San Rafael - 02. Bridge at San Rafael Campground to I-70 (Black Boxes 1 & 2)

San Rafael, Utah, US


02. Bridge at San Rafael Campground to I-70 (Black Boxes 1 & 2)

Usual Difficulty III-V (for normal flows)
Length 42 Miles

San Rafael, First Black Box

San Rafael, First Black Box
Photo of Paul "Spike" and Tom St. Germiane by Thomas O'Keefe В© @ 450 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-09328500 375 - 900 cfs III-V 00h31m 17.1 cfs (too low)

River Description

SEASON: Spring snowmelt. Usually a couple weeks around late May to June.

FUN FACT: An amazing Utah Canyon

ACCESS: Put-in at the bridge near the San Rafael Campground, which can be accessed from the north by a road that leaves Highway 10 or from the south by a road that leaves I-70. To reach the take-out, there is a rough road that parallels river left and takes you close to the end of the first Black Box (about 16 miles of very slow driving--i.e. you could Mt. Bike it faster than you can drive). For those who plan to continue on through the second Black Box the I-70 bridge (mile 145) is the best take-out. Either one of these shuttles takes a long time so prepare accordingly.

DESCRIPTION: First explored in the early 70's on trips led by Cal Giddings, the Black Box section of the San Rafael cuts through one of the most amazing canyons to expose the geology of the San Rafael Swell. For those planning to run both Black Boxes prepare for an overnight trip. It takes a long time to work your way through the canyon sections and the portages are hard. While the rapids themselves rarely get above class IV, there are plenty of dangers in the canyon in the form of rock sieves, limited access options once you're in the canyons, and no possibility of outside help if you get into trouble. You might think of it as a class IV trip with class V consequences. Beware of high water. Once you're committed there is no pulling out--first-time exploratory runs are best done at the lower limit of flows.

The river starts out as an easy float downstream from the campground and the first ten miles consist of swift-moving current with little actual whitewater. There are a couple class II riffles, but the action doesn't really start until the walls begin to close in on both sides--the start of the first Black Box section. The rapids start out as easy class II with occasional class III thrown in. The pace picks up again with boulder choked passageways requiring class III and IV moves. There are a couple spots in here where the entire river drops through boulder sieves--use extreme caution as you approach any blind corner. Expect to make a couple of portages over house-sized boulders. It can be a challenge getting back into your boat after a couple of these and they take a lot of time.

As Mexican Mountain comes into and the canyon opens up again you've come to the end of the First Black Box. Going around the bend at Mexican Mountain you'll float through about 5 miles of swift but mostly flatwater. This is a good spot to break for the night if you're making an overnight trip.

The Second Black Box is even more constrained, just a bit more challenging, and somewhat shorter than the first. Expect some steep boulder drops, some of which must be run blind above 400 cfs.


lat/long approximate by tiger map server

for additional information see:

  • Nichols, G.C. 1993. River Runners' Guide to Utah. University of Utah Press, includes an excellent and comprehensive description.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-07-09 22:04:59


Rapid Descriptions

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