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Trips are custom designed to suit your educational goals. You choose the sites where you want to stop along the way to incorporate geologic, archaeological, biological, historical, or other educational opportunities. We operