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San Rafael Swell

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Nearby Mountain Bike Rides

Josephite Point Trail
Almost seven miles of beautiful singletrack. Near Orangeville, Utah
Forest Road 0041
The descent to Joe's Valley Reservoir after you've ridden the Josephite Point Trail. Near Orangeville, Utah
Joe's Valley Reservoir–Pete's Hole Reservoir Loop
An unexpected delight in a part of Utah little known for mountain biking. Near Orangeville, Utah
Old Highway 29 - Joe's Valley Reservoir to Skyline Drive
The climb up to the very nice Josephite Point Trail or Skyline Drive. Near Orangeville, Utah
Behind the Reef Road
An easy ride providing access to magnificent slot canyons. Near Moab, Utah
From MP's sister site: MTB Project

San Rafael Swell Rock Climbing 


Photos:  Recent | Best | Popular
Location: 38.8525, -110.701 View Map  Incorrect?
Page Views: 79,217
Administrators: Andrew Gram, Perin Blanchard, grk10vq, Kristine Hoffman (sitewide), Emily Roeben
Submitted By: Andrew Gram on Jan 19, 2006
Forecast:
Tonight

26°
Thursday

46° | 27°
Friday

47° | 27°
Saturday

47° | 27°
Sunday

45° | 29°
Washington's Birthday

47° | 29°
You & This Area
Best climbs for YOU in this area
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BETA PHOTO: Looking down the southern end of the Eastern Reef ...

Description 

The San Rafael Swell is a huge area in the center of Utah, with few people and fewer services. It is the area roughly bordered by Price in the north, Green River to the east, Capitol Reef to the south, and the mountains to the west. I-70 divides the swell into two parts, and is the only paved road within the swell. US 6, Utah highways 10 and 24, and the Moore cutoff road travel around the edges of the swell, and there are many dirt roads - some are good, some are very bad, and all can be difficult to travel during big storms.

The climbing in the swell is tremendously varied, and lies on the adventurous end of the spectrum. Buckhorn Wash is the most popular area, and hosts a high concentration of excellent Wingate crack climbing, as well as towers and bouldering. The San Rafael Reef, AKA the Sandstone Alps, have extremely long slab routes on mostly good rock with very significant runouts. Other areas are less popular, but the climbing is very good for those who are interested in exploring.

Eric Bjornstad's Desert Rock II is the main printed guide to the swell, but it is out of print and only has a small percentage of the routes that have been done. Cam Burns Selected Climbs of the Desert Southwest has a few routes, as does the Falcon Rock Climbing Utah guidebook. New routes are going in constantly, and at this point mountainproject supplemented by Desert Rock II is the best source of information, though it is far from complete.

In addition to rock climbing, the San Rafael Swell is home to impressive rock art, many slot canyons, mountain biking, mellow flatwater canoe trips, class III slot canyon duckie floats, and wild class V kayaking. Crowds are minimal compared to the Moab area, though so are any kind of developed services.

There are no towns or services in the San Rafael Swell aside from a rest area on I70 and a few outhouses along the Buckhorn Wash Road. The closest places for food or gas are Green River, Price, Castledale, Hanksville, or Salina depending on where in the swell you are. Cell phones get no reception except for a few spots along I70. There is great camping pretty much everywhere in the swell, but bring all of your food, water, and firewood.

The swell is all BLM land, and has little regulation aside from the wilderness study areas. The downside to this is that the area gets trashed sometimes, especially by OHVers who visit the area in large numbers. Practice leave no trace, clean up after others as much as you can, and consider using wag bags if you can't make it to one of the outhouses.

Getting There 

This is a vast area in the center of Utah split by I-70. The most popular areas are accessed by the Buckhorn Wash Road. Most of the main roads in this area are good dirt roads, and you can usually at least get close in a 2WD. The road conditions can change quickly since they don't see much traffic, and the remote parts of the swell are not a good place to have car trouble. Visitors should always come to the swell with a full tank of gas, a spare tire in good condition, and extra food and water just in case.

