by Julie Trevelyan

San Juan River Canyon - Family Friendly River Rafting the San Juan River

San Juan River Canyon

San Juan River Rafting

Family-Friendly River Rafting the San Juan River. Floating down the San Juan River is a river rafting vacation made from sheer bliss.

  • Family-friendly rapids that are perfect for inflatable kayaking.
  • Easy and accessible hiking to natural swimming pools and grottos.
  • Follow the blue heron as you float through the famed Goosenecks.
  • Explore and interpret ancient rock art panels.

Winding through rainbow-hued cliffs, past trails to prehistoric Indian ruins, through the canyon country that is home to bighorn sheep and golden eagles, the San Juan offers up a wonderfully affable river through stunning geologic wonders. Things to do around nearby Blanding, Utah, before or after your stay also intrigue those who enjoy exploring all the delights of the Southwest.



Trip specifics

Average Flows:

The San Juan tends to be a leisurely river, averaging lower flows than many of its more well-known cousins. The San Juan is best run at 1,500-4,500 CFS (cubic feet per second), although anywhere from 1000-10,000 CFS may be considered navigable. You can check current river conditions at the USGS site.

River Distances:

3-day Sand Island to Mexican Hat – 27 miles
3-day Mexican Hat to Clay Hills Crossing – 56 miles
4-day San Island to Clay Hills Total River Miles – 83 miles

Slickhorn Gulch - Family Friendly River Rafting the San Juan River

Slickhorn Gulch


The Honaker Trail is a popular route that leads to an unforgettable view of Monument Valley. Blazed in the 1890s as a supply route for eager gold prospectors, the trail climbs a lung-pumping 1,200 feet. Remember, your reward is the amazing view! Fossils of ancient sea creatures, including brachiopods and crinoids, are visible along parts of this trail, located just outside the Goosenecks State Park.

Another popular hike: Slickhorn Canyon known for the natural swimming pools a short distance from the river. And a trip to the River House ruins at mile 6 built by Ancestral Puebloans between A.D. 700 and 1300.

Historical Significance:

Named by a Spanish fellow called San Juan Bautista (aka Saint John the Baptist), the San Juan River is historically important to the Navajo peoples through whose land it flows. Besides being a year-round source of water, which is still precious today in an arid climate, the San Juan also demarcated traditional Navajo lands from the outside world populated by Ute Indians and white people.

Family Rafting - Family Friendly River Rafting the San Juan River

Family Rafting

Who will enjoy this trip most:

Families and those more mature in years often adore rafting the San Juan River. Not as outrageously exciting as some other Utah rivers, the usually gentler flow of the San Juan appeals to those with young children or those who simply prefer a more relaxed pace on a river that allows for much scenery-gazing. This river canyon is a favorite of history, geology, and rock art buffs. A camping permit on the Navajo side of the river offers access to large rock art panels at Chinle Wash.




Mexican Hat rock formation

Mexican Hat rock formation

Fun facts:

  1. The San Juan drops eight feet every mile it flows.
  2. One Navajo name for the river is One-With-A-Long-Body.
  3. The San Juan begins its life as snowfall on the Continental Divide in Colorado.
  4. The town of Mexican Hat was named after a rock formation.
  5. We have Norman Nevills to thank for launching commercial rafting on the San Juan River in the 1930s.




Julie TrevelyanWritten by Julie Trevelyan.

Julie is a freelance writer and wilderness guide in southern Utah. She especially enjoys books, coffee, yoga, wild country, horses, and dark chocolate.

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