The San Rafael Reef Wilderness is located west of the busy national parks in Moab, Utah and it is fairly easy to access this unique geological area. All it takes is one look at the amazing landscape from the San Rafael Reef Scenic Overlook on I-70 to get the urge to dive right in and experience more. The view of the towering vertical tooth shaped wall of sandstone that disappears far into the horizon certainly is well worth exploring, but it is best to be prepared and fully stocked up because this is a very unforgiving desert environment. Topping off the tank will be necessary for a San Rafael Reef adventure, because there are several points of interest to check out and there will be a lot of ground to cover. The closest towns for fueling up are Green River and Hanksville, while basic amenities are available too. Exploring the reef will also require dirt road driving with a few technical challenges in the mix, so a high ground clearance vehicle or a 4x4 is best for this trip.
South of I-70 along Utah Highway 24 there are several dirt roads that head toward the San Rafael Reef and because this landmark will always be visible, getting lost will likely not be a problem. There is a dirt road that parallels the reef toward the north end that goes through a dry wash to a culvert that runs beneath I-70, which goes to the trailheads for Petroglyph Canyon, Spirit Arch and the Black Dragon Pictograph Panel. A 4x4 with tires that can handle deep silt will definitely be needed for getting beyond the culvert, but parking and hiking the extra few hundred yards is an option too. On the south side of the freeway is a trail that goes to the Lone warrior Pictograph and a couple of slot canyon trailheads. The San Rafael Reef slot canyon trails are well worth taking on, because many of these narrow canyons are only a few feet wide and the walls of the reef tower overhead, which is quite an amazing experience on foot. One of the most famous is Little Wild Horse Canyon, which offers a lengthy hike through eroded slot canyon narrows that must be seen to be believed.
There are BLM dispersed camping options along the big reef and all that one has to do it find an existing stone fire ring to find a free camping spot for the night. The San Rafael Reef is a landscape artist's dream come true and sunrise or sunset will enhance the dramatic views. This is also a dark sky night area and the majestic reef certainly is good foreground subject material for a night sky composition or star trails. Best of all, there are no large crowds to deal with, like at the neighboring national parks, so solitude is easy to find. Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley State Park, Factory Butte, Canyonlands Maze District and the San Rafael Swell are all right next door, so the reef is a great jumping off point as well. A world of adventure awaits in the San Rafael Wilderness, so be sure to not be in a hurry when passing through!
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