Lower San Juan River Canoe Trips
Fun and Adventure on the San Juan
The majesty, history, and whitewater of southern Utah’s San Juan River is unmatched on nearly any other canoeable river in the American Southwest. Featuring miles of continuous current and lively but not intimidating rapids, the San Juan River canoe trip combines this whitewater with a variety of hiking and historical features surrounding the ancient Anasazi people that inhabited the river thousands of years in the past.
The majesty, history, and whitewater of southern Utah’s San Juan River is unmatched on nearly any other canoeable river in the American Southwest. Featuring miles of continuous current and lively but not intimidating rapids, the San Juan River canoe trip combines this whitewater with a variety of hiking and historical features surrounding the ancient Anasazi people that inhabited the river thousands of years in the past. From its subtly hued red walls to magnificently well-preserved petroglyph panels, the San Juan is truly a gem of the American Southwest.
Smoking Rivers’ 5-day canoe trip on the Lower San Juan begins at the small town of Mexican Hat, Utah and we enter one of the most dramatic canyons on the entire river corridor. The Goosenecks, as they are known, are a series of dramatic sweeping bends in the river featuring 1,000+ foot canyon walls. In total, the river only travels about 1 mile through this section, although we will need to canoe over five miles to meander through these spectacular bends. Many short side-hikes are available in this area to historical features such as abandoned mining cabins.
The history of the San Juan River is most notable in the beautiful Anasazi sites, as well as remnants of attempted mining operations that occurred only 100-150 years ago. Named by the Spaniard Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera in 1765, the river was first fully explored until the mid-19th-century by Mexican explorers. With each mile paddled on the beautiful and fast flowing San Juan River, pass by multitudes of important agricultural and geological features to those native people and explorers that preceded us.
On this Smoking Rivers San Juan canoe trip, side-hiking is always a major component for those interested in trading their paddles for hiking boots for a few hours. The Honaker Trail, one of Smoking Rivers’ professional canoes guides’ favorite side-excursions, parallels the dramatic canyon walls in a series of sharp switchbacks before reaching the wide flatlands of the upper canyons, affording incredible views towards the Mexican Hat Syncline and the Honaker Formation. Originally constructed by Augustus Honaker in the mid-1890s to support a gold mining operation, it was abandoned not long once prospectors realized that the San Juan River valley is not a financially viable gold prospecting area.
Much of the right side of the river is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as the river approaches its outlet into Lake Powell. Continuing to take ample time for exploring the various side canyons that make for spectacular hiking in dry conditions, we also negotiate some of the bigger rapids that the San Juan River canoe trip has to offer, including Ross Rapid and Gypsum Rapid. Both Class II for canoeists, our professional and veteran river guides take great care in leading your party safely through these exciting and memorable sections of whitewater.
Throughout the last two days of the San Juan River expedition, we enter some of our favored side-canyons, perfect for side-hiking and exploration. These include Slickhorn Canyon, which features several easily accessed swimming holes, suitable for a restful soak or cliff jumping into the deep waters. Ringed by small tamarisk trees, Slickhorn Canyon features tremendous photography options and the opportunity to rest near the placid riverside during our trip.
The vertical size of the canyon walls begins to slowly recede, and the river becomes much flatter as it is increasingly impacted by the sediment build-up that has been deposited by Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam. Two more of our favored canyons remain, including an opportunity to ascend and clamber for a birds-eye view of the river from the top of the canyon. Featuring a myriad of water-formed, natural holes in the limestone, the dramatic views from Oljeto Wash are a spectacular way to wrap up a beautiful trip on the San Juan River. Like many of the side washes in the lower part of the San Juan River, Oljeto Wash is known for its spectacular aura on moonlit nights as the light of the moon shines onto the narrow canyon walls, lighting up the beautiful natural arena created throughout the confines of the canyon.
Wildlife spotting opportunities on the lower San Juan can be quite excellent as the canyons are home to populations of Bighorn Sheep that are often seen nimbly traversing the steepest section of the vertical walls. The river corridor also supports populations of a variety of beautiful birds and is a migration path for many birds returning from their wintering homes in South America. Cliff Swallows and Cave Wrens are also constant companions while paddling the San Juan and ravens and turkey vultures are often seen circling high in the clear blue skies.
A Lower San Juan River canoe trip with Smoking Rivers is generally organized in April, which coincides with springtime in the Utah desert. Flowers and cacti can be seen flowering and the weather is excellent- with warm temperatures during the day and a virtual absence of bugs. A canoe trip on the Lower San Juan is suitable for novice paddlers although some outdoor experience is preferred as it is a remote river expedition. Our professional canoe guides take the greatest pride to provide you and your party with a comfortable and enjoyable experience with excellent cuisine, paddle instruction, and wilderness interpretation of the historical and beautiful San Juan River.
Continuing downstream, the San Juan River continues to flatten, and the canyon walls recede quite quickly on the final day as we approach our take-out at Clay Hills Crossing. The spectacular return to our trip meeting location is marked by views of the surrounding headlands colored in dramatic reds, browns, and greens before spreading out into large flatlands receding towards the famed Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods. The Lower San Juan River expedition with Smoking Rivers is a great option for those wishing to explore this jewel of the American Southwest in a leisurely fashion, allowing for ample time for exploration and side-hikes into the dramatic canyons and historical features that are plentiful throughout this beautiful river corridor.
Lower San Juan River Canoe Trips
Trips Available: April
Trip Length: 5 Days
Age Minimum: 10
50% Deposit required at time of reservation. Remainder due no later than (21) days prior to trip departure (non-refundable).
Cancellations & Refunds:
0-59 days prior to trip- deposit non-refundable
60-89 days prior to trip- 35% deposit refundable
90 days or more prior to trip- 75% refundable
Group and Youth rates available. Rates are based off a 4 person trip subject to change depending on group size and duration.
"Our 6 day canoe trip went by way too fast! We were lucky enough to have some beautiful fall weather and the colors were amazing. The guys from Smoking Rivers completely made the trip. It just wouldn't have been the same without them. They worked hard and took great care of us. The food was delicious and they accommodated my vegan diet! We had so much fun and I've made some lifelong friends. I hope to do this trip again next year! Highly recommended!"
- Tonia Polak
"We decided to have a family canoeing adventure for our girls' 12th birthday. I can now declare that I wish most of the decisions we made in life were as brilliant! It's hard to nominate the star of this trip: The stunning river, the amazing woods and wildlife, the thrill of crossing a patch of whitewater, the blessed distance from the rest of the world- these are all good candidates, but the gold medal has to go to Jason and Dan, our guides. We never canoed before, let alone on a lively river, in what felt like the edge of the world, and we felt completely safe the whole time. These guys 'walk' the river on their canoes like we walk a city sidewalk, with ease and confidence and strength..."
- Dr. Anat Maril
"Just had a great camping & canoeing trip down the St. Croix- Maine at its finest! Beautiful scenes of the river, sky, and the woods with cool wildlife thrown in! Plenty of whitewater excitement too! None of our canoes ever flipped, while many others' did! That speaks loudly of the skills of our two guides, Jason & Dan, who provided us with great training as to any different paddle strokes and lessons on reading the river for the 'V's.' However more importantly they were always near to help when we happened to forget some of that training- they both are the consummate professionals - Our whole group loved the experience and wow can those boys cook !!!"
- Esq Mark J. Berardoni