Upper Canyon, Sand Island to Mexican Hat
3 Days, 2 Nights, 26 miles
Wild Expeditions - Bluff, Utah
$749/adult and $609/15 & Under
Additional $10/person BLM Permit and $12 Navajo Permit
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.
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.
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.
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.
-Ancient rock carvings & ruins
-4 foot, 8 foot and ledge rapids
Travel the San Juan River on a rented raft or kayak. Enjoy the river with a friend in a tandem inflatable kayak or canoe. Not interesting enough? Try paddleboarding for a bit more fun.
These are the perfect vehicles for exploring the backcountry roads of San Juan County.
Rentals include map of recommended trails and roads.
Must be 25 or older to rent.
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 time to explore these wonders...
Float through the deep "Goosenecks" section of the San Juan's Lower Canyon. Rim out on the Honaker Trail. Explore the side canyons of Slickhorn, Grand Gulch and others. Water-sculpted side canyons with pools, falls and hanging gardens. 58 miles of solitude and canyon splendor.
This is the classic adventure where you'll see more of what the San Juan has to offer. The longer the trip, the better. Highly recommended if you want the total experience. The seven-day trip is our most popular.
This is, hands down, the best one-day river trip available in the West. In the morning we make two stops to learn about the Butler Wash petroglyph panel and River House cliff dwelling. We'll enjoy a fresh gourmet lunch under the cottonwoods before entering a limestone chasm for the afternoon...
This trip is for those that want to see the amazing archaeology on the San Juan, but don’t have time for the full day trip. Everyone will paddle their own tandem inflatable kayaks down the San Juan stopping at the world class Butler Wash rock art panel and then down to Comb Ridge where we’ll roll up the kayaks and jump in our H1 Hummer.
FULL DAY RAFTING