Share:

San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon

Colorado Plateau, Utah

Start Exploring
San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon

Share:

Advertisement
  • Heading down Buckhorn Draw Road to park our shuttle car at the San Rafael Bridge.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Gearing up at Fuller Bottom and getting ready to launch.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Watch for trees and rocks, but much of the river is flat and easy.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The undermined sandstone walls.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Taking a short break, you really will want to take your time so it doesnt go by too quickly.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • A Navajo sandstone dome.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Floating the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Floating the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Halfway along the 20-mile journey is a large meadow near the Wedge Overlook.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • A great place to throw up some tents.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Hiking up on the hillsides at dusk.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • A giant vertical wall of smooth Wingate sandstone.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • What a place... The Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Floating the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Beer me!- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Sandstone spires.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Rows of "teeth" on the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Giant "castles" on the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Buttes and mesas galore.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Floating the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Floating the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • The San Rafael Bridge and the exit point.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Gearing up the car at Buckhorn Draw to head back to Fuller Bottom to grab the first car.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • Buckhorn Wash pictographs nearby.- San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
  • - San Rafael River: The Little Grand Canyon
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
A truly unique experience. Stunning beauty. Native American pictographs.
Cons: 
It only runs high after big snow years for a short time. Hot and exposed. Remote.
Advertisement
Region:
Colorado Plateau, UT
Congestion: 
Low
Site characteristics: Water: 
River
Motorized watercraft allowed: 
No
Portage required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Spring
Shuttle required: 
No
Total Distance: 
20.00 mi (32.19 km)
Typically multi-day: 
No
Water difficulty: 
Moderate / Class B
Water temperature: 
32.00 °F (0.00 °C)
Current Local Weather:
Advertisement
Paddle Description

Paddle Description

Pro Contributor

One of the great river adventures of Utah, this rare gem only has enough water for kayaks after winters with heavy snowfall in the southern Wasatch Mountains. The late springs of 2017, 2011, and 2008 saw the San Rafael River swell to a level that makes heading through the Little Grand Canyon on kayaks not only possible but downright enjoyable. The scenery along the San Rafael is absolutely breathtaking and infrequently seen from the water. This foreboding landscape keeps most people from doing this 20-mile stretch on foot, so watching the scenery roll by from the water is pretty special. Timing is key here, and your window is short even on good years, so doing a little research on the current river conditions is advised.

Start by dropping your shuttle car at the San Rafael Bridge along Buckhorn Draw Road and then make your way to Fuller's Bottom Road, where you will be launching into a small tributary of the San Rafael. The water at the launch is barely high enough to keep you afloat, but before long you make your way into the actual river. The scenery at the start of the journey is not spectacular, but the cliffs grow in size and beauty as the miles pass. Along with the sights, the sounds are beautiful and soothing: The chirping birds and rushing water make for the ultimate soundtrack for a day on the water.

An hour or two after setting off, the Little Grand Canyon starts to live up to its lofty title. Giant cottonwood trees hug the life-giving water between vertical slabs of Wingate sandstone. Pass by huge spires, towers, peek-a-boo windows, mesas, buttes, and even a massive dome made of white Navajo stone. Thousand-foot cliffs are commonplace and soar high above, while various meadows make for endless camping options.

Ten miles in is a nice large open spot to set up camp under the Wedge Overlook. Hiking trails nearby offer forays into the hills. The remaining 10 miles, the middle stretch of the river, are the highlights of the trip. There is a new wonderful landscape around every bend in the early miles of day two.

Exit the river at the San Rafael Bridge over Buckhorn Draw Road, the one and only bridge you will come across. Head back to Fuller's Bottom to grab the first car and your trip is complete. A two-day, one-night journey works really well for this trip. Keep in mind the water is loaded with silt, so bring enough fresh water for the trip rather than filtering. By no means can you forget your various forms of sun protection, such as sunscreen, long sleeves, and a hat.

There are side tributaries that lead to various potential camping sites, native pictographs, and even a freshwater spring. They all seem to be on the right side of the river, and they are very easy to pass.

The river has a few spots with some rocks, slight rapids, and trees, but it does not exceed a Class 1. Most of the trip is a lazy river sightseeing tour. You want the river to be running between 1,000 to 1,200 cfs for premium conditions with winds preferable west to east.

Do not attempt this in a canoe or other solid-hull vessel. Use soft-hull, low-profile kayaks (ducky's). Solid-hull vessels and sailors will crash into the sandstone walls and suffer damage or injury or both. The many hard sandstone walls are undermined and jagged, and you want your vessel to absorb rather than deflect the impact. This adventure is only meant for people with the proper gear and experience.

Before you head out on your next adventure down The Little Grand Canyon, make sure you have the right gear! 

Here's a list of our go-to essentials to get you started:

Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide

Field Guide

Download
Advertisement
Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Adventures

(13 within a 30 mile radius)

Advertisement
Related Content

Related Content

Adventure Community

Adventure Community

Who Wants To Do It
11 Members
Who's Done It
2 Members
Submission by
Pro Contributor
296 Adventures Explored
284 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info