San Rafael Swell Hiking Trip: Day 5

Mike's Xterra in the Snow

Sunrise brought clear skies and very cold temperatures. With the temperature hovering around 20 degrees, the first order of business was to get the fire going. We decided to make another attempt at the Little Wildhorse/Bell Canyon hike. We headed out of camp around 9:30 AM breaking trail through the snow on the road. We were concerned that snow in the canyons would make walking tricky, but when we arrived at the trailhead we could see that very little snow had fallen in the canyons.

For the first time on this trip, we actually saw other people. Just

Little Wildhorse Narrows

before entering the confluence of Little Wildhorse and Bell Canyons, we ran into a fellow carrying a large camera and tripod and smoking a cigar. He had hiked only a short distance and was stopped by a pour-off just below the confluence of the two canyons. He asked us if we knew this area and if there was a way around the obstacle. He walked along with us to the difficult spot. Getting to the top of the pour-off required hoisting ourselves up a stump that was jammed into the alcove. We didn’t have too much problem getting up there, but the gentleman with the camera decided it was way too much for him and turned around. At the confluence, we turned right and headed up Little Wildhorse Canyon.

Little Wildhorse Canyon is one of the finest examples of slot canyon hiking found anywhere in the swell. There are places in the canyon that become so narrow that a person can barely squeeze through. I quickly discovered having a video camera and a large SLR camera hanging off my pack belt made me somewhat large for some of these tight places. I resolved the problem by sticking the cameras in the pack which made my profile sufficiently small enough to get through the tight spots. The entire loop hike is eight miles and is considered mostly class 2 walking with some third class rock scrambling in a few places. With a little care, the climbing parts were easily negotiated. After four miles, we came out of Little Wildhorse Canyon and on to the Behind the Reef Road, which at this point is mostly an ATV track. We followed the track west for 1 ½ miles and dropped into Bell Canyon. Bell is only half the distance of Little Wildhorse, but has the same kind of narrow slots. After hiking for about two miles we rejoined Little Wild Horse canyon near the trailhead.

Goblin Valley

We were back to the trailhead by 3:00 and decided to do a quick stop over at Goblin Valley State Park before heading back to camp. This time around, there was someone manning the visitor center, which gave Larry an opportunity to pick up numerous souvenirs to bring home for the kids. We drove out to the observation point of Goblin Valley and enjoyed the view over a couple of cold beers. The late afternoon light on the valley with the myriad oddly shaped goblins provided a somewhat surreal effect. After taking numerous pictures we headed back up the hill to our camp for our final night in the San Rafael swell.


About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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