Difficulty I-II(III)
Length 56 Miles
Flow Range 500 - 8000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 41 minutes ago 493 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 08/15/2020 1:26 am

River Description

The Lower San Juan River down to Clay Hills Crossing and the slackwater of Powell Reservoir is a classic western float trip and a great run for families. The river is characterized by some truly impressive canyon scenery, plenty of great camping, and some cool side hikes. Many groups take rafts, but this is also a popular canoe trip. Permits for river runners are distributed annually by the Bureau of Land Management through a lottery system. While most camps are on river right, some camps are on river left and since these lands south of the river are part of the Navajo Reservation, a permit from the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department is required for overnight use (put in your permit request well in advance of your trip). Flows are often best in the spring which typically corresponds to comfortable hiking weather, but many groups come to enjoy the river during the early summer. The usual rules for desert river trips apply and you can expect to have your gear inspected at the put-in. This means you will need to bring a toilet, fire pan, and ample drinking water (the sediment laden river water would not be easy to filter and tributaries are typically dry creek beds).

The BLM launch site in Mexican Hat has ample space for camping and staging your trip. The site does not have water however so fill your water containers before you arrive or make arrangements with a local business. Boaters are advised to park cars at the private parking lot up the hill in town as there have been problems with break-ins. If you hire a local shuttle driver, he should be able to help with arrangements.
A short distance downstream of the launch, you will arrive at Gypsum Creek Rapid, a straightforward class II. Soon after running this rapid, you pass under the Highway Bridge at Mexican Hat and begin your journey through the impressive canyons of the Lower San Juan. It's a mellow float for the 10 miles down to the Goosenecks, known as one of the world's best examples of entrenched meanders where the river has cut an impressive canyon over 1000' deep through the red rock. Many groups head to the overlook at Gooseneck State Park before they launch to view the impressive geologic scene from above.
A couple miles downstream of the Goosenecks, you will reach the Honaker Trail on river right. There are a few campsite options here and it's a worthwhile hike with some great views as you climb over 1000' to the canyon rim. The trail was originally constructed by prospectors more than a century ago and follows a series of switchbacks along the terraced canyon walls.
A little less than 10 miles downstream of Honaker Trail, you will reach Ross Rapid which is another relatively straightforward class II. You will pass more great river camps including Johns Canyon which has some fun opportunities for exploration. It's another 10 miles down to the most challenging whitewater on the run at Government Rapids, a fun class III rapid. It's an easy scout or portage from river left and the preferred line depends on level. At flows below 500 cfs you will see some significant pin hazards. At flows above 1000 cfs most of the rocks are well covered and a few minor holes begin to appear.
Below Government Rapid, camps must be reserved in advance and to have maximum choice you should do this as soon as you receive your permit. Slickhorn is one of the most popular camps on the river and there are five sites here. Slickhorn sites C and D are generally the preferred larger camps just downstream of the mouth of Slickhorn Canyon. Slickhorn Rapid, at one time a class II, is pretty much gone with sediment deposition resulting from the backwater effect of Powell Reservoir.
Slickhorn Canyon offers some of the best opportunities for hiking and exploration on the entire river so plan for a full day to enjoy it. There are several pools that offer great swimming along with some historical artifacts associated with early attempts to drill for oil in this canyon.
Downstream of Slickhorn there are three more options for camping that must be reserved before your trip: Grand Gulch, Oljeto Wash, and Steer Gulch. Of these camps, Oljeto Wash is on river left and therefore requires a permit from the tribe. It does however offer a nice sandbar camp and interesting hiking opportunities up the side canyon.
The final 5 miles of river down to Clay Hill Crossing are characterized by numerous sandbars that can make progress slow especially if you encounter strong afternoon winds. It can make for a long day in the hot sun especially as flows drop by early summer. For these reasons, most groups try to get an early start. At flows above 1000 cfs it's not too bad and you will likely be able to find a channel that winds back and forth through the sediment deposited in the backwaters of the reservoir. As flows drop below 500 cfs it will take longer and you will likely need to get out in a few places to pull the boats over sand bars.
The take-out at Clay Hills Crossing should be fairly obvious on river right with plenty of space for derigging. There are no facilities to empty your toilet but if you are headed north there is an RV dump station at Hite Marina on Powell Reservoir.
Downstream of Clay Hills Crossing the river flows through lonely country down to the reservoir, an area that is rarely explored since there is no vehicle access and it is a very long flatwater paddle out to the nearest marina. In recent years as the reservoir level has dropped, the river has established a new channel forming a significant waterfall where it cascades over a bedrock ledge. 

Rapid Descriptions

Gypsum Creek Rapid

Class - II Mile - 27.4

A class II rapid immediately below the put-in.

Ross Rapid

Class - II Mile - 52.7

Government Rapid

Class - III Mile - 63.7

Formed by a debris fan originating from the canyon on river left. Scout from river left.

Slickhorn Rapid

Class - II Mile - 66.6

Largely gone due to backwater effect of Powell Reservoir.

Paiute Farms Waterfall

Class - N/A Mile - 86

Waterfall downstream of Clay Hills Crossing where the river has cut a new course through the silt of Powell Reservoir.


Gage Descriptions

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


Matt Muir


Kestrel Kunz


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1201866 02/22/13 Thomas O'Keefe copy edits
1200923 01/06/12 Thomas O'Keefe permit update
1193347 01/18/04 n/a n/a
1198804 11/29/10 Thomas O'Keefe permit link added
1201123 03/12/12 Thomas O'Keefe rapid edits
1201865 02/21/13 Thomas O'Keefe description edited
1207046 12/05/16 Thomas O'Keefe permit updated
1207969 07/09/17 Kestrel Kunz Reach # fixed
1215737 08/15/20 Thomas O'Keefe updated image position
1210553 12/02/18 Thomas O'Keefe permit link update