Painting with Watercolors Workshop on the San Juan River

This trip is now FULL! We encourage you to join our waitlist, or check out one of our other artist-based trips: Illustrated Journaling on the San Juan or Pixels, Paint, and Prose through Lodore Canyon.

When was the last time you got together with a group of artists and adventurers to paint in watercolor? This fluid, lyrical art form is the perfect medium of expression for a workshop while floating on the idyllic San Juan River.  Treat yourself to 6 days of humbling canyon walls, calm flowing river, Ancestral Puebloan archeology, and decidedly decent dining, all while digesting the river’s magic through art. We have enlisted the best when it comes to our artist in “river-dence-” Michal Onyon, who has married her stunning artwork with Holiday River Expeditions trips for over three decades.

This watercolor workshop on the San Juan River takes you to deep into Utah’s southeastern corner, a wonderland of dramatic geology. A full six-day trip on the San Juan is a bucket list trip for sure! Although the San Juan River may not have the infamously named rapids of some of the other Utah rivers, it is in fact, one of the steepest and fastest-flowing rivers in the US! Believe it or not, its average drop rate of eight feet per mile actually makes its gradient steeper than that of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon! Even so, due to its generally gentle rapids, this river stretch is ideal for leisurely river trips, inflatable kayaking, and first-time river runners. Its fast flowing pace provides the perfect cadence between traveling downstream and explorations! The Colorado Plateau geology really shows off in this corner of the state; there are also several ancestral puebloan (such as the River House Dwelling) and recent Diné (Navajo) Peoples’ archeological sites well preserved within these canyon walls. As we transition from the Upper San Juan to the Lower, join your guides in scanning the river for sand waves! This unique phenomenon happens as moving sand from the bottom of the river builds up to create waves that actually travel upstream! These large but mostly harmless waves make for a particularly thrilling ride in an inflatable kayak. Six-day trips give you the best of both worlds: the archaeology of the upper canyon and the wilderness of the lower.

Who knows what sort of magical wonderland awaits you! Regardless, the leisurely pace will give you ample daylight at camp to paint to your heart’s content. Michal has created a supply list so you are sure to have everything you’ll need!  The visual supply list is below in the video section.

To learn more about this majestic river check out our Insider’s Guide to the San Juan River

About Michal:

Michal Onyon with Artwork

Michal Onyon’s  en pleine aire watercolors of nature have been in gallery shows and were instrumental in awarding her an art residency in Zion National Park. These small, easy paintings are a creative visual of a moment of time observing land and light. To her, they are like zen postcards, where even sounds and the feeling of the air can be remembered. We rarely stay in one spot very long and for her, painting heightens looking closer and longer. In this journey, painting ability does not matter. We can all learn with each other. Come as you are and create in a beautiful place with us.

Acknowledging the Indigenous inhabitants of the San Juan River. Holiday acknowledges the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Southern Paiute, Diné (Navajo), Hopi, and Pueblos people, who have lived along the San Juan since long before this continent was colonized. You can learn more about our land acknowledgements here.
Book This Trip

Trip Overview

  • Type:

    Wellness

  • Location:

    San Juan River - Four Corners Region

  • Length:

    6 Days

  • Dates:

    June 13-18

  • Meet at:

    Arch Canyon Inn; Blanding, Utah @ 7:00 pm (night before the trip), and 7:00 am day of trip

  • Difficulty:

    Beginner

  • Min. Age:

    14

  • Prices:

    $1456 + $42 BLM fee

  • Deposit:

    400

Highlights

  • Find artistic inspiration from dramatic cliffs, geology, and archeology
  • Flat water and few class II rapids allow for maximum relaxation
  • Daily hike options to overlooks and secret waterfalls
  • Early days to camp provide ample time for painting
Getting Here Before You Go Packing List FAQs

Rates & Dates

Itinerary

Starting in the San Juan Mountains, this river of the same name winds it way down the mountains heading towards the Four Corners region before snaking its way into Utah. Although the San Juan River is one of the steepest and fastest moving rivers in the US (with an average gradient of eight feet/mile drop), it is a generally mellow ride. We’ll meet this sinuous river at Sand Island, just outside of Bluff, Utah. The Upper San Juan will treat us to several archeological and geologic delights. The town of Mexican Hat, Utah marks the transition between the upper and lower sections of the river. From here, we’ll drop into the famous entrenched meanders that comprise Goosenecks State Park. When the current of the San Juan River noticeably slows due to the upper fingers of Lake Powell Reservoir, we’ll know our appointed take out at Clay Hills is approaching.

