The San Rafael Swell region of Utah is only about one hour west of the most famous National Parks in central Utah, yet relatively few mainstream tourists venture into this vast wilderness area. This is like music to the ears of those who wish to escape from the big crowds, but there will be some careful planning involved with adventures in these parts. The San Rafael Swell is a very remote area, but there are enough points of interest to attract daily visitors, so becoming completely stranded is not a concern as long as you do not stray too far from the main travel routes. There is no food, water or fuel in this region, so stocking up and topping off the tank will ensure a carefree good time. There are fueling stations along I-70 and State Highway 10 near Millsite State Park, while all modern amenities can be found in the city of Green River.
The Wedge Recreation Area and Buckhorn Wash are the main attractions in the San Rafael Swell region, while there are several lesser known points of interest to experience in this area too. Plotting a course on a map or GPS is the best way to maintain fuel management, yet the most convenient entrance point actually is not the best choice. There is a Buckhorn Wash access point at Exit 131 on I-70, but starting the tour here will be like doing things in reverse, because the visitor center is located quite a long distance away at the other end of the dry wash canyons. For this reason, it is better to access the San Rafael Swell from Highway 10. By opting for an access route near Castledale or Huntington, the Cleveland Dinosaur Quarry can be experienced on the way to the Buckhorn Wash Visitor Center, which is the best starting point for adventures in this area. Plenty of information about points of interest and trailheads in the San Rafael Swell can be found at the visito center and there are basic facilities with a picnic area, which add to the appeal.
The dirt roads in this region are fairly smooth, but a high ground clearance vehicle will provide a more comfortable ride. From the Buckhorn Wash Visitor Center it is only a few miles to either the Wedge Recreation Area or Buckhorn Wash. Both of these destinations are worth experiencing and the views at the Little Grand Canyon Overlook in the morning certainly are memorable. Dispersed camping is also allowed at the Wedge Recreation Area, which adds to the charm.
Heading east from the visitor center, CR 332 is the dirt road to look for and this travel route goes through the entire length of the Buckhorn Wash all the way to Exit 131 on I-70. There are a couple of developed campgrounds with basic facilities at the mouth of Buckhorn Wash, which are now free dispersed camping areas. These campgrounds are rather large by standards and they were likely designed to accommodate projected high visitor numbers that never really happened. The sheer remoteness of Buckhorn Wash has a way a limiting the number of tourists passing through, so solitude can definitely be found in this place. In fact, the two developed campgrounds were completely empty during my late summer visit, so there is plenty of room to roam.
For those who are equipped with portable sanitation devices, primitive dispersed camping inside Buckhorn Wash will be an option. There are several pocket coves in the dry wash canyon that feature individual campsites that are equipped with fire rings and picnic tables. I bedded down in one of these spots overnight and the experience certainly was unique. The towering red rock cliffs and outcrops. create a dramatic setting and this is definitely a dark sky night area, so some seriously good night landscape photography can be done in Buckhorn Wash.
There is also no better place to wake in the early morning hours than inside Buckhorn Wash, because everything from dinosaur tracks to ancient petroglyphs and pictograph panels can be viewed during after the sun lights up this dramatic landscape. Several hiking trailheads are located along the road through Buckhorn Wash and there is another fully developed campground by the old historic bridge over the San Rafael River at the end of the canyon, so it is easy to accommodate spending some extra time in this majestic destination. The Buckhorn Wash certainly is as beautiful as can be, so be sure to plan on doing some camping in order to make the most of the venture!
Leave no trace!
Destination West YouTube channel! https://www.youtube.com/@DestinationWestOrg
Donations help the Destinaton West project continue into the future!
Go Fund Me!
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies