Upper Canyon, Sand Island to Mexican Hat


4 Days, 3 Nights, 26 miles

Meeting Place

Wild Rivers Expeditions - Bluff, Utah


$946/adult and $805/15 & Under

Additional $10/person BLM Permit and $12 Navajo Permit


A popular trip among hikers or those seeking a more leisurely pace, our four day trip provides ample time for both. In addition to our guides' unparalleled interpretation of the upper canyon's rock art, cliff dwellings and textbook geology, hikers will enjoy treks up Comb Ridge, Chinle Wash, the Diatreme and an abandoned river meander. For those seeking a mellower pace, enjoy blissful afternoons on the boat and long, warm evenings enjoying the canyon's colors in camp.



Night Before Departure:

You will meet at Wild Rivers in Bluff at 7:00 p.m. for the prelaunch orientation. Your trip leader will hand out waterproof bags and boxes. We can also supply sleeping bags, pads and tents, but be sure to reserve them in advance with our office.


Day One:

In the morning the group departs in a Wild Rivers van from Bluff to the Sand Island Launch ramp four miles west of town. The float begins as the river meanders past orange and black streaked sandstone outcroppings.


Soon the boats pull into shore and we take a short walk to a site once inhabited by ancient desert farmers, the Anasazi. Large oval steps are carved into the cliff wall and petroglyphs appear around every corner.


Down river a short distance, lunch is served under the cottonwood trees at the famous Butler Wash petroglyph panel with plenty of time to examine this extensive group of mysterious images.


After lunch we may observe additional rock art panels across the river on the south bank, or we may explore panels near our camp a few miles downstream.


Camp is pitched in the late afternoon on a sandy beach amongst the cottonwoods and giant sagebrush. The guides prepare dinner, complete with appetizers and dessert. Sunset and campfire, then it's off to sleep in a tent or out under the stars.


Day Two:

First light finds the guides in the kitchen making coffee and fixing breakfast.


After breakfast the group walks to River House, an 800-year-old cliff dwelling. You can spend time amid the round walls of a kiva where dried corn cobs remain with bits of pottery. This hike can be extended by exploring the nearby benchlands for more sites and another large kiva.


We'll then hike a short distance downstream to observe a great kiva and associated surface sites, and then a hike up San Juan Hill. This steep route was chiseled along a diagonal opening in the cliff by the famous Mormon "Hole-In-The-Rock" expedition in 1880. The views from its top - also the top of Comb Ridge - are incredible.


Day Three:

After breakfast we'll pack the boats for a short float downstream to Chinle Wash, where painted rock art and cliff dwellings hide among the rock alcoves. Author Tony Hillerman calls Chinle Wash "Many Ruins Canyon" in the mystery novel Thief of Time.


At Mile 9 the river enters the "anticline" and the canyon walls rise up dramatically. The river narrows and the pace quickens as small riffles and rapids rock the boats.


Camp is made deep within the canyon where the limestone walls are full of fossils and a lively current murmurs against the rocks.


Day Four:

There is time after breakfast for fossil hunting. An undulating pattern to the rocks reveals the presence of "bioherms." Porous mounds in an ancient shallow sea, they act as a reservoir rock to capture oil.


The trip continues with more floating and fun rapids. Desert bighorn sheep may appear along this stretch. The rocks tilt and canyon walls diminish as Mexican Hat Rock comes into view, a large red slab balanced on a small pedestal. The vivid reds and grays of the anticline zig-zag across the eastern horizon, a Navajo blanket of stone.


The journey ends by 2 or 3 p.m. at the boat launch in the town of Mexican Hat, where Wild River's vans will transport you back to Bluff.



Itineraries can vary depending on the river level, weather, group ability and interest. All hikes are optional. Many groups prefer to stretch this trip into five days to allow for more exploration or a more leisurely pace.


-Moki Steps

-Ancient rock carvings & ruins

-4 foot, 8 foot and ledge rapids

-Crinoid Fossils

Meeting Place

Blanding Office:

Four Corners Adventures

254 E Center Street

Blanding, Utah 84511


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Bluff Office:

Wild Rivers Expeditions

2625 South Highway 191

Bluff, Utah 84512


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