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San Rafael Swell

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Nearby Mountain Bike Rides

Behind the Reef Road
An easy ride providing access to magnificent slot canyons. Near Moab, UT
From MP's sister site: MTB Project

San Rafael Swell 


Photos: Recent | Best | Popular
Location: 38.8525, -110.701 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 942,960
Administrators: Andrew Gram, Perin Blanchard, grk10vq, Kristine Hoffman
Submitted By: Andrew Gram on Jan 19, 2006
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The Hollow Men ..A climb out of Three Finger Canyo...

Description 

The San Rafael Swell is a huge area in the center of Utah, with few people and fewer services. It is the area roughly bordered by Price in the north, Green River to the east, Capitol Reef to the south, and the mountains to the west. I-70 divides the swell into two parts, and is the only paved road within the swell. US 6, Utah highways 10 and 24, and the Moore cutoff road travel around the edges of the swell, and there are many dirt roads - some are good, some are very bad, and all can be difficult to travel during big storms.

The climbing in the swell is tremendously varied, and lies on the adventurous end of the spectrum. Buckhorn Wash is the most popular area, and hosts a high concentration of excellent Wingate crack climbing, as well as towers and bouldering. The San Rafael Reef, AKA the Sandstone Alps, have extremely long slab routes on mostly good rock with very significant runouts. Other areas are less popular, but the climbing is very good for those who are interested in exploring.

Eric Bjornstad's Desert Rock II is the main printed guide to the swell, but it is out of print and only has a small percentage of the routes that have been done. Cam Burns Selected Climbs of the Desert Southwest has a few routes, as does the Falcon Rock Climbing Utah guidebook. New routes are going in constantly, and at this point mountainproject supplemented by Desert Rock II is the best source of information, though it is far from complete.

In addition to rock climbing, the San Rafael Swell is home to impressive rock art, many slot canyons, mountain biking, mellow flatwater canoe trips, class III slot canyon duckie floats, and wild class V kayaking. Crowds are minimal compared to the Moab area, though so are any kind of developed services.

There are no towns or services in the San Rafael Swell aside from a rest area on I70 and a few outhouses along the Buckhorn Wash Road. The closest places for food or gas are Green River, Price, Castledale, Hanksville, or Salina depending on where in the swell you are. Cell phones get no reception except for a few spots along I70. There is great camping pretty much everywhere in the swell, but bring all of your food, water, and firewood.

The swell is all BLM land, and has little regulation aside from the wilderness study areas. The downside to this is that the area gets trashed sometimes, especially by OHVers who visit the area in large numbers. Practice leave no trace, clean up after others as much as you can, and consider using wag bags if you can't make it to one of the outhouses.


Getting There 

This is a vast area in the center of Utah split by I-70. The most popular areas are accessed by the Buckhorn Wash Road. Most of the main roads in this area are good dirt roads, and you can usually at least get close in a 2WD. The road conditions can change quickly since they don't see much traffic, and the remote parts of the swell are not a good place to have car trouble. Visitors should always come to the swell with a full tank of gas, a spare tire in good condition, and extra food and water just in case.


373 Total Routes


['4 Stars',42],['3 Stars',166],['2 Stars',114],['1 Star',43],['Bomb',4]
['<=5.6',34],['5.7',35],['5.8',73],['5.9',94],['5.10',76],['5.11',38],['5.12',14],['5.13',0],['>=5.14',0],['',0],['<=V1',1],['V2-3',0],['V4-5',0],['V6-7',0],['V8-9',0],['V10-11',0],['V12-13',0],['>=V14',0]

The Classics

Mountain Project's determination of some of the classic, most popular, highest rated routes for San Rafael Swell:
1000' of Fun   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, 5 pitches, 1000'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
1200' of more Fun   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 6 pitches, 1200'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
Death by Chocolate   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 9 pitches, 1700'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : E Crags (DBC Canyon)
Knights-Errant   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 5 pitches, 870'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
Private Pizza   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   San Rafael Swell - North : Private Pizza Wall
Devastator Tower   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Trad, 80'   San Rafael Swell - North : The Weasel Formation
Curiosity Killed The Cat   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Trad, 6 pitches, 1110'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
More Madness   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b     Trad, 4 pitches, 700'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : F Crags
Cheek Full of Redman   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   San Rafael Swell - North : Private Pizza Wall
Old Bushmills   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
James Tower AKA The Lightblub   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b A1     Trad, Aid, 3 pitches, 200'   San Rafael Swell - North : Lower Buckhorn Wash
Anchors From Hell   5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
Short Stack   5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   San Rafael Swell - North : Lower Buckhorn Wash
Lite Not Solid   5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 160'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
Planet Waves   5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Zoomerang   5.11- 6c 22 VIII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, 4 pitches   San Rafael Swell - North : Bottleneck Peak
Rabid Muslim   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 120'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
Idiot Wind   5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Tippin The Botttle   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 3 pitches, 450'   San Rafael Swell - North : Bottleneck Peak
Blood on the Tracks   5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b     Trad, 1 pitch, 60'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Browse More Classics in San Rafael Swell

