Rafael Swell, between Bell and
Little Wild Horse Canyons
8.6 miles (loop)
730 ft. gain/loss
Little Wild Horse Canyon Trailhead
(start): 4,940 ft.
San Rafael Swell: 5,670 ft.
There is no developed trail for this hike,
but the route is very easy to follow. The
middle 1.6 miles of the hike is along an
old jeep road, and the rest is along the
bottoms of two dry desert slot canyons.
It is an easy walk, but carry plenty of
Spring, summer, fall, winter. Do not enter
the canyons when rain threatens. Also, the
road to the trailhead may occasionally be
impassable after periods of heavy rainfall.
For current conditions call the San Rafael
Resource Area, Bureau of Land Management,
in Price at (801) 636-3600.
Near Hanksville and Goblin Valley State
dry, desert canyon hike follows the bottoms
of two narrow slot canyons as they cut their
way through the southeastern side of the
San Rafael Reef. The hike begins by following
Bell Canyon from the south to the north
side of the reef, then returns through Little
Wild Horse Canyon to the starting point.
Both canyons have some impressive narrows,
but the narrows in the last half of Little
Wild Horse Canyon are especially noteworthy.
In one section the canyon meanders along
for well over a mile with the distance between
the sides rarely exceeding five feet. Walking
down Little Wild Horse Canyon often feels
more like exploring a cave that hiking in
the desert. Children seem to get a particular
thrill out of walking in the narrow passages,
and this relatively easy hike is a good
one for a family outing.
the car parking area, follow the sandy bottom
of Little Wild Horse Wash northward towards
the San Rafael Reef. It is possible to drive
up the wash and save ten minutes of footwork,
but the stream bed is very narrow and sandy.
I suggest you save wear and tear on your
car and the environment by beginning your
hike at the road. After 0.4 mile you will
see a small sign on the left side of the
wash marking the beginning of the Crack
Canyon Wilderness Study Area, beyond which
vehicles are not allowed. After another
few hundred yards the flat streambed is
interrupted by a small dry waterfall. The
easiest way around this obstacle is to climb
slightly up the left side of the canyon
and drop back to the bottom a short distance
later at the confluence of Bell and Little
Wild Horse Canyons. When you reach the confluence
bear left into Bell Canyon.
The next section
of the hike is an easy walk up the flat,
sandy bottom of Bell Canyon. The canyon
is quite narrow at first, but it steadily
widens, finally breaking out of the San
Rafael Reef and onto the San Rafael Swell
some 1.9 miles later.
As you leave
the canyon watch carefully for a jeep road
coming into the streambed from the right.
If you walk more than 0.1 or 0.2 mile from
the mouth of the Canyon you have missed
the road. You will have to turn right onto
this jeep road to reach Little Wild Horse
Canyon. The road winds gently eastward along
the base of the San Rafael Reef, climbing
about 370 feet before dropping down again.
After 1.6 miles it crosses a smaller wash
which is a tributary of Little Wild Horse.
Turn off the road at this point, and follow
the smaller wash for 0.6 miles until it
joins Little Wild Horse Canyon.
Horse looks much like the end of Bell Canyon
for the first 0.5 mile, but then the canyon
suddenly drops down under a boulder and
into its first section of narrows. This
is an introduction to the long stretch of
extremely tight narrows that begins about
half way down Little Wild Horse. As mentioned
before, it is more like walking through
a cave than a canyon. There may be water
in a few places in the narrows if it has
rained recently, but usually you wont
have any trouble getting through with dry
feet. There is no permanent water in either
of the canyons, and the rainwater seems
to drain out quite quickly. Needless to
say, however, the canyons are no place to
be if a storm threatens. The water can come
up to the danger level as quickly as it
goes down, and once inside the narrows there
is no place to escape a flood.
miles Little Wild Horse Canyon emerges again
at the confluence with Bell Canyon, and
from there it is an easy matter to retrace
your steps the 0.6 mile back to the road.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to
order his book Utah's
Favorite Hiking Trails.