Return to the San Rafael Swell….Day 3

Today we’re exploring the isolated and seldom visited Devils Canyon. Getting there required a long, roundabout drive from our camp heading east to the nearest I-70 on-ramp, and then back west on the highway for 15 miles to the next off-ramp, and the road into Devil’s Canyon. The 4WD road into the canyon was a bit rough; we got within ¼ mile of the trail head when we decided to park and walk the remaining distance to the entry point into  the canyon.

Devil’s Canyon is part of a Wilderness Study Area, which means it is blessedly devoid of the ATV’s and dirt bikes that run around the main roads of the San Rafael Swell.

Larry Looking up the Steep Walls of Devil's Canyon

Larry Looking up the Steep Walls of Devil’s Canyon

The approach hike was very pleasant in a wide canyon with spectacular walls. We read in the guide-book that there were some interesting narrows about an hour’s walk from the trail head. We arrived at the head of the narrows only to find the drop impassable, despite the guide-book’s assertion that it was an easy Class 3 scramble.

Looking into the Devil's Canyon Narrows

Looking into the Devil’s Canyon Narrows

We followed a trail that went along the rim of the deep narrows to see if there was any access point that we could negotiate. We finally found a potential spot from where could descend into the narrows, but we weren’t confident of our abilities to get back up. The route in the guide book describes a three-day loop hike that begins in these narrows, so the author may not have intended a climb back up to the access point. Since being able to climb back out of the canyon was of prime importance to our plans, we decided not to attempt to climb into the dark, narrow bottom of Devil’s Canyon.

We decided to have lunch, take some pictures of the unreachable canyon bottom, and head back to the car.

Vince Taking a Picture of the Narrows

Vince Taking a Picture of the Narrows

When we got back to the road, we had the misfortune of having to listen to a convoy of 20 ATV’s and dirt bikes roaring by. A bit jarring to hear this after the quiet of the deep canyon. Oh well, I’m glad there are places like Devil’s Canyon where one can avoid the annoying sounds of civilization once in a while.

On the way back to camp, we decided to drive a slightly different route back that would be several miles shorter than the way went earlier in the day. We probably shaved off several miles on the drive, but it required us to negotiate a rather challenging 4WD road back to camp. Overall, we saved about five minutes over the previous route. Probably not worth the beating we were taking on the alternative route.


Watch a short video of our hike in San Rafael Swell here.

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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