Difficulty II
Length 26.5 Miles
Flow Range 500 - 8000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 1 hour ago 354 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 01/04/2020 3:04 am

River Description

The San Juan River is a great multi-day river trip and this section features one of the finest collections of petroglyphs in the southwest. This section is often run as a three day trip but can also be the start of a longer trip that continues on downstream past Mexican Hat to Clay Hills Crossing.
The put-in is at Sand Hills Crossing near Bluff, Utah approximately half a mile upstream of the Highway 191 Bridge. Sand Island has a ranger station, several campsites including group sites, drinking water, toilets, trash collection, and a wide boat ramp that provides enough space for a few trips to stage simultaneously.
The run begins in open desert country. The first six miles have several petroglyphs and moki steps carved in the sandstone as toeholds for Native Americans who traveled through these canyons in centuries past. Particularly impressive panels with an incredible density of petroglyphs are visible just upstream and downstream of Butler Wash. A short hike up the wash takes you to some smaller ruins and petroglyphs.
Six miles into the trip you reach the pullout for Riverhouse. It is about a 1/4 mile hike from the river to the base of the cliff. This ancestral puebloan ruin from the thirteenth century is built in a sandstone alcove overlooking the river. With 14 rooms this is the largest ruin along the river. It is visited by river runners and those on jeep tours. Given the heavy visitation, it is important to stay off the walls and out of the rooms so the structure remains undamaged for the benefit of future visitors. Less than a mile downstream of the Riverhouse is Barton's Trading Post. An interpretive sign marks the site which was established in the 1880s. The old trading post is at the base of San Juan Hill which was one of the last natural barriers encountered by Mormon pioneers who were searching for a route from Escalante to Bluff. Over the winter of 1879-1880, the pioneers sought to establish a settlement in the region to the east of the Colorado River and the journey that was expected to take only six weeks instead took six months. This last geologic barrier is a north to south-trending monocline known as Comb Ridge that extends approximately 80 miles and is bisected by the San Juan River. A short hike up San Juan Hill offers an impressive panorama of the landscape. All of these geologic and historic sites can be easily visited from one of the river camps on river right between River House and Comb Wash.
As you continue downstream, the river cuts through Comb Ridge as you approach the entrance to the canyon. On river left you will pass the trail to the Mule's Ear Diatreme. This feature is a volcanic pipe that formed when magma, originating in the upper mantle, rose up through a crack in the earth's crust. It takes a couple hours to hike up and back but it is easy walking on the sandstone ridge to reach the diatreme.
The next approximately 10 miles of river are through a deep canyon. A couple easier rapids get you ready for Four Foot Rapid, the first of the class II drops which can be scouted from the right. Below this rapid you pass the Perched Meander and Midway Canyon on river right. Both of these are great hikes accsessible from Midway Camp. The Perched Meander is a relatively easy hike where you can hike the ancient river channel before erosion sliced through the neck of the meander. Midway Canyon is a more technical hike with a series of puzzles that must be solved to pass upstream of the big ledges you encounter on your way up.
Another few miles downstream you will encounter Eight-Foot Rapid which is the most technical rapid on this section. Technical manuvering between a large midstream boulder at the top of the rapid and a bedrock wall on the right is required to safely negotiate this rapid. This drop is easy to scout from river left.
While there are two camps immediately below Eight-Foot Rapid, the next two miles of river are closed to camping as this is prime habitat for bighorn sheep who need to be able to access the river for water without being disturbed. The end of this section is marked by Ledge Rapid which is formed by a debris fan on river left that pinches the river against the bedrock wall on river right. You will want to run river right to stay in the main current and clear of the rocky shoals but keep your boat angled to the left to avoid going up against the wall on river right. The drop can be easily scouted from the top on river right.
Within a mile of Ledge Rapid the canyon starts to open up and you pass Fossil Camp on the right. As its name suggests, this is a fun place to view fossils. Within a few more bends the Mexican Hat Rock comes into a view on river right. Once you pass this feature it is only another couple miles down to the boat ramp at the BLM River Access site of Mexican Hat. You will find camping, garbage collection, and toilets at this site but no running water.

Rapid Descriptions

Four Foot Rapid

Class - II Mile - 11.7

A class II read and run or scout from river right.

