The San Rafael Reef is rarely featured in travel brochures and the lesser known destinations in this vast wilderness area are usually completely overlooked by mainstream tourists. The reasons why have to do with the location being way out in the middle of nowhere and because the neighboring National Parks get all the attention. The fuel stations are far and few between in this region, which further limits access by casual tourists. The local basecamps of Hanksville and Green River, Utah are where amenities and supplies can be found, but it will take a substantial amount of fuel to do round trips from the San Rafael Reef. All this can keep the visitor numbers low, however, the ease of access to San Rafael Reef actually is not a problem, because Interstate Highway 70 and Highway 24 (Highway 95 shared route) both run through this area.
There is a famous San Rafael Reef scenic overlook on Interstate Highway 70 that offers panoramic views of this geological wonder and this is all that most people experience. While gazing at the towering geological reef that extends to the horizon, thinking about exploring this inhospitable region will likely occur. For most people this will be nothing more than a dream to ponder over, because it is easy to assume that this truly is a foreboding no man's land, since there are no signs of modern society as far as the eyes can see.
Forever maintaining the San Rafael Reef as a dream destination would be mistake, because the premise is based upon a visual assumption. This may appear to be a lifeless desolate expanse from the highway, but that is far from the truth. The Goblin Valley State Park is the most popular destination in the San Rafael Reef region and this State Park actually serves as a basecamp hub for exploring destinations along the vast geological reef. In fact, some of the most popular reef destinations are located practically right next door, so this greatly expands the vacation time venue when camping in Goblin Valley.
Goblin Valley Road runs from Highway 24 into the State Park and just before crossing the park border there is an option to continue west on County Road 1013 to points of interest along the San Rafael Reef. CR 1013 is paved, so practically any car can do this side road tour, but a high ground clearance vehicle will have an advantage because there are several dirt side roads to explore. This area is BLM territory, so there are dispersed camping options at existing sites along the towering mesa bluffs, which is good to keep in mind when the State Park campground is full during the busy summer season.
Just a few miles down CR 1013 is where the Little Wild Horse Canyon Trailhead can be found. The parking area is ample and there are facilities on site. There is also a trailhead kiosk to be found and the information provided is very important to read before setting off on foot. Just like with any desert dry wash canyon, if rain is in the forecast, it is best to cancel the venture due to flash flood risks. Narrow slot canyons also collect and hold water for long periods of time, so some wading may be involved and waterproof gear might be needed for the trek.
Because of the nature of the buckled geological upheaval swell, this entire area is composed of heavily eroded layers of exposed bedrock shelves. To say that the layers of bedrock with various hardness eroded unevenly would be an understatement, because the entire reef ridge line is riddled with narrow slot canyons and some are quite deep. Little Wild Horse Canyon is the most famous narrow slot canyon in this area and there are a few trail options to consider, which include an eight mile out and back, a five miler or just going as far as the first water hazards are found.
The Muddy Creek is another point of interest to be found along this section of the San Rafael Reef and there is plenty of majestic eye candy to experience on the other side of the road in the red rock bluffs region. Neither the Little Wild Horse Canyon Trailhead or any of the other San Rafael Reef destinations will readily appear on a map without zooming in, yet once this BLM scenic area is discovered, there will always be a longing to explore this picturesque place!
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