Honaker Trail to San Juan River

Honaker Trail to San Juan River

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 37.18850°N / 109.95337°W
Additional Information GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Apr 21, 2017
Activities Activities: Hiking


San Juan River originates in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. On its way to join Colorado River, San Juan River carves a 1300 ft deep canyon in southeastern Utah. The canyon is best seen at Utah’s Goosenecks of San Juan River State Park. Parallel bands of cliffs separated by steep slopes go down all the way from the rim to the bottom of the canyon making it appear impossible to reach the river. Honaker Trail is a well-defined but unmarked trail that sits a few miles to the northwest of the Goosenecks. It somehow takes you down through the cliffs to reach the river.

Hike Statistics

Elevation at start of Honaker Trail: 5160 ft
Elevation of San Juan River: 3940 ft
Length of Honaker Trail: 2.75 miles one way
My hike including dirt road and hike along the river: 8.8 miles roundtrip

The GPS track and elevation profile for some reason registered inaccurately.

Trip Report

Left the rental house in Bluff, UT at 6:40 a.m. and drove to Route 316 where I turned on dirt road #244. I had looked at satellite photos and knew where I needed to go. After more than 2 miles, I reached an unmarked dirt road on the left where there was a water tank in the middle of the desert. Turned south onto that road. I had AWD but was still concerned that the road might turn out to be too rough. Once I got on it, I noted that it actually seemed passable by 2WD high clearance. After a mile, I reached a turn and saw that the road went down and looked a little rough. I knew I was only a mile away from Honaker Trail so I decided to park at that spot.

I was on a beautiful desert plain with colorful cliffs rising to the north. It was 43 degrees F and I was at 5211 ft of elevation per my GPS. Started to hike the road at 7:25 a.m.

From where I parkedWhere I parked

Glimpses of the upper slopes of the canyon began to appear.

Upper slopes of San Juan River CanyonUpper slopes of canyon seen

The trail was unmarked but I had entered the coordinates of the start of it into my GPS. Once I reached the edge of the canyon, I was pretty impressed. The earth had cracked open. I was about to go to hell, into the dark interior of the earth. I still could not see how a trail could possibly take me down those cliffs and nasty slopes.

Start of Honaker TrailEdge of canyon

Got on the trail and started to hike down. I was on a west facing slope and remained in the shade for most of the day. Once down to around 4650 ft of elevation, I saw a prominent rocky protrusion known as Horn Point. It had a flat surface where you could go to get better views of the canyon. I left the picture taking for the return trip.

Horn PointHorn Point

Beyond Horn Point, the trail meandered its way down the cliffs, sometimes over large ramps created by stacked rock.

Below Horn PointRamp
Below Horn PointRamp

Below Horn PointOne of the big steps on the trail

I thought I would have the river to myself but saw a number of rafts and people by the river. They must have rafted to that spot and overnight camped.

Zoomed view of raftsZoomed view of rafts

The trail then made a number of long traverses along bands of cliffs before it switch-backed to the lower level until it finally reached the river at 9:15 a.m. I spoke to some of the rafters. They had started upstream in Mexican Hat, Utah and had made it to that spot last night. I found a private spot by the river where I sat to rest.

San Juan RiverSan Juan River

It was still hard to believe that I had hiked down those walls.

How did the trail bring me down this wall?How did the trail bring me down this wall?

I then began to walk upstream along the banks of the river. After a turn, I reached sunlight and it actually felt rather hot. I decided to go back up the trail before the sun rose on it.

San Juan River
Bottom of the canyon
Bottom of the canyon
San Juan River

San Juan River

Hiking back up the trail.

Hiking back up the Honaker Trail
Honaker Trail & San Juan River

The long traverse sections.

Trail traversing between cliff bandsTrail traversing between bands of cliffs

Steep drop to the river from the trail.

Steep drop from the trail to the riverSteep drop

Looking up at Horn Point.

Horn Point seen far aboveHorn Point

Views from Horn Point.

From Horn PointFrom Horn Point
From Horn PointFrom Horn Point

Above Horn Point, I got in the sun. It was only in mid 60s degrees F and a pleasant breeze blew.

On Honaker Trail

I could then barely see the rafters on the river.

Zoomed view of rafters on San Juan RiverZoomed view of rafters
Unzoomed view of barely seen raftersUnzoomed view of rafters

Finally reached the top.

Edge of the canyon/Start of Honaker TrailEdge of canyon/start of trail

Hiked the road and was at my car by noon. Zoomed view of Abajo Mountains.

Zoomed view of Abajo MountainsAbajo Mountains

Then drove to Goosenecks of San Juan River State Park.

Goosenecks of San Juan RiverGoosenecks of San Juan River
Goosenecks of San Juan RiverGoosenecks of San Juan River


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