Eight-Foot Rapid

Class - II Mile - 17.2

Run right of the big rock at the start and then move back to the center to finish the rapid.

Ledge Rapid

Class - II Mile - 19.3

Run to the right to stay in the main current and avoid the rocks on the left but be aware of the wall on river right.


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8 years ago

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12 years ago

We ran this section at around 4,500 cfs. For fully-loaded open canoes, there are class II sneak routes, but the center wave trains and holes for the larger rapids, e.g., 8 ft., would be class III.

Gage Descriptions

Flows above 500 cfs are optimal but you can run the river lower. The USGS Gauge for the "San Juan Near Bluff" reflects the releases from the dam on the Navajo Reservoir, located in northwestern New Mexico near the Colorado border and the natural flow of the Animas River out of Colorado.

For up to date levels and info on releases from the Navaho Reservoir contact Pat Page of the US BLM:

Phone # (970) 385 6560
email: ppage@uc.usbr.gov

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports



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American Whitewater Analysis–National Monument Reductions

Evan Stafford

American Whitewater sprang out of the need to rally our community around our shared love for whitewater, to protect, restore and celebrate the rivers that have given us so much. When the President of the United States, announced his intentions to reduce in size Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by nearly half, we wanted to first see how the new borders would affect the protections these Monuments afforded several spectacular whitewater resources within their current boundaries. Read on to see how the Lower San Juan and several other rivers are affected. 

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Last Chance! National Monuments Review Comments

Thomas O'Keefe

Take action today using our easy online form to protect National Monuments designated under the Antiquities Act! A public comment period began on May 12th and ends July 10th for an April 26th Executive Order which directed Interior Secretary Zinke to conduct a review of all Presidential designations over the past 21 years. A number of Monuments being reviewed are of significant interest to paddlers and provide protections for cherished whitewater stretches, including Bears Ears (Lower San Juan River, UT), Grand Canyon-Parashant (Colorado River, Grand Canyon, AZ), Giant Sequoia National Monument (Tule River, CA), Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (East Branch of the Penobscot River, ME), Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (Rio Grande, Taos Boxes, NM) and many more.

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Green River Boat Passage Officially Open! - UT

Kestrel Kunz

American Whitewater staff traveled to Green River, UT in late March to meet with private water users and state agencies, and to participate in the official opening of the new boat passage through the Green River Diversion (Tusher Dam). Completion of the boat passage has freed the Green River from its last in-stream obstruction between the Flaming Gorge Dam and the confluence with the Colorado River – over 400 floatable river miles through iconic canyons and historic landmarks. It has a been a long process, and our work isn’t over yet! As your boating representative, American Whitewater will continue to work closely with the dam operators and Utah’s Division of State Lands (FFSL) to ensure that the boat passage meets the needs of the public during its inaugural year.

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President Designates Bears Ears National Monument (UT)

Thomas O'Keefe

This week, President Obama declared the Bears Ears region of southeast Utah a National Monument, permanently protecting this incredible region that includes the San Juan River. American Whitewater is especially proud to announce that the National Monument Proclamation specifically acknowledges whitewater paddling as an appropriate and valued recreation activity.

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AW Needs Your Input On Western River Flows!

Nathan Fey

Colorado River Basin - American Whitewater is asking for paddler input on flows and recreation quality for rivers across the Southwestern United States. We are gathering this information to help define recreational flow-needs, and to inform the US Bureau of Reclamations' Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study. Whether you live in Boston, San Francisco, or Jensen, UT, your input will help AW protect healthy rivers - TAKE OUR SURVEY TODAY!


Thomas O'Keefe


Nathan Fey

Colorado Stewardship Director


Matt Muir


Kestrel Kunz


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1213608 09/08/19 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1214090 01/04/20 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1214091 01/04/20 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1202466 02/12/14 Thomas O'Keefe access update
1202465 07/31/13 Nathan Fey
1191665 09/05/02 n/a n/a
1203306 04/23/14 Thomas O'Keefe photo added
1203305 04/22/14 Thomas O'Keefe reach description
1207968 07/09/17 Kestrel Kunz Reach # fixed
1203315 04/23/14 Thomas O'Keefe rapids added
1207045 12/05/16 Thomas O'Keefe permit updated
1210552 12/02/18 Thomas O'Keefe permit link update