San Juan River and Grand Gulch

Length7 days
WhenFebruary 2018
Total Distance covered178 km / 110 miles
Departure pointBluff boat ramp
Boat exit pointGrand Gulch
Hike exit pointGovernment trail head. I walked to road 261 using Slick Horn Rd.
Return to carhitchhiking
PermitsPermits are needed for the river, the campsites and hiking in Grand Gulch. In February I had no issue to get a river permit and campsites permits were not required. I got my Grand Gulch permit at the exit point.

Day 1: Sand Island to campsite after San Juan Hill

I had a beautiful day for my first day out. The river was low (around 570 cfs) but there was plenty for a packraft if you avoided the sand bars. I got out of my boat at San Juan hill and hiked to the top of the hill. I camped a few hundred meters down river from San Juan hill.

Day 2: Campsite after San Juan Hill to Mexican Hat

A beautiful day on the river. I scouted and/or portaged some of the more difficult rapids since I was alone. Mexican Hat was visible from quite a distance. I stopped at the Mexican hat boat launch because the idea of having a picnic table sounded too nice to pass.

Day 3: Mexican Hat to Camping next to Ross rapids

Loved this day. Paddling the Narrows was very impressive. There were a few rapids to keep things interesting. I set up camp next to Ross rapids and used my fire pan to dry my gear so it would not freeze overnight.

Day 4: Ross rapids to Grand Gulch

I got some strong winds for part of that day which made me thankful that not all days were like this. I was very happy to finally get to the bottom of Grand Gulch in the afternoon and took the opportunity to dry all my gear before starting the hike the next morning. I camped next to the bottom of Grand Gulch. The evening was very windy and I ended up with sand in all my stuff.

Day 5: Grand Gulch

The first kilometers in Grand Gulch were not the easiest as there was a lot of big boulders to scramble around. I almost turned around at one point, there was a small cliff blocking the way. The scree slopes on the sides seemed a little too unstable to my liking, but I tried it anyways and made it up the small cliff. My pack was quite heavy with all the packrafting gear and portable fire pan. I camped on the sand in the Gulch but did not have a very relaxing night as sheep kept running by my tent.

Day 6: Second day hiking Grand Gulch and exit

I got rain and hail for this second and last day of hiking in Grand Gulch. I would have liked to hike further in the Gulch but I was running out of time. I took the trail heading to the Government trail head out of Grand Gulch and camped on a rocky outcrop not far from the Gulch.

Day 7: Hiking the road and hitchhicking

I had a long roadwalk to get back to the road. I reached road 261 in the afternoon and started hitchhiking while walking on the side of the road. My water reserve was getting low and I did not see any potential water source nearby. I eventually stopped a car and the people I met were so nice that they took me back to my own car at the Bluff boat launch and I made them coffee out of my van.