Climbing Season



Weather station 19.0 miles from here

388 Total Climbing Routes

['4 Stars',44],['3 Stars',174],['2 Stars',113],['1 Star',47],['Bomb',4]
['<=5.6',34],['5.7',36],['5.8',76],['5.9',100],['5.10',78],['5.11',41],['5.12',14],['5.13',0],['>=5.14',0],['',0],['<=V1',1],['V2-3',0],['V4-5',0],['V6-7',0],['V8-9',0],['V10-11',0],['V12-13',0],['>=V14',0]

Classic Climbing Routes in San Rafael Swell

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes for San Rafael Swell:
1000' of Fun   5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b     Trad, 5 pitches, 1000'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
1200' of more Fun   5.7 5a 15 V+ 13 MVS 4b     Trad, 6 pitches, 1200'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
Death by Chocolate   5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c     Trad, 9 pitches, 1700'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : E Crags (DBC Canyon)
Private Pizza   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   San Rafael Swell - North : Private Pizza Wall
Unknown Handcrack   5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a     Trad, 1 pitch, 60'   San Rafael Swell - North : Private Pizza Wall
Devastator Tower   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Trad, 80'   San Rafael Swell - North : The Weasel Formation
Curiosity Killed The Cat   5.9+ 5c 17 VI 17 E1 5a     Trad, 6 pitches, 1110'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : O Crags (Three Finger Canyo...
Scenic Byway   5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a     Trad, 4 pitches, 400'   San Rafael Swell - North : Scenic Byway Wall
Old Bushmills   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 70'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
More Madness   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b     Trad, 4 pitches, 700'   Eastern Reef Area.. AKA The... : F Crags
James Tower AKA The Lightblub   5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b A1     Trad, Aid, 3 pitches, 200'   San Rafael Swell - North : Lower Buckhorn Wash
Anchors From Hell   5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
One More Cup of Coffee   5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 165'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Short Stack   5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   San Rafael Swell - North : Lower Buckhorn Wash
Lite Not Solid   5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b     Trad, 1 pitch, 160'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
Planet Waves   5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 100'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Rabid Muslim   5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c     Trad, 1 pitch, 120'   San Rafael Swell - North : Pine Canyon
Idiot Wind   5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a     Trad, 1 pitch, 80'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Tippin The Bottle   5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a     Trad, 3 pitches, 450'   San Rafael Swell - North : Bottleneck Peak
Blood on the Tracks   5.12 7b+ 27 VIII+ 26 E6 6b     Trad, 1 pitch, 60'   Mexican Mountain Road Area : Dylan Wall
Browse More Rock Climbing Classics in San Rafael Swell

Featured Route For San Rafael Swell
Rock Climbing Photo: Andy on the overhanging crack pitch 3

Ozymandias 5.8 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c C2  UT : San Rafael Swell : ... : The Weasel Formation
Ozymandias takes a very direct line up the south face to one of the unclimbed summits of The Weasel. It is a demanding and committing route up an impressive face. After the overhanging crack on pitch 3 retreat would be difficult. It starts on the right(east) and behind an 80' detached pinnacle at the foot of a line of cracks and grooves in the centre of the face. P1) A perfect crack using small to medium cams leads past a roof and right into a groove. Follow to anchors on top of a large flak...[more]   Browse More Classics in UT

Photos of San Rafael Swell Slideshow Add Photo
Rock Climbing Photo: Wild Burros near Three Finger Canyon . Crockett
Wild Burros near Three Finger Canyon . Crockett
Rock Climbing Photo: San Rafael Swell from the Wedge overlook
San Rafael Swell from the Wedge overlook
Rock Climbing Photo: Our own personal campsite splitter! Eddie victorio...
Our own personal campsite splitter! Eddie victorio...
Rock Climbing Photo: The Hollow Men ..A climb out of Three Finger Canyo...
The Hollow Men ..A climb out of Three Finger Canyo...
Rock Climbing Photo: The summits ....
The summits ....
Rock Climbing Photo: One of many...
One of many...
Rock Climbing Photo: Cool history scattered throughout the Swell. Cowbo...
Cool history scattered throughout the Swell. Cowbo...
Rock Climbing Photo: Little Grand Canyon Overlook
Little Grand Canyon Overlook
Rock Climbing Photo: Sunrise on the Triple Buttress... Eastern Reef
Sunrise on the Triple Buttress... Eastern Reef
Rock Climbing Photo: The sexiest flat-tire change ever!
The sexiest flat-tire change ever!
Rock Climbing Photo: Evening camp site at The Reef
Evening camp site at The Reef
Rock Climbing Photo: Free bath! Last big swim to get out of the canyon....
Free bath! Last big swim to get out of the canyon....
Rock Climbing Photo: A perfect December day on the Eastern Reef
A perfect December day on the Eastern Reef
Rock Climbing Photo: In awe at 'Little Grand Canyon'
In awe at 'Little Grand Canyon'
Rock Climbing Photo: The San Rafael. Photo by Blitzo.
The San Rafael. Photo by Blitzo.
Rock Climbing Photo: Summer in Three Fingers Canyon
Summer in Three Fingers Canyon
Rock Climbing Photo: Driving down to the Eastern Reef, from east to wes...
Driving down to the Eastern Reef, from east to wes...
Rock Climbing Photo: Now that's a big pothole! Eddie dropping in on a c...
Now that's a big pothole! Eddie dropping in on a c...
Rock Climbing Photo: FA "The Rooster". Weasel Formation North...
FA "The Rooster". Weasel Formation North...
Rock Climbing Photo: Dawn from the Eastern Reef Slabs looking towards t...
Dawn from the Eastern Reef Slabs looking towards t...
Rock Climbing Photo: It took her all day to carve these
It took her all day to carve these
Rock Climbing Photo: The Weasel and Pinnacle formations.. Northern Swel...
The Weasel and Pinnacle formations.. Northern Swel...
Rock Climbing Photo: Looking up the northern section of the Eastern Ree...
BETA PHOTO: Looking up the northern section of the Eastern Ree...
Rock Climbing Photo: Welcome to the Swell. Bring a spare or else you wi...
Welcome to the Swell. Bring a spare or else you wi...