Sample Itinerary

The night before your trip:

Join your fellow river folks at the Arch Canyon Inn in Blanding, Utah, for a pre-trip meeting at 7:00 p.m. MST. This meeting lets us take care of all the final details so that we can get on the river that much faster the next morning. Your guides will answer any immediate questions, and provide you with your dry bags so you can pack your belongings tonight and be river ready in the morning!

Day 1:

Meet back at the Arch Canyon Inn this morning; a 45 minute drive will bring us to our put in at Sand Island. Today will feature several archeological sites, acknowleding the five distinct indigenous peoples’ cultures who call this land home. Observe and appreciate myriad pictoraphs and petroglyphs before visiting an elegantly designed Ancestral Puebloan dwellings. As we make our way to camp, notice the canyon walls climbing higher around you as we drop into Comb Ridge. Campsites are plentiful around here; beachfront dinner and night one of watercoloring are on the agenda!

Day 2:

Rise with the sun and enjoy hot coffee or tea as you watch the sun creep down the canyon walls.

Mornings on the river start early – but you don’t want to miss the sun creeping its way down the canyon walls anyways. After an impressive first coffee and breakfast on the river, w’ll be on our way. Pass through the settlement of Mexican Hat, then wave at visitors on the rim of the Goosenecks, hundreds of feet above. Climb up to Mendenhall’s cabin, home to a determined gold prospector in the late 1800s. Camp at the foot of the Honaker Trail, another relic from the gold rush in 1892; hike up before dinner for an unforgettable view of the river canyon and Monument Valley. Fall asleep looking for summer constellations.

Day 3:

Small rapids and soaring walls are on tap this morning. Choose to float silently as a group, letting all of your senses come to life and open to the essence of the canyon. Take a ride through Ross Rapid and roll into camp in time for lasagna dinner at our very own river-front restaurant – no table reservations needed!

Day 4:

The biggest rapid of the trip, Government Rapid, will get our morning going with a splash. We’ll lunch at Slickhorn Gulch, one of the most celebrated side canyons along the lower San Juan. Be sure to scrub off in the river before hiking to the secluded, lush swimming hole—sunscreen and other oils disrupt the fragile ecosystem of the freshwater pool. After plenty of playtime, we’ll make our way to set up camp for a final camp circle evening of dinner and stories.

Day 5:

The canyon walls begin to descend around us until we are surrounded by smooth, golden Cedar Mesa sandstone. We may explore Oljeto Wash and play in the mud at its mouth before pushing on through the sandbars and riffles of the lower canyon. Our vans await at Clay Hills, our take-out, and we’ll wave farewell to the river as we climb out of the drainage and across the rugged topography of the Monument Upwarp, back to Blanding, Utah, between 4:00–5:00 p.m.

Please keep in mind that this is a sample itinerary. Your trip may include different hikes and attractions – there’s so many to choose from. This is meant to provide one possible example of how you may spend your time. Five days gives you plenty of opportunities to see all sorts of interesting things. We invite you to embrace the expeditionary nature of a river trip in the wilderness and arrive with an open mind and a willingness to go with the flow!

women on beach with watercolor books

The nature of all river trips is extremely variable. This itinerary is only one possibility!  Camp sites, water levels, weather, and the interest of the group can all impact the daily schedule of a river trip. That’s why we love to say, “Go with the flow!”

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Holiday River Expeditions
Average rating:  
 1 reviews
 by John & Jennifer Kampf

This was our 6th trip with Holiday, but the first in 15 years! It turns out my wonderful memories of those past trips were all true! Our guides, led by Cloud, with Sherpa, Eve, and Luke, were as personable yet professional as I remembered. They went out of their way to accommodate everyone's needs without losing any patience, ever. They knew the geology, history, and stories as expected. We had the distinct pleasure of having Jan (owner) along for our adventure, along with (3) past Holiday guides from the 1990's. It was quite an experienced and friendly crowd! The food was as good as I remembered and the views from the banyo were magnificent, as always! (LOL!) I'd like to personally thank each of your crew for doing their best to help me with pain issues that prevented me from going on two hikes and affected my ability to sleep well at night. I have been very active my whole life and this was not normal for me. I did not know at the time, and your team could not have known, but I found out after returning home to Hawaii that I have several crushed discs in my neck and back that caused all of my discomfort on the raft trip. You guys are the best! Jennifer and I were exceptionally impressed with how well you are carrying on Dee's legacy and everything he stood for! We hope to return in 2024 to do The Yampa, if all goes as planned. Keep doing what you are doing. Don't change. You run a great company with values I greatly admire. I only wish more people and companies had the same values!
Mahalo!