This is a report about a hike inside the canyon. For the rim of the canyon see this trip report: https://www.summitpost.org/the-wedge-san-rafael-river-gorge-rim-hike/1059617
On its way to join Green and subsequent to that, Colorado River, San Rafael River carves a canyon more than a thousand feet deep in central Utah to the east of the town of Castle Dale. Due to its resemblance to Grand Canyon (220 miles away on a straight line and probably more than a thousand river miles away), San Rafael River canyon has been referred to as “Little Grand Canyon”.
A dirt road starts just to the north of Castle Dale and takes you to a spot on the northern rim of the canyon known as “The Wedge”. A branch of the same road goes down into the canyon to cross the river and then continue south to reach I-70. On satellite imagery I had seen what looked like a trail following the southern banks of the river. I started my hike near where the road crossed the river and followed the path west at the bottom of the canyon until after the junction with Good Water Canyon where I had to cross the river. Given the frigid temperatures on the day of my hike, I found it unwise to attempt to cross the river and returned the way I went to create a 9.5 mile roundtrip hike.
Hike Length: 9.5 miles
Minimum Elevation: 5120 ft
Maximum Elevation: 5200
Left the motel in Ferron, Utah at 6:50 a.m. (sunrise around 7 a.m.). It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Drove around 14 miles north on Route 10 to just north of the town of Castle Dale. As I kept going, the Jeep’s thermometer kept dropping going down to a minimum of 4 degrees F (minus 15 degrees C). I have had plenty of experience doing short few hours long hikes in the sub-zero F temperatures in the snow-filled forests near my hometown of Janesville, WI. My concern for the day was that I was going alone deep into the wilderness. If something where to happen to me, I would have to survive at least one terribly cold night before I could potentially be rescued (I always leave a detailed map of my hike for my wife). My backpack was filled with warm clothing. Nevertheless, I did not like those temperatures.
The moon could be seen setting behind the mountains to the west of Route 10.
North of Castle Dale, turned east onto the dirt road that was marked only as San Rafael Wilderness access. The road was actually well-graded. It went over a flat desert plain. The low sun was shining directly into my eyes making it hard at times to see what I was driving into. Behind me, I could see columns of steam from a power plant rising into the frigid air.
After some 15 miles, the dirt road went into a drainage that quickly turned into a deep canyon. Temperatures were fortunately slowly rising.
25 miles from start of the dirt road, the canyon suddenly opened up and I drove over a bridge to the south side of San Rafael River. Turned onto a side road on the west side of the main road (that I had seen on satellite imagery) and went a mile to reach the start of my hike. No one was there. In fact I did not see any other hikers until near the end of my hike when I was back close to the trailhead. It was sunny and 24 degrees F.
Started my hike at 8:10 a.m.Headed west on the trail that entered the canyon and followed the San Rafael River to the south of it at the bottom of the canyon.
The trail sometimes went by the river and at other times followed the river from a distance.
Point 6095 ft at the junction of the first side canyon.
After the first side canyon.
This impressive tower appeared at a big bend in the river. On the USGS Map, I identified it as a tiny spot with contour lines of 5800-5840 ft so I called it the 5820 ft Tower.
Into the shade and then sun again.
Another look at the 5820 ft tower.
Junction with Cane Wash.
By 9:30 a.m. I had been in the sun for a while and there had been no wind. I felt warm enough to take off my jacket, wool hat and ski gloves. Put on the cowboy hat.
After exactly 4 miles of hiking I reached some type of a barrier which I assumed was to prevent horses from going any further (I had seen a lot of horse droppings on the trail). Had no problem continuing to hike beyond the barrier (and the horse droppings continued). I knew I was on the eastern side of a goose neck bend in the river and would soon make a 180 degree turn to be hiking on the west side of the wall that rose to my west.
Followed the river around a 180 degree turn and went into the shade. A little bit of wind began to blow making me feel very cold but thought it was too much of a hassle to pull the warm clothing out of the backpack again so kept going hoping to reach sunny areas soon.
Zoomed view of an arch.
I soon reached an area where I had to cross the river. I did not find a good place to do so and given the frigid temperatures, I told myself to not even think about it. To stay on the same side of the river, I had to go up and traverse a talus slope. I did go up the slope some 40 vertical feet or so but then thought that there was no point in trying to go further. I needed to find a good place by the river to rest and have my lunch.
Went down the slope onto a beaten path among the tall grass.
Found a perfect sand and gravel bar in the river where I sat to put on warm clothes again and rest. It was 10:43 a.m. and I had hiked 4.88 miles.
Left at 11:00 a.m. and began to go back the way I had come. View of the northern end of the wall at the goose neck bend of the river.
When I reached the horse barrier, I found this little opening which I had not noted when I was hiking up the canyon earlier in the morning.
Down the canyon.
Wall at the goose neck bend.
Hole in the wall.
East of Cane Wash.
5820 ft tower again.
I had not noted this arch on my way up the canyon.
Continuing down the canyon.
I had seen this big boulder and the posts in the morning. There was no sign telling me what this was.
The interesting wall again.
Ran into a couple walking up the canyon and later a single person.
Reached my Jeep at 1:13 p.m. Temperature had risen to 37 degrees F. Driving back up the road, I stopped at a signed place and hiked a short distance to reach the dinosaur foot print.