Page Type Page Type: Canyon
Location Lat/Lon: 38.75121°N / 110.67018°W
Activities Activities: Canyoneering
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Sign the Climber's Log


3B III (IV ?)

Upper Iron Wash is a really fun canyon in the San Rafael Swell of Utah. I was fortunate enough to go thru when it was nearly brim full throughout and I had no problems at all solo. Conditions can change though so always go prepared for greater difficulties being possible. I spent hours swimming in one huge pothole after another in this more v shaped canyon that was interspersed w/ a short slot section or 2. Plan on taking most of a day to complete.

You could enjoy this canyon year round if you really want to. But if it is cool or cold prudence would dictate a wetsuit or drysuit, and winters can see snow and ice which would complicate things considerably and make this much more risky. Take webbing and r/ql's and a hook if you want. The longest rap is ~ 50'. Flash flood danger is low to moderate.

Getting There

However you want to get to the Iron Divide th shown on the National Geographic/Trails Illustrated San Rafael Swell map is the best place to start. I drive a Hyundai Elantra GT and had no problemS on any of the roads to get here.


From the th take the blue fork until you hit a junction in ~1 hour where it becomes orange one way, red another. Go red (left). In 10 minutes you hit an unmarked jct., continue forward following the "trail" sign (the unmarked trail right is red/orange and will be your return path). 10 more minutes drops you into Iron Wash. Total time for me was 1.5 hours to here from the th.

Go down Iron Wash and enjoy hours of pothole after pothole after pothole... after pothole. All were filled w/ water for me, some to capacity, some a couple feet + below capacity, none were difficult to escape. It is possible it could change though, huh ? None were crystal clear, but no funky debris soup at all. Many had a green slime on top which bubbled as moved thru, many had a black sheen that took on rainbow hues when disturbed. They all had an odor, but it was truly not bad and was very slight. Time down Iron Wash was ~6 hours +/-

Once out of the narrows and at the lone cottonwood tree, get back above Iron Wash, either up the slight slope, or down canyon some 100' to a side wash and up it. At any rate keep hugging close to the big mesa on you left. Don't drop down to low or you'll have lots of little drainages to cross.

Once you round the corner of the mesa in ~40 minutes, bear due west, staying on top of the ridge w/ Iron Wash to your right, a large wash on your left, and another big mesa directly before you. In ~10+ minutes you will hit single track trail which will contour around the mesa you were bearing towards, but will get to your left. Rocks will be painted red or orange. It is a little faint here or there, but only for a few feet so just pay attention and you won't get lost. Follow this single track for ~25 minutes until you round the mesa and get a look at the Twin Knolls. Another 30 minutes and you reach the unmarked jct. you passed on the way in. Go left, or red, and in 10 minutes at the next jct. go right, or blue, and back to the car in ~1 hour. Time for me was 3 hours from lone cottonwood back to th.

I had 3 raps to ~50'(+ ?) max. R1 is actually quite a ways in. By this time I knew I was already gonna be very late back to camp so did not take time to replace webbing. Inspected it for wear, made sure it was still safe, and left it at that. R1 was from a cam in a crack. Found a very nice hook placement, then looked up and saw it 10' higher above. R2 was a baseball size stone wedged nicely into a crack. R3 a piton. R2 & 3 maybe I got reversed. I loved the anchors. Short slings from high anchors that you weight before dropping over (i hate those flying dismounts) w/ easy pulls and little rock friction. I was impressed and want to better my anchor placements as needed in the future.


Camping options sorta suck right at the th. A mile or so back there are very nice sites above Iron Wash spurs. There is also camping throughout the San Rafael Swell. Hanksville, UT, and Green River, UT, are both nearby as well.

Red Tape

Whatever regulations their are in place for the San Rafael Swell.

External Links

blm - san rafael swell

blm - san rafael swell

trip report - trip report

pics - pics