Lower San Juan – Bluff, UT to Clay Hills, UT
This is one of the most classic “easy” multi-day desert floats in the Western US. The San Juan is the perfect “first river trip”, and is very family friendly. Most river trips on the San Juan begin near the town of Bluff, Utah at Sand Island, and continue through an ever-changing landscape of canyons and flood plains. This stretch is broken up into two different sections: Bluff to Mexican Hat (27 miles) and Mexican Hat to Clay Hills (50 miles). You can apply for a permit for either or both stretches continually at www.recreation.gov First time boaters or those with only 2-3 days to float will want to focus on the more culturally rich and shorter stretch from Sand Island to Mexican Hat. Below Mexican Hat, the canyon deepens and the shuttle becomes much more difficult, but is a worthy trip for those with 4 or more days to float (5-8 days to do both stretches) Along the way, boaters will pass through the famous Butler Wash petroglyph panel, which features one of the largest concentrations of rock art in the Southwest. Cliff dwellings are accessible by short hikes from the river. Modern-day explorers may find fossils, see wildlife and wildflowers on these trips. Geology enthusiasts will love this stretch of the San Juan. The river is perfect for swimming during the summer months. The Navajo Reservation is located to the left of the river. The lore of the river includes stories about the Navajo people as well as explorers, prospectors and hardy Mormon pioneers. A permit from the Navajo Nation is required to stop, hike or camp on river left. Be sure to apply for the Navajo permit 4 to 6 weeks before your trip.
The Lower San Juan River provides meandering water and lively currents. Because the river drops a gentle eight feet per mile, there are few rapids, though there are some Class II and III rapids that provide splashy good fun. However, sand waves, a relatively rare phenomenon, add surprises and fun along this otherwise calm river.Sand waves are caused by the water’s movement against the silted river bottom. They can suddenly build in the middle of a section of flat water, and then disappear just as quickly. Sand waves can form huge rippling waves up to eight feet high! They give a fun and certainly exciting ride. Shuttles are available from Valles Trading Post, which also offer secure parking in Mexican Hat for a small fee. For more detailed info on the Lower San Juan, check out our San Juan River Guide Blog Post. Information courtesy of Utah Guides & Outfitters Association.