San Juan River History Trip with Andrew Gulliford

This year’s San Juan River naturalist trip features Dr. Andrew Gulliford, historian, author, and emphatic supporter of public lands. Spend six days floating and learning to see the landscape through the eyes of an expert historian. Discover the stories behind the scenery.

The San Juan holds a special place in our hearts; it is a refuge from an arid desert, a vibrant source of life amidst red-rock spires, rocky ridges, and buttes. Humans have made their home in this river corridor for thousands of years, and have left their mark in countless ways. From Basketmaker petroglyphs in Butler Wash, to the rugged Honaker Trail, it’s clear that we are only the most recent in a long line of humans to be drawn to this place.

“Rivers are where all the history happened,” Dr. Gulliford says. “They’re where all the rock art exists, where humans have been for roughly 10,000–11,000 years”. Join us this summer on our San Juan River naturalist trip. Add your family’s history to this rich river corridor.

Check out more about Dr. Gulliford in his recent interview with Holiday!  Or, visit his website.

Want to know more about the San Juan itself? We’ve got an Insider’s Guide for that.

Book This Trip

Trip Overview

  • Type:


  • Location:

    Four Corners Region

  • Length:

    6 Days

  • Dates:

    June 11–16th, 2020

  • Meet at:

    Super 8, Blanding, Utah @ 8:00 pm (night before the trip)

  • Difficulty:


  • Min. Age:


  • Deposit:



  • Six days for maximum exporation and relaxation
  • See the San Juan's famous Goosenecks—from the bottom!
  • Easy, fun whitewater
Getting Here Before You Go Packing List

Rates & Dates

5 Day

  • Adult:
  • $1,025
  • Youth:
    18 and under
  • $1,025
  • Senior:
    65 and older
  • $1,025
  • Group:
    10 or more
  • $1,025
Book This Trip
Check Availability
  • June
  • 11


The San Juan is a vibrant strip of green in an otherwise parched, red rock landscape. It slips through the dramatic rocky uplifts, mesas, and buttes of the Four Corners Region, flowing from east to west. The most common place to start a river trip is at Sand Island, near Bluff, Utah. Float past the town of Mexican Hat, Utah, and then into the lower gorge. Take out at Clay Hills, within view of Navajo Mountain.

Typical Itinerary

The night before your trip:

We’ll meet at the Super 8 in Blanding, Utah, at 8:00 p.m., Mountain Time, for a brief pre-trip meeting. This is when you’ll receive your dry bags and instruction on how to pack them. We’ll also do a quick orientation to make sure everyone is prepared for the trip, and make a plan for the following morning.

Day 1:

Meet back at the Super 8 at the time established at last night’s meeting. We’ll make the quick, 45-minute drive to the Sand Island put in, where you’ll have the opportunity to see the first rock art panels of the trip. The upper canyon is all about archaeology. We’ll visit the famous River House dwelling as well as the Butler Wash petroglyph panel, and may have the chance to hike partway up Comb Ridge at San Juan Hill.

Day 2:

Today we’ll spend much of the day hiking up Chinle Wash, which has an incredible wealth of prehistoric archaeological sites. We’ll camp within site of the Mule’s Ear Diatreme, a place where erupting volcanic gases deformed the surrounding rock layers.

Day 3:

In the morning we’ll float by the sombrero-like rock feature that inspired the name of the town: the Mexican Hat. We’ll pass under the bridge in the middle of town, and then descend into the lower canyon. Look up 1,000 feet to the rim of the Goosenecks. After a delicious, riverside lunch, we’ll hike up to Mendenhall’s cabin, left behind after the gold rush in the late 1800s. Enjoy a lasagna dinner (or maybe fajitas?) at our camp at the base of the Honaker Trail, another gold rush relic.

Day 4:

Go for a sunrise hike up the Honaker Trail. It’s a big climb, but you’ll be rewarded with an unforgettable view of the river canyon and Monument Valley. We’ll run several small rapids today, play in some of the San Juan’s famous mud, and perhaps choose to do a “silent float”, letting the small sounds of the river and canyon fill our senses.

Day 5:

Government Rapid, a solid Class III and the biggest of the trip, will get our morning off to a splashy start. We’ll stop for lunch (and maybe camp, depending on our assigned campsite) at Slickhorn Gulch, famous for its secluded swimming hole and beautiful side canyon scenery.

Day 6:

Smooth, Cedar Mesa sandstone walls define the rest of the canyon. Watch how they glow in the morning light. If you haven’t used an inflatable kayak or stand-up paddle board yet, now is your chance. The river becomes very calm as it approaches the end of the canyon and the start of Lake Powell. We’ll eat one more gourmet lunch on the banks of the river, and then head for our vans at Clay Hills, our take-out. We’ll aim to be back in Blanding, Utah, where we started, between 4:00–5:00 p.m.

This is a six-day sample itinerary. The advantage of a six-day trip is that it allows lots of time for exploring. And the advantage of a San Juan River trip is that there is more to explore than a person could do in a lifetime! Your trip may not be exactly as described above. You may get to do other hikes or check out other cultural sites. Bring your best, most flexible adventuring attitude and you’ll be sure to have a great trip!

Every trip on the San Juan River will be a little bit different. This trip is one day longer than our standard full San Juan trip, meaning that there’s more time to do more and different things. Itineraries will vary based on group desires, seasonal water flows, weather, campsite availability, and the need to share the river with other groups. Remember, there’s a good reason why Holiday’s motto is “Go With the Flow”!


Still not convinced? See what others are saying.

Submit your review

Create your own review

Holiday River Expeditions
Average rating:  
 0 reviews