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Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell

Canyonlands + Abajo Mountains, Utah

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Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell

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  • Enjoying a campfire in Salt Wash.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
  • Salt Wash vistas in the San Rafael Swell.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
  • Fremont petroglyphs rapidly becoming compromised by wind and water. These were carved between 700 and 2,000 years ago.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
  • Canyon wren.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
  • Hiking to the Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
  • Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
  • Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell.- Salt Wash in the San Rafael Swell
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Public land. Rock art. History around every corner.
Cons: 
Remote. Limited water.
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Region:
Canyonlands + Abajo Mountains, UT
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Number of days: 
2
Highest point: 
5,715.00 ft (1,741.93 m)
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
None
Permit required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Suitable for:
Hiking, Horseback
Total Distance: 
12.00 mi (19.31 km)
Total elevation gain: 
488.00 ft (148.74 m)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
5,715.00 ft (1,741.93 m)
Typically multi-day: 
Yes
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

Salt Wash is recommended for those looking to experience all that the San Rafael canyons have to offer in one overnight trip. The trek offers amazing vistas, large canyon walls, historic rock art, and unbelievably starry skies. Being public land, this trip offers many freedoms including the ability to choose your own camp spot. Ute rock art panels can be found early in the canyon and include the Buffalo Hunt, and Turtle panels. Impressive Fremont rock art can also be seen from the canyon floor if you keep your eyes open, as well as the circle foundations of ancient ruins. The canyon walls get more impressive as you head northeast, where you eventually come to a confluence with the San Rafael River and the Little Grand Canyon. 

The safest access into the wash is found by walking east down the hill and then south until you find a horse and cattle trail. This trail will take you south and descend briefly into McCarty Canyon. You will follow the river east until you take a left turn into Salt Wash. Other descents are possible by way of down climbing or ropes, but these options could easily put you in a dangerous situation. Following the horse trail is recommended. All trails are made by local cowboys who run cattle through the San Rafael canyons, or else by antelope. No trails are maintained. Extensive study of the location and accurate maps are recommended for this trip...it is likely that you will not see another soul on your trip down Salt Wash. 

There is slow flowing water through Salt Wash, but this should only be filtered as a last resort. Pack in all water, or filter water at the San Rafael River junction at the end of the canyon. Watch weather conditions and avoid any chance of getting caught in a flash flood.

This 12-mile out-and-back trip could be done as a day trip. In order to have time to search for the elusive rock art panels, an overnight trip is recommended.  One option is to camp near the car at the trailhead and do the canyon in a day. However, nothing is better than spending a night under the stars at the bottom of a deep canyon in Utah.  

Always remember to protect historical treasures, Leave No Trace, and contribute to rural economies as you travel.

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Adventures

(13 within a 30 mile radius)

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