San Rafael Swell
Unique desert scapes, deep canyon gorge
24 miles by 4x4, 8 miles by foot round trip
Bring your own unless you have a way to filter VERY sandy water
100 percent sun exposure. Bring sunscreen
The 4x4 road is very easy and the hike is easy but you are walking through the creek the entire time which can make footing interesting.
This is a really fun day trip that includes an approach in a 4×4 vehicle and a hike through a deep canyon gorge and ends at an old early 1900’s mining area. We were spending the weekend exploring San Rafael and we camped close to Goblin Valley on the Wild Horse Road. This area has open camping with lots of very pretty campsites.
We had visited the area from a different side of the swell and wanted to try an approach on the Wild Horse Road. We rode ATV’s and it was a really good decision. There are lots of unique features on this road. It will make you feel like you are on a different planet. Most any high clearance vehicle could drive this road. It was very easy but if it was rainy these roads become nasty really fast so make sure you have 4×4 and preferably more than one vehicle for safety. The road begins right after the very popular Little Wild Horse trail head. The first major views you will see are several classic swell scenes with far away mesa’s and great vistas.
The Henry Mountains are a very prominent feature throughout the Swell.
You will soon come to an area that I can only explain as a moonscape. It has to be the most desolate spot on earth.
After this area be sure to keep your eyes open. There is a cabin that is very easy to miss if you aren’t looking. This is an old ranching cabin that is very scenic. We found a newspaper article inside dated March 13th 1926 so it is at least that old.
Just after the cabin the road will pass through Muddy Creek. This is where you will park and start your hike toward and into the gorge. You will be walking in the creek itself the majority of the way so bring clothing that will be appropriate. Depending on the time of year a thick neoprene sock will be a necessity. From where you park just walk in the creek toward the reef. The beginning of the gorge will look like this.
Once inside the canyon it is very deep and very scenic!
It is about 3.5 miles from where you park to the Hidden Splendor Mine. You will start to see signs of mining before you reach it and if you have a good eye you can spot several mine adits. All are now inaccessible so this is more of a history trip than an underground exploration. The views down canyon from where you came are awesome from the mine area.
There is a very large old cabin that had to have housed many people in its hey day.
On the other side of the creek from the cabin you will see an old truck. I love old vehicles so this was my favorite part.
If you want to and you have the energy there is an old landing strip on the top of the cliffs above the mining area. We did not explore this but I plan to at a future time. Otherwise once the creek makes a large turn is the time to turn around and head back to your vehicles.
This is a great day into an area that is rarely visited and very pretty. There is a good variety of terrain here and I think its pretty accessible to kids above ten or so.