Adventure Projects is hiring an Android engineer to join us in Boulder, CO
Mountain Project Logo

Areas in San Rafael Swell

San Rafael Swell - North 136 / 12 / 2 / 0 / 0 / 49 / 0 / 0 / 152
San Rafael Swell - South 291 / 40 / 0 / 4 / 0 / 36 / 0 / 0 / 311
Elevation: 6,740 ft
GPS: 38.853, -110.701 Google Map · Climbing Area Map
Page Views: 345,358 total · 2,269/month
Shared By: Andrew Gram on Jan 19, 2006
Admins: Andrew Gram, Nathan Fisher, Perin Blanchard, grk10vq
Getting weather forecast...

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 I-70. 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.

463 Total Climbs

Route Finder - Best Climbs for YOU!

Location: San Rafael Swell Change
Type:  to 
Quality:
Pitches:
Sort by:   then:
 

Classic Climbing Routes at San Rafael Swell

Mountain Project's determination of the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area.
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b
 51
1000' of Fun
Trad 5 pitches
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
 27
Death by Chocolate
Trad 9 pitches
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c
 49
Unknown Handcrack
Trad
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a
 83
Private Pizza
Trad
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a
 26
Scenic Byway
Trad 4 pitches
5.10- 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a A1
 33
James Tower AKA The Lightblub
Trad, Aid 3 pitches
5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b
 31
Blowin' in the Wind
Trad
5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b
 34
Cheek Full of Redman
Trad
5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b
 39
Anchors From Hell
Trad
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b
 54
Old Bushmills
Trad
5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b
 20
Lite Not Solid
Trad
5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c
 22
Planet Waves
Trad
5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c
 21
Rabid Muslim
Trad
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a
 38
Idiot Wind
Trad
5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a
 16
Tippin The Bottle
Trad 3 pitches
Route Name Location Star Rating Difficulty Date
1000' of Fun San Rafael Swel… > Eastern Reef Ar… > O Crags (Three Finger…
 51
5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b Trad 5 pitches
Death by Chocolate San Rafael Swel… > Eastern Reef Ar… > E Crags (DBC Canyon)
 27
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Trad 9 pitches
Unknown Handcrack San Rafael Swel… > Private Pizza Wall
 49
5.8+ 5b 16 VI- 15 HVS 4c Trad
Private Pizza San Rafael Swel… > Private Pizza Wall
 83
5.9 5c 17 VI 17 HVS 5a Trad
Scenic Byway San Rafael Swel… > Scenic Byway Wall
 26
5.10a 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a Trad 4 pitches
James Tower AKA The Lightblub San Rafael Swel… > Lower Buckhorn… > Misc
 33
5.10- 6a 18 VI+ 18 E1 5a A1 Trad, Aid 3 pitches
Blowin' in the Wind San Rafael Swel… > Mexican Mtn Rd… > Dylan Wall
 31
5.10b 6a+ 19 VII- 19 E2 5b Trad
Cheek Full of Redman San Rafael Swel… > Private Pizza Wall
 34
5.10 6b 20 VII- 19 E2 5b Trad
Anchors From Hell San Rafael Swel… > Pine Canyon
 39
5.10c 6b 20 VII 20 E2 5b Trad
Old Bushmills San Rafael Swel… > Pine Canyon
 54
5.10+ 6b+ 21 VII+ 20 E3 5b Trad
Lite Not Solid San Rafael Swel… > Pine Canyon
 20
5.10d 6b+ 21 VII+ 21 E3 5b Trad
Planet Waves San Rafael Swel… > Mexican Mtn Rd… > Dylan Wall
 22
5.11a 6c 22 VII+ 22 E3 5c Trad
Rabid Muslim San Rafael Swel… > Pine Canyon
 21
5.11 6c+ 23 VIII- 23 E4 5c Trad
Idiot Wind San Rafael Swel… > Mexican Mtn Rd… > Dylan Wall
 38
5.11c 6c+ 24 VIII- 24 E4 6a Trad
Tippin The Bottle San Rafael Swel… > Bottleneck Peak
 16
5.11+ 7a 24 VIII 24 E4 6a Trad 3 pitches
More Classic Climbs in San Rafael Swell »

Weather Averages

High
 
Low
 
Precip
 
Days w Precip
 
Prime Climbing Season
J F M A M J J A S O N D
J F M A M J J A S O N D

Photos

JohnEdsonStagg
Evergreen, CO
JohnEdsonStagg   Evergreen, CO
Can anyone suggest a good guidebook on the San Rafael Swell? Mar 5, 2013
user id
Ogden, Utah
user id   Ogden, Utah
You're looking at it. Mar 5, 2013
Andrew Gram
Salt Lake City, UT
Andrew Gram   Salt Lake City, UT  
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. Mar 5, 2013
Chris Sisneros
Logan, UT
Chris Sisneros   Logan, UT
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/5675… Aug 22, 2013
Amos Whiting
Basalt, Colorado
Amos Whiting   Basalt, Colorado
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? Nov 5, 2013
Andrew Gram
Salt Lake City, UT
Andrew Gram   Salt Lake City, UT  
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. Nov 7, 2013
dresden  
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!! Sep 17, 2014
Andrew Gram
Salt Lake City, UT
Andrew Gram   Salt Lake City, UT  
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. Sep 19, 2014
trav  
Lost pack at the mouth of Box Canyon 10/14/15 just north of I-70, see forum, any info much appreciated! Oct 15, 2015
USBRIT Ross
Keswick Cumbria.UK
USBRIT Ross   Keswick Cumbria.UK
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. Oct 18, 2015

More About San Rafael Swell

Printer-Friendly
What's New
Guidebooks (6)

All Photos Within San Rafael Swell (2,478)

Most Popular · Newest · Random