistas off I-70. This area is rich in history, including dinosaurs, native cultures, outlaws, settlers and uranium mining. Spring and fall have more moderate temperatures and are good times to visit the Swell. There are high temperatures in the summer, often with little shade available, though early morning and dusk can be good times to explore. Winters are cold, often freezing at night, with some mild days that can be pleasant for hiking.

This is rugged country even today. There are very few facilities in the interior of the Swell. Travelers should bring all the water they require, and they will need to bring plenty of it in this dry desert environment. Travelers should have good maps, a GPS unit could prove helpful, and will also want to make sure they fill up on gas in towns such as Green River, Price, Castle Dale or Hanksville before going into the interior areas. There is a high danger of flash floods in the area, especially in the canyons and washes. Don't camp or park vehicles in a wash. Lightning is also a danger during storms. Check and be aware of the weather. Never enter abandoned mines as they are extremely dangerous, are unstable with possibility of collapse and are known to accumulate high levels of radiation at the entrances. The San Rafael Swell area is largely administered by the Bureau of Land Management(BLM). Interspersed through the area are various Wilderness Study Areas which have different recreational regulations. The interior of the San Rafael Swell is definitely off the beaten path and there is plenty of opportunity for solitude here. Take care when enjoying this area to minimally impact this fragile desert environment. There are camping opportunities on the BLM land as well as numerous other private and state park facilities with more amenities.