The San Rafael Swell offers some terrifically stark desert terrain in the heart of Utah. Visitors can expect to enjoy some solitude here amidst harsh conditions. Exploration should include a few scenic drives and maybe a bit of hiking to really get into the wilderness. An overview of your options are described below.
A network of dirt roads run throughout the Swell. Two of the more popular drives are described below.
- Wedge Overlook / Buckhorn Draw Road is the most dramatic route through the Swell. At the Wedge Overlook are wonderful views of the impressive canyons of the "Little Grand Canyon" carved by the San Rafael River. There are numerous viewpoints along the rim. Buckhorn Draw Road drops from the Wedge Overlook through a narrow sandstone canyon lined with cottonwoods to a crossing of the San Rafael River.
- Temple Mountain / Goblin Valley Road runs through and adjacent to the San Rafael Reef with good views of Temple Mountain, the highpoint of the reef. Goblin Valley State Park features a small valley of interesting curving, "goblin-like" rock formations.
Hiking the San Rafael
The expansive San Rafael has many great areas to explore either on daytrips or overnighters. Described below are some of the better areas to consider.
- Head of Sinbad -- Erosion has created many interesting shapes in the buff-colored sandstone in this area.
- Hidden Splendor / Keesle Country -- Deep within a canyon in the southern end of the Swell is Hidden Splendor, once one of the biggest uranium mines in Utah. The surrounding area has interesting places to explore. Muddy Creek can be followed through the San Rafael Reef when the water is low. Nearby is Keesle Country, a maze of canyons.
- Hondoo Arch / Tomsich Butte -- Hondoo Arch is a large arch above the Muddy River. The area has lots of places for hiking and camping.
- Little Wild Horse Canyon cuts through the San Rafael Reef for 2 miles Near Goblin Valley State Park. This interesting narrow canyon makes for a good short day hike.
Select San Rafael Publications for a complete list of books and maps covering hiking in the San Rafael Swell.
Narrow Black Dragon Canyon has some very interesting pictographs of a dragon, geometric shapes, human figures and more. They are located about 14 miles west of Green River on a dirt road off I-70. Take a dirt road north off I-70 just past marker 145 (it's not a marked exit) for 1 mile and turn left 1/2 mile up a stream bed to the canyon mouth. The pictographs are 1/4 mile up the canyon.
There is also some nice rock art along Buckhorn Draw Road described above.