Show All 28 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on San Rafael Swell Add Comment
Show which comments
By JohnEdsonStagg
From: Evergreen, CO
Mar 5, 2013
Can anyone suggest a good guidebook on the San Rafael Swell?
By user id
Mar 5, 2013
You're looking at it.
By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Mar 5, 2013
Desert Rock II has some information that isn't on the proj, but it is out of print and i guess is expensive if you can find it.

Guidebooks are a tough proposition for the swell since new routes are going in constantly, it is a huge spread out area, and lots of the climbers there are crusty folks who don't like to share or have never heard of the internet.
By Chris Sisneros
From: Logan, UT
Aug 22, 2013
Don't know how many people have heard of this, but some pretty sad news for the Swell, not sure which climbing areas will be affected but I'm sure some will!

sltrib.com/sltrib/news/5675884...
By Amos Whiting
From: Basalt, Colorado
Nov 5, 2013
Ill be driving through the Swell this week on I 70 West. I am looking for driving directions not too far off 70 for a 2 wheel drive camping spot for a afternoon and night. Maybe some bouldering?
By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Nov 7, 2013
Some excellent campsites if you don't mind driving for 15 minutes or so would be in the Swaseyland area.

If you don't mind driving more like 25-30 minutes, go to the Buckhorn Wash. There is some excellent bouldering along the Mexican Mountain road, especially around the mouth of Red Canyon.

If you are looking for camping pretty much by the exit, the Copper Globe Mine road area is good. No rock very near the freeway there though.
By dresden
Sep 17, 2014
I am looking for a place to climb and back pack into with my 12 year old son where we could set up camp and climb.. He is a new backpacker (and climber) and we would only hike a few miles in. Anyone know of a place that would work? Thank You!!
By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Sep 19, 2014
Backcountry climbs in the swell tend to be serious and really high adventure. I wouldn't try to combine the pursuits for a beginner. The swell is not a good place for beginner climbers really at all. The Mother Goose is a good option, as is Tiki Tower off of the Buckhorn Wash.

You'll have to carry all of your own water just about everywhere in the desert - its really better suited to day trips for the most part. That said, hiking the San Rafael River between Fuller Bottom and the San Rafael Bridge is nice, and you can also hike up into Cane Wash, which is really great. I wouldn't be keen on trying to get water out of the San Rafael since it is silty and winds through a lot of cow pasture.

You could hike up both branches of Red Canyon off of Mexican Mountain road.

Eagle Canyon would be a great option. Go to Swasey's Cabin, drive down the road as far as you are comfortable, and start hiking.
By trav
Oct 15, 2015
Lost pack at the mouth of Box Canyon 10/14/15 just north of I-70, see forum, any info much appreciated!
By USBRIT
From: Keswick Cumbria.UK
Oct 18, 2015
Cell phone reception is not bad from the Eastern Reef as of May 2015. Actually on the Eastern Reef slabs( South San Rafael Swell) there are a lot of climbs that a beginner would enjoy providing he is not leading "1000' of Fun" being one.

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