Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Kayaking the San Rafael River in Central Utah

2019 is turning out to be an excellent water year for southern Utah. Something we haven't had consistently for more than a decade. As a "river runner" that has been frustrating at times.

I've learned to pay closer attention to the daily water levels on many of the rivers and streams in Utah in order not to miss an opportunity to raft or kayak a stream that has enough water.

My favorite small river/stream to run lately is Muddy Creek in the San Rafael Swell region of central Utah. The significant snow pack this year has me very optimistic that there will be multiple opportunities to run it this year.

But so far, the water measurements have been too low to go down Muddy Creek. Interestingly though, the San Rafael River to the north has been running strong for a couple of weeks now. Usually running under 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) the San Rafael has been above 300 cfs consistently for the last few weeks.

So along with other family members, we took off for a kayak trip down the San Rafael on Saturday, May 11th anticipating a flow of around 400 cfs.

We camped at the Wedge Overlook on a chilly Friday night once the sun went down. The roads out to the "The Wedge" were wet from an earlier rain storm. They were a little muddy, but well maintained and in great condition.

On Saturday morning we packed up quickly and headed out to Fuller Bottom where we rigged our kayaks and a small (13ft bucket boat) oar powered raft.

Research indicates that a flow of 150 - 300 cfs is ideal. Personally, I think anything less than 200 cfs would be possible, but a lot of work.

We were happy to see a flow of approximately 430 cfs when we launched at 11:00am on Saturday.

The current was swift but very manageable. I didn't feel at any point in the trip the oar boat would have a problem and the kayaks easily navigated the river, even through the occasional braided channel.

Floating past the Wedge Overlook is approximately the half way point. The canyon features through The Wedge are simply stunning and reminded me a lot of the Yampa River through Dinosaur Nat'l Monument as well as parts of the Escalante region.

Including a 30min lunch stop, we spent 5 hours floating all the way to Swinging Bridge. There are a couple of spots upstream to take out that are easier, but I didn't see what the road conditions were like getting to those take out areas.

Taking out just under the bridge is excellent for access to vehicles, but it is swift water only and a bit of a challenge making the stop. Anyone with some experience kayaking can do it and then assist the ones with less experience.

If the water level is lower than 400 cfs, anticipate a longer trip than 5 hours. I've heard of others spending up to 8 hours on the river. So give yourself plenty of time to complete the float, and enjoy a really peaceful and scenic trip.