San Rafael River Trail

Round Trip Distance: 6.8 - 10 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 5078 - 5169 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Road Draw
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, pictographs

The San Rafael River trail, in Emery County, Utah, stretches between Fuller Bottom and Road Draw which is near the Buckhorn Wash Road. Along its course, between Fuller Bottom and through an area known as the Little Grand Canyon, the trail crosses the San Rafael River more than a handful of times. This post begins at the east end of the trail where the route is more heavily used and continues into the Little Grand Canyon stopping at the Cane Wash Pictographs along the way. The turn around point is near another set of pictographs in the Little Grand Canyon. No river crossings are required up to that point.

From Interstate 70 take exit 131 and follow the Buckhorn Wash Road for about 19.2 miles. Turn left onto the unmarked Road Draw Road and follow it for 3/4 of a mile to the trailhead. The turnoff is about a quarter mile before the road crosses the San Rafael River where there are a couple of campgrounds. If coming from the north the route that begins near Castle Dale is a good one. Entering either Buckhorn Draw or the San Rafael Bridge Campground into your driving app should get you some good directions to follow.

Head west from the trailhead on the well worn route that leads into the canyon on the south side of the river.

The trail splits into alternate routes a little ways from the trailhead. One route travels a little higher up on the side of the canyon while the other stays down in the bottoms. The higher route has some nice views, especially on the return trip, and they both take about the same amount of time.

As the canyon becomes more narrow there are a few places where the trail is right on the edge of the bank above the river.

At the 3.4 mile point from the parking area the trail reaches the mouth of Cane Wash. You only have to go up Cane Wash 100 feet or so to find some pictographs beneath an overhang.

Most of the pictographs show up quite well.

There is a primitive campsite beneath the same overhang as the pictographs. We strongly urge you not to use it. Smoke from a campfire will leave soot on the pictographs and anyone wanting to see them will have to walk through your camp. Remember that it is unlawful to damage rock art in any manner. The BLM really should consider placing a no camping sign there.

If you choose to continue past Cane Wash then keep following the trail along the river. From this point on the trail is less traveled and subsequently a little more primitive. From here it is about a half mile to where the trail wraps around the sandstone fin, or wedge, that the river wraps around and then another half mile to the area below the next panel of pictographs.

A window can be seen near the top of the wedge. The pictographs are to the right of the window on the west side of the wedge. Right before you reach the area below the pictographs there is an outcrop of soft white sandstone to scramble over.

The pictographs are at the base of the cliff and the base of the cliff is a couple hundred feet or more up a talus slope above the level of the river. You can see the pictographs from the river if you know where to look. We climbed a little ways up and took some photos with a zoom lens and called it good.

Supposing that you aren't out here when it is 100 degrees, and that you brought plenty to drink, you can better enjoy the excellent scenery for which the San Rafael River trail provides access.

Most of the vehicles at the trailhead in this photo belong to river rats. Rafting the San Rafael River is hugely popular during the spring and early summer. Some of the hikers that we saw were staying in the campground and beginning from there. That adds at least 1.5 miles to the round trip distance. We didn't see anyone hiking beyond the mouth of Cane Wash. Many of the hikers were unaware of the rock art and were just hiking to have something to do. I suppose that after stopping at the Buckhorn Draw Pictographs a little up the road that the ones along the San Rafael River would lack a little luster. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.