San Rafael Swell

Eons ago, tremendous geologic upheavals formed a giant dome of rock - a "swell" in the earth's surface. The harsh elements beat against this dome and eroded it into a wild, broken array of multi-colored sandstone. Wind and water carved this jumble of rock into incredible formations as buttes, canyons, pinnacles and mesas emerged, making the Swell one of the most ruggedly beautiful pockets of terrain in the world. That was how this area came to be known as the Swell.

For years the San Rafael Swell has been considered one of the "undiscovered" natural wonders of the American West. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Swell offers visitors many of the same sights that can be seen in several of Utah's national parks but allows these visitors to enjoy these sights in leisurely solitude. The San Rafael Swell also provides sights that cannot be found anywhere else, such as Goblin Valley and the San Rafael Reef. Hiking possibilities here range from easy to strenuous- technical canyoneering. See our guide to hiking trails.

A part of the Colorado Plateau, the San Rafael Swell is high desert country, vastly different from the Sonoran desert of the Southwest. In some sections, it is a sweeping country with towering mesas, buttes, and pinnacles rising from flat desert floors. In other areas, it boasts rolling pasturelands populated with antelope and wild horses. And just around the bend it can become an incredibly wild, broken land with streams cutting through slot canyons that open up to panoramic vistas.

There are numerous roads that only four-wheel drive vehicles can negotiate. Spring and fall are ideal seasons to explore this country because temperatures are usually moderate. Summer days can be uncomfortably hot. Winter nights get very cold but winter days are often mild - very pleasant for hiking, biking and jeeping. Make sure your car is filled with gas and bring plenty of drinking water.

Much of the San Rafael Swell is administered by the Bureau of Land Management as Wilderness Study Areas. Here is more information about the San Rafael WSAs and WSAs in general.

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