Return to the San Rafael Swell….Day 4

The last full day of our trip to the San Rafael Swell left us scratching our heads trying to decide where to go to do some exploring. Most of the possibilities involved lots of drive time to the trail head. After the long trip to Devil’s Canyon the day before, we were looking for something much closer that allowed us to spend more time hiking rather than driving.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock Viewed from the Devil’s Racetrack Trail

We decided to check out an area called the Devil’s Racetrack. The racetrack is actually a long cattle trail that follows the mesa top for about 10 miles before dropping into Coal Wash. There are several opportunities along the track to drop into the various canyons that it passes; we decided to just stay on top and follow the track for as long as our legs decided to walk. We drove past the Dutchman Arch to the end of the drive-able road to the beginning of the Devil’s Racetrack, where we shouldered our packs and started walking.

In his book “Canyoneering”, Steve Allen describes this hike as having “the best views in the Swell”, and boy is he ever right about that. Following the Devil’s Racetrack gives you non-stop, 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. The track is technically a 4WD road, but I think you’d be nuts to try and drive a vehicle on this thing. We were passed by a view ATV’s and dirt bikes, but no regular vehicles. The road is so bad, even the ATV’s were having issues. I came across a group that had one of their ATV’s lifted up as they examined the undercarriage. I heard one guy comment that he was going to have to drive back without any suspension; guess he broke a shock or something. If you’re driving a motor vehicle on the Devil’s Racetrack, be prepared; the road definitely lives up to its name!

Looking into Cane Wash from the Devil's Racetrack

Looking into Cane Wash from the Devil’s Racetrack

For us walkin’ folks, the Devil’s Racetrack was quite pleasurable. The views were tremendous as you can see for miles. The road follows the top of the mesa, so not a whole lot of elevation gain/loss. We passed a couple of mountain bikers who seemed to be negotiating the rough road pretty well.

The trail goes past the heads of several canyons: Bullock Draw, Cane Wash, and Coal Wash.

Lunch Spot with a View

Lunch Spot with a View

There are magnificent views looking into each of these canyons. From the trail you can see formations like The Blocks and Chimney Rock nearby, as well as San Rafael Knob (highest point in the Swell) in the distance to the south. At one point, the road crosses a thin strip of rock where two canyons drop off steeply on either side. We hiked for 3-4 miles before we stopped for a lunch break, and then headed back to the trail head.

On the drive back to camp, we stopped at the picturesque Dutchman’s Arch. Great place to hang out, take pictures, and stroll across the top of the arch for some interesting views.

Dutchman Arch

Dutchman Arch

We were thankful for the short drive to camp as this had been a long, but exceptionally rewarding day in the San Rafael Swell.

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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