Featured Route For San Rafael Swell
thin hands on old bushmills

Old Bushmills 5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b  UT : San Rafael Swell : ... : Pine Canyon
Thin fingers lead to bad sized hand/finger 1.5 friends. Small pockets allow stances for gear placements. Catch your breath halfway up and finish tight hands to the anchors 2 friends....[more]   Browse More Classics in UT

Photos of San Rafael Swell Slideshow Add Photo
San Rafael Swell from the Wedge overlook
San Rafael Swell from the Wedge overlook
Our own personal campsite splitter! Eddie victorious post send.
Our own personal campsite splitter! Eddie victorio...
One of many...
One of many...
Dawn from the Eastern Reef Slabs looking towards the La Sal Mts
Dawn from the Eastern Reef Slabs looking towards t...
Now that's a big pothole! Eddie dropping in on a climbing rest day.
Now that's a big pothole! Eddie dropping in on a c...
The Weasel and Pinnacle formations.. Northern Swell
The Weasel and Pinnacle formations.. Northern Swel...
There's more to the Swell than climbing! Eddie sliding into the first pothole of "3 Fingers Canyon" on a chilly March descent.
There's more to the Swell than climbing! Eddie sli...
Looking down the southern end of the Eastern Reef Slabs.The large slab in the foreground is the Surfing the Swell section over 1600'in height.
BETA PHOTO: Looking down the southern end of the Eastern Reef ...
Looking up the northern section of the Eastern Reef Slabs, There is about six miles of slab formations that have  climbs up to 2000' in lenth.
BETA PHOTO: Looking up the northern section of the Eastern Ree...
Driving down to the Eastern Reef, from east to west.
Driving down to the Eastern Reef, from east to wes...
Wild Burros near Three Finger Canyon . Crockett
Wild Burros near Three Finger Canyon . Crockett
A perfect December day on the Eastern Reef
A perfect December day on the Eastern Reef
FA "The Rooster". Weasel Formation Northern Swell. Photo Keen Butterworth
FA "The Rooster". Weasel Formation Northern Swell....
Summer in Three Fingers Canyon
Summer in Three Fingers Canyon
One of the many awesome campsites located throughout the Swell. The car is just visible in the lower left corner.
One of the many awesome campsites located througho...
Sunrise on the Triple Buttress... Eastern Reef
Sunrise on the Triple Buttress... Eastern Reef
Little Grand Canyon Overlook
Little Grand Canyon Overlook
Evening camp site at The Reef
Evening camp site at The Reef
Free bath! Last big swim to get out of the canyon.
Free bath! Last big swim to get out of the canyon....
The summits ....
The summits ....
Cool history scattered throughout the Swell. Cowboy signatures in Pine Canyon pictured here.
Cool history scattered throughout the Swell. Cowbo...
The San Rafael. <br />Photo by Blitzo.
The San Rafael.
Photo by Blitzo.
Comments on San Rafael Swell Add Comment
Show which comments
By JohnEdsonStagg
From: Evergreen, CO
Mar 5, 2013

Can anyone suggest a good guidebook on the San Rafael Swell?

By user id
Mar 5, 2013

You're looking at it.

By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Mar 5, 2013

Desert Rock II has some information that isn't on the proj, but it is out of print and i guess is expensive if you can find it.

Guidebooks are a tough proposition for the swell since new routes are going in constantly, it is a huge spread out area, and lots of the climbers there are crusty folks who don't like to share or have never heard of the internet.

By Chris Sisneros
From: Logan, UT
Aug 22, 2013

Don't know how many people have heard of this, but some pretty sad news for the Swell, not sure which climbing areas will be affected but I'm sure some will!

www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56758841-78/wilderness-blm-areas->>>

By Amos Whiting
Nov 5, 2013

Ill be driving through the Swell this week on I 70 West. I am looking for driving directions not too far off 70 for a 2 wheel drive camping spot for a afternoon and night. Maybe some bouldering?

By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 7, 2013

Some excellent campsites if you don't mind driving for 15 minutes or so would be in the Swaseyland area.

If you don't mind driving more like 25-30 minutes, go to the Buckhorn Wash. There is some excellent bouldering along the Mexican Mountain road, especially around the mouth of Red Canyon.

If you are looking for camping pretty much by the exit, the Copper Globe Mine road area is good. No rock very near the freeway there though.