San Rafael Swell Mountain Biking
About This Trip
Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Natural Bridges, Dinosaur, Capital Reef, Grand Staircase… in a state brimming with national parks, it’s easy to overlook another national treasure. Utah locals call it ‘THE SWELL’ a three thousand-foot fold of sandstone and shale on the edge of the Colorado Plateau. Its hidden canyons provided sanctuary to old west outlaw Butch Cassidy. Today the same red-wall canyons are your sanctuary from the everyday grind.
You will ride back in time past abandoned mining camps and turn of the century ranches. Stop to explore cowboy camps, prehistoric Indian rock art, we might even see a few dinosaur prints. Your ride ends at the Wedge Overlook, Utah’s ‘Little Grand Canyon’. A thousand feet below, the San Rafael River counts another day in the eons… from above we count ourselves fortunate that such a place exists at all.
SAN RAFAEL SWELL HIGHLIGHTS
- Ride past abandoned mining camps and petrified dinosaur prints
- “The Swell” is a 3000-foot fold of sandstone and shale on the Colorado Plateau
- The Wedge Overlook: a thousand foot drop to the San Rafael River below
One of the advantages of a bike trip is the flexibility of the daily itinerary. It can vary widely from one trip to the next based on group desires, Mother Nature, and courtesy for other groups on the trail. The “Swell” is well known for its spectacular scenery and abundance of historical sites. Dispersed camping offers the ultimate opportunity for choose your own adventure exploration of the vast maze of old mining roads and slot canyons. Expect to ride 20-30 miles per day.
Day One: Meet at Holiday River Expeditions headquarters in Green River, Utah. A one and one-half hour van ride takes us to Temple Mountain. The ride begins with a dirt trail that cuts through the San Rafael Reef, then parallels the uplifted rock faces. Stop and see a three thousand year old pictograph panel in the first mile. Test your skills with a quick sampling of the variety of roads, trails and terrain the trip offers. Choose a longer afternoon ride, or shorter ride and an optional hike. Spend the evening in Chute Canyon, just south of the Behind the Reef Road.
Day Two: Continuing southwest, the rough 4wd road climbs and descends through Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons. A turn to the north at Ding and Dang Dome climbs up onto the plateau. At 6500 ft., the isolated mountain ranges that dot the red rock canyon country of the Colorado plateau become visible. Take in expansive views of the virtually undeveloped 3100 square miles of San Rafael Swell while riding on an improved road for the last few miles before camp overlooking Tomsich Butte and the Muddy Creek Drainage.
Day Three: Start the day with a nice descent to the Muddy Creek followed by a long, but gentle climb up Reds Canyon. Along the way, explore the Lucky Strike Mine, developed during the uranium boom of the 1950’s. Continue up the drainage after lunch to camp near Family Butte.
Day Four: The morning ride heads north, through a maze of old ranching and mining roads in search of sites like Eagle Canyon arch, the Lone Warrior and Head of Sinbad rock art panels, and the Swasey cabin. Sites seen and miles ridden are dependent on group interests and abilities. Have lunch along the trail or at the finishing point. Our van will meet us here for a two-hour drive back to Green River.
As mentioned earlier, this is a sample itinerary and should not be thought of as the trip you will experience. It is intended to give an idea of what the trip will be like. It could also be exactly what you do. Keep an open mind, be flexible, go with the flow, and enjoy!
Beginning of the trip: Upon your arrival at Holiday River and Bike Expeditions headquarters (7:00 a.m., Mountain Time), we will issue your bags. You can buy any last minute items from our accessory’s store at this time (see our packing check list for a list of items you can find at our store). Before leaving our headquarters, each guest along with a Holiday guide will perform a pre-trip inspection of your bikes. If you are providing your own bike, please make sure that it is in good repair, we recommend a complete service by a professional shop prior to the trip. Guests with bikes’ that fail our inspection will be asked to rent a Holiday bike for $160.00/person. We will then take a two-hour van ride to the embarkation point.
After the trip: We will meet our van at the Wedge Overlook, and then we will take you back to our headquarters in Green River (2 hour van ride). Our expected time of arrival back at our headquarters is 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
The Bicycling: The San Rafael bike route is a technically challenging route. This undeveloped dirt road has steep downhills, loose rocks, sand, and ruts. Riders who have no off-road bicycling experience, or who are not athletic will most likely find this trip too challenging. All riders should prepare for the trip by riding their bike on a regular basis prior to the trip.
Medical emergencies: Our guides are trained in first aid and carry first aid supplies only. REMEMBER to bring your own prescription medicines. ALERT our guides to any medical problem you might have such as diabetes or allergic reactions. Wilderness expeditions are a long way from hospitals, doctors, and pain-relieving medicines. Evacuations to modern medical care are uncertain, and protracted. In case of evacuation and/or medical treatment beyond first aid, expenses incurred are the responsibility of the participant.
