Upper Canyon, Sand Island to Mexican Hat


3 Days, 2 Nights, 26 miles

Meeting Place

Wild Expeditions - Bluff, Utah


$749/adult and $609/15 & Under

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




The San Juan's upper canyon is an outdoor museum of archaeology, geology and natural history. Ruins and petroglyph panels abound while the textbook geology provides for fascinating learning and stunning red rock scenery. Three days exploring the upper canyon affords the time to explore these wonders while enjoying fine meals, camping on the beach, swimming, sunsets, and star gazing. Our three-day trip is a perfect canyon country getaway.





Night Before Departure:

You will meet at Wild Expeditions 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 Expeditions 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. Downriver 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 more floating, 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.


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. Gear is repacked, the boats are loaded, then the float continues.


The morning walk could include 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.


For those more interested in geology, there is a vigorous climb up the Mule's Ear Diatreme for a breathtaking view of the Monument Upwarp. Multicolored layers of rock have been tilted and then eroded by wind and water.


History buffs might prefer to look at the remnants of a trading post built in 1883, 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.


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 Three:

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 Expeditions 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 four 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

Wild Expeditions

2625 South Highway 191

Bluff, Utah 84512


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