San Rafael Swell Discovery Route (North & South Swell)

The San Rafael Swell Discovery Route offers a ‘whet your appetite’ vantage of Central Utah’s San Rafael Swell. This route can be completed with a northern launch (Price/Castledale) and then working south or starting from the southern end (Hanksville/Temple Mountain) and working northward. This route makes an excellent weekend get away and really offers travelers a ‘Buffet of the Swell’ in terms of seeing a little bit of all that it offers. Use this route as a way to identify the places you would like to visit more in depth on future trips.

Route Sketch:

Old Spanish Trail: See the Feature Trail report on ExpeditionUtah

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Wedge Overlook: Nicknamed the “Little Grand Canyon,” it is the deepest part of the San Rafael River canyon located directly beneath the Wedge Overlook (Overlook) in the San Rafael Swell (Swell). Looking down river from the Overlook, you can see where Buckhorn Draw—a narrow, winding canyon walled in by scenic sandstone cliffs—meets the San Rafael River canyon. (Source:

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Buckhorn Wash: Buckhorn Wash Road contains some of the San Rafael Swell treasures.  Along with Indian rock art, hiking trails, dinosaur foot prints, primitive camping, canyoneering, geocaching, and rock climbing you will never run out of things to do along the Buckhorn Wash Road.  You can spend a day or two of hiking and camping in one of the many steep sandstone canyons, and explore beautiful country that has been relatively untouched for hundreds of years. You can also find where past outlaws left their mark while traveling through the San Rafael Swell.  There are several panels of pictographs and petroglyphs along the road, making the road a delight for sight seers, geologists and anthropologists.  The Barrier Canyon people lived in this area 2,000-10,000 years ago. As they passed through Buckhorn Wash, they painted colorful images on a large cliff face. Other native groups added other images.  Painted over a 160-foot-wide rock canvas is the Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel. This is a large public Barrier Canyon style panel within the walls of a huge alcove along the Buckhorn Wash Road. The panel is thought to be about 2,000-6,000 years old and created by the Western Archaic Culture.  For a list of things to along the Buckhorn Wash road please refer to Emery County’s fantastic brochure and map. (Source:

Shanty Town: See the ghost town report with Shanty Town site information, location and pictures here.

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MK Tunnels: These Potential underground military defense positions, similar to the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD facility in Colorado are also known as the ‘Government Caves’. Had the desert sandstone withstood surface “attacks” better then they apparently did, the San Rafael Swell might be a military base today. Several horizontal tunnels were blasted into the hillsides, surface explosions were set to test as if they were missile attacks. The results are best seen in person! Read more on the Expedition Utah forum Here. Also, see the Map to MK Tunnels. (Source:

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Rock Art Along Buckhorn Wash:

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Uranium Mining Along Buckhorn Wash:

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Dinosaur Footprint: See Buckhorn Wash

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Matt Warner Outlaw Panel: See Buckhorn Wash

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Buckhorn Pictograph Panel: One of the highlights of the entire San Rafael Swell is the mysterious Buckhorn Wash pictograph panel spanning over 130 feet. A pictograph is painted onto a surface, and a petroglyph is carved or pecked into the stone. There are some faint petroglyphs here, but the red pictograph figures are the stars of this site! The main panel was painted well over 2,000 years ago by a Indian culture archeologists have named “Barrier Canyon Culture”. The Barrier Canyon people were an archaic age hunter-gatherer society, living in caves or brush shelters. The red pigment was created using powdered hematite, and possibly mixed with animal fat, eggs, or some other fluid. For a brush, they may have used fingers or brushes made from animal fur or slender grasses. When painted on freshly exposed sandstone, the stone absorbs the pigments, thus preserving them for thousands of years. The images here are fascinating, and defy interpretation. It is crucial to remember that sites such as these are irreplaceable, and are considered sacred by many indigenous Americans. Treat these ancient links to the past with honor and respect. There is also a boulder here carved with the names of the same hard working CCC boys that built the swinging bridge over the San Rafael River. To drive to the panel please refer to the travel guide and map. (Source:

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Swinging Bridge: The 160 foot suspension bridge known as the Swinging Bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, and dedicated by then Utah Governor Henry H. Blood.  The Swinging Bridge was the only bridge over the river until the early 1990’s.  Though you can no longer drive on the bridge, it is perfectly safe to walk on.  The bridge can be reached by traveling from Cleveland, Huntington, or Castle Dale on the Buckhorn Wash Road, or from Interstate 70 via the Cottonwood Wash Road. (Source:

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Bottleneck Peak:

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Sinkhole: See Buckhorn Wash

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Head of Sinbad & Dutchman’s Arch: The Dutchman’s Arch and the Head of Sinbad Pictograph Panel are seldom visited and the panel is a must see for those fascinated by Native American Rock Art!  The Head of Sinbad Pictograph Panel are very mysterious images attributed to the Barrier Canyon Culture, and are at least 3,000 years old. They are also among the finest examples of prehistoric art in the world. In January 1980 they were featured in National Geographic’s Magazine as National Treasures and they truly are.  Please do not touch them and let’s help them last at least another 3,000 years. (Source:

Lone Warrior: Coming soon, see ExpeditionUtah forum for more information.

Swazey Cabin: The cabin, listed on the Utah State Register of Historic Sites, was built in 1921, but the wild Swasey Boys (including Joe, Sid, Charley, and Rod) started running cattle out here decades before they finally built the cabin, usually sleeping in the open or in shallow caves. The Swaseys are responsible for naming many landmarks in the Swell, including Joe and His Dog, the Sid and Charley pinnacles, Rod’s Valley, Eagle Canyon, Sid’s Mountain, Cliff Dweller Flat, and MANY more. Some of their exploits were remarkable, including the one that occurred at a place appropriately named “Sid’s Leap”, where Sid bet his brother Charley a small herd of cattle that Sid, on horseback, could jump 12 feet across the San Rafael River. Of course, the river was 80 feet below! Sid was successful and the cows were his. (Source:

Red Canyon: Coming soon, see ExpeditionUtah forum for more information.

Lucky Strike: Coming soon, see ExpeditionUtah forum for more information.

Tomsich Butte: Coming soon, see ExpeditionUtah forum for more information.

Temple Mountain: Coming soon, see ExpeditionUtah forum for more information.

Vehicle Requirements:
This route is suitable to all high-clearance 4×4 vehicles, 2WD or cars are not recommended. Plan to have at least a 100 mile (off-road) fuel capacity from one end of the loop to the other. The nearest fuel is Huntington, Ferron and Castle Dale to the west or Wellington to the north, both are along the common loop access points so spare fuel containers are not often needed. There are no services in these areas, plan to cover all your own water, food, vehicle and camping needs. It is not uncommon to spend days in this area without seeing other travelers, plan accordingly

ExpeditionUtah Forum Trip Reports
Bureau of Land Management – San Rafael Swell
Emery County – Road Less Traveled Guide
Emery County OHV Travel Map
Emery County Map Database