Cancellation Policy: If cancellations are made prior to 90 days before the trip, monies will be refunded less $50.00 service charge per person. If cancellations are made within 90 days and outside of 45 days of the trip date monies will be refunded less a $100.00 service charge per person. Cancellations made within 45 days of the trip date are non refundable. Prior to 45 days to the trip date we will transfer reservations to another trip in the same year with a $25.00 service charge per person. All policies will be enforced and we strongly recommend trip cancellation insurance. Cancellation of a trip is very unlikely, but we reserve the right to cancel any trip due to river or weather conditions or the lack of sufficient reservations. A full refund will be made if such is the case.
Insurance: Medical Evacuation and cancellation insurance on a vacation plan can be obtained from numerous insurance companies. You should be aware that medical evacuations in the backcountry can easily cost $10,000 and up. You are responsible for these potential expenses and we strongly encourage all guests to have this coverage. We offer plans by TRAVEL GUARD that cover evacuation, baggage and cancellation claims. It is available to American and Canadian citizens, as well as citizens of another country as long as you have a U.S. address. For a quote or questions give us a call or include Your Names, Birth Dates in an Email and we will send a quote. Also, if you are bringing expensive cameras, binoculars, or other items we suggest you have insurance coverage for them (commonly available through Homeowners Policies). In the event of a loss, our insurance will not cover those items.
Tipping the guides: If you feel the guides have been instrumental in your enjoyment of the trip, you may choose to direct a gratuity to the trip leader in the form of cash or check. He/She will then distribute it evenly to the other crewmembers. The average contribution amount ranges between $20.00 and $30.00 per guest, per day. Cash is the preferred method of tipping.
Beverages/Snacks: We provide ice water, gatorade, one soda per day per person and ample cooler space. If you choose to bring any specialty sodas and/or alcoholic beverages, we have no problem taking whatever you want to bring – within reason. Don’t bring beer, wine coolers or sodas in glass containers. Wine packaged in a box is ideal. Mark beverages/snacks that you bring so that you can keep track of them. The liquor store in Green River, Utah is located in the back of the West Winds restaurant. In Utah, wine or liquor is not sold after 7:00 p.m., before 11:00 a.m. or on Sundays and holidays. We will have high-energy snacks and fresh fruit available, but if you have a favorite energy bar or snack bring it along.
If you have any questions prior to leaving for your trip, we welcome you to call our Salt Lake City office, Monday through Friday at 800-624-6323 (outside Utah) or 801-266-2087 (inside Utah). We’re happy to take the time to answer your questions. You may also contact us by email at [email protected].
IN THE EVENT OF EMERGENCY CIRCUMSTANCES THE NIGHT BEFORE THE TRIP, OUR GREEN RIVER HEADQUARTERS NUMBER IS 435‑564‑3273
Bugs, snakes, etc. are generally no problem. In fact, the lack of pesky insects is one of the reasons wilderness camping in the desert is so pleasant. Any wilderness trip, however, is subject to an occasional localized insect hatch. During these hatches mosquitoes can be bothersome. Be sure to bring long sleeve clothing and repellent. Insect repellents that contain “deet” are by far the most effective during heavy hatches. Citronella-based products work only in light hatches. We rarely see any snakes, but if the thought of them bothers you, try sleeping in a tent instead of under the stars.
Hiking is strictly an optional activity. There are many interesting short hikes available. Hiking can be done in your biking shoes, durable sneakers, or lightweight hiking boots. Remember that hiking and other activities vary widely pending time, and what other plans are ahead for the day.
The best place to eat in Green River is Ray’s Tavern. Ray’s is a true small western town bar rich in atmosphere and good food. They serve incredible hamburgers, pork chops, small salads and steaks. The Tamarisk Restaurant also offers family dining with riverside seating and some delicious cuisine to boot.
Things to see in the area: John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River, Utah. Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Fisher Towers, Colorado National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and the La Sal and Henry Mountains.
Reading material, you may enjoy:
Mountain Biking Utah’s Canyon and Plateau Country – Bromka
Above and Beyond Slickrock – Campbell
Canyonlands Country – Donald L. Baars……………………………………………. $15.95
Life in Stone – Christa Sadler……………………………………………………………. $11.95
The Educated Outlaw – Harvey Lay Murdock (Grandson)…………………….. $10.95
These books can be ordered online at www.bikeraft.com, or by sending the appropriate amount listed above plus $5.60 priority shipping to Holiday River Expeditions, 544 East 3900 South, SLC, UT 84107. This is available within the U.S. only. If outside the U.S. additional shipping and handling charges will be added. You can call 801-266-2087 for rates. These books can also be purchased at our headquarters in Green River.
Lodging before and after your trip can be booked at one of six locations:
- River Terrace Inn 435‑564‑3401 (locally owned, pool, hot tub, full breakfast, riverside rooms available) *10% discount
- Comfort Inn 435‑564‑3300 (inside pool, hot tub, continental breakfast – in front of our headquarters) *10% discount
- Holiday Inn Express 435-564-4439 (inside pool, hot tub, continental breakfast – west of our headquarters)
- Super 8 435-564-8888 (inside pool, hot tub, refrigerator, microwave)
- Motel 6 435‑564‑3436 (pool, kids free, lower rates)
- Sleepy Hollow 435-564-8189 (clean with lower rates)
*When making advance reservations at the River Terrace Inn or Comfort Inn, mention that you are on a Holiday River Expedition trip and you will be extended a discounted rate on your room (see above). You will need a trip invoice at check-in.
BE SURE TO MAKE ADVANCE RESERVATIONS!
If you are camping out, there are two campgrounds in Green River: the Green River State Park (no pool, lower rates and may have mosquitoes – call 435-564-3633 to make reservations), and the KOA Campground (435-564-8195 – across from our headquarters).
Air Service to Salt Lake City (SLC)
- Air Canada 888-247-2262
- Alaska Airlines 800-252-7522
- American Airlines 800-433-7300
- Delta Air Lines 800-221-1212
- Frontier Airlines 800-432-1359
- JetBlue Airways 800-538-2583
- KLM Royal Dutch Airlines 800-618-0104
- SkyWest Airlines 800-453-9417
- Southwest Airlines 800-435-9792
- United Airlines 800-241-6522
Transportation Options from Salt Lake City to Green River, Vernal or Blanding, Utah:
Once in Salt Lake City most of our guests rent-a-car and drive to our meeting points.
All rental cars are located in both terminals of the Salt Lake City Airport.
- Alamo 801-575-2211
- Avis 801-575-2847
- Budget 801-575-2821
- Dollar 801-575-2580
- Enterprise 801-537-7433
- Firefly 801-531-3563
- Hertz 801-575-2683
- National 801-575-2277
- Payless 801-322-6330
- Thrifty 801-265-6677
- Salt Lake City to Green River 180 miles
- Salt Lake City to Blanding 300 miles
- Salt Lake City to Vernal 180 miles
To Green River Only (Bus has limited schedule and is not as convenient as rental cars)
Shuttle Service to Green River or Blanding, Utah from Salt Lake City or Moab (Vernal is on a Charter basis only)
|Location:||San Rafael Swell|
|Dates:||Schedule on request w/ 8 or more people|
|Meet At:||Green River, Utah 7:00 am|
4 Day Trips
Adult – $850
Youth – $745 (18 & under)
Senior – $745 (65 & older)
Group – $745 (10 or more)
Scheduled on Request
Large Waterproof Bag
Eating Utencils & Plates
Bike Repair Kit
Full Course Meals: Lunch the first day through
lunch the last day
Drinks: Ice Water, Lemonade, Juices, One pop/person/day-mix of regular & diet
The day bag 8″ diameter x 20″ high is for items you will need access to during the day. For your sleeping gear and clothing, we will furnish you with one bag 16″ diameter x 2 feet high. Separate storage is provided for tents and beverages. Please remember to keep your gear light and compact. The less you bring, the happier you will be. Please limit gear to no more than 15-20 lbs.
What’s NOT Included
Plastic mugs work well
Not included in the rental kit
Compact and warm
high quality important for Dinosaur & Desolation trips.
Sleeping Pad/Air Mattress
Compact, must fit in the provided bag
Back packer style, not the bulky, heavy types
You can rent most of the items listed above in our sleeping rental kit. We offer two varieties, our basic sleeping kit which includes a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rain gear and cup for $40.00, or the same basic sleeping kit with a two-person tent for $65.00. Rentals must be reserved in advance, especially on the San Juan trips where we meet away from our headquarters. Rentals requested the morning of the trip are subject to availability. Cups and water bottles available for purchase at our stores in Green River and Vernal Headquarters, or online.
BIKE must be in good repair; Holiday rental bike with helmet is available $160.00/bike; If personal bike fails to meet minimum safety standards you will be asked to rent a Holiday bike. Please note if renting bike – if you have clipless shoes you MUST bring your own pedals. Holiday rental bikes come with platform pedals only.
Submit your review
What a fantastic trip! Far exceeded my expectations, amazing scenery and wonderful guides, absolutely loved every moment!
What a great group of people. We started as a group of strangers and by the fourth day we were all friends. The riding was more challenging than I expected but fun and gave us a great sense of accomplishment. They fed us like kings and every morning made sure our bikes were ready to roll! I can not imagine going with anyone else. The overall experience was five stars.
Everything about this trip surprised me! The riding is fantastic and the scenery is spectacular. Our guides tended to every need and the meals were delicious. We'll be back for sure! Next time, the Maze. Thanks Holiday!
Our guides Dave Snee and Julien were the absolute best! So patient and helpful. They never made us feel like we were holding the group back even though we were the slowest of the pack. And they are great cooks! Gorgeous place, the Swell should definitely be a National Park. Thanks Dave & Julien!