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River Time on the San Juan River

River Time on the San Juan River

The San Juan River

Originating in the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, the San Juan River is a major tributary of the Colorado River providing the chief drainage for the Four Corners region. The river flows 383 miles through northwest New Mexico and southeast Utah before joining the Colorado River at Glen Canyon.

The river carved its way through ancient sandstone, creating spectacular red-rock canyons rich in scenery, archaeology, history, remarkable geographic features, and desert wildlife. Sandstone and limestone walls frame the narrow canyon as the river snakes through the countless goosenecks for which it is famous.

Scores of ancestral sites and petroglyphs line the canyon walls. The archeological record along the San Juan River between Bluff and Mexican Hat is unsurpassed. At the confluence of Butler Wash and the San Juan River is the famous Butler Wash Petroglyph Panel, which features one of the largest concentrations of rock imagery in the Southwest. Many dwellings are accessible all along the banks.

rafting down the san juan river

The best way to really see the vast amount of history and geology of this area is to float down this river. The rapids are smaller than what the Colorado River can throw at you, and there are more archeological sites such as petroglyph panels, dwellings, and Moki steps. This is a great trip for families with children. Seasoned rafters will also enjoy the fun nature of this river. Trips can vary, depending on how much time you have to float. From Bluff to Mexican Hat is 27 miles. This stretch can be done in one day with a guide, or two to three days on your own. Unbelievable rock imagery panels are easily accessible. The launch site at Sand Island has a large petroglyph panel. Rafters float past the famous Butler Wash Petroglyph Panel, one of the most important petroglyph panels in the Southwest. Dwellings such as River House are only a short hike to reach. The Navajo Nation requires additional permits to camp, hike, or visit archaeological sites on the south side of the river. Call theNavajo Parks and Recreation Officeat928-871-6647. After Mexican Hat, the river flows through the famous Goosenecks, 56 miles to the Clay Hills boat ramp. This stretch is usually done in four to five days. To float the San Juan, you must either obtain a permit for a self-guided trip, visitrecreation.govor go on a guided trip with a local outfitter.

Day trip

If you want to float just a bit of the river, there is a seven-mile stretch of river off Foot Bridge Road to Sand Island perfect for a day trip. This is not a maintained put-in and best for kayaks or paddle boards. Rent fromWild Expeditions. They can also provide the shuttle to the put-in.435-222-5708,riversandruins.com.

go with the pros

Take in the San Juan on a guided one-day trip, or slow things down and float to Clay Hills.Wild Expeditionsoffers fully-outfitted trips with knowledgable guides that will teach you about ancestral Puebloan culture and the history of the river. They also have kayak tours and rentals as well as paddleboard rentals.435-222-5708,riversandruins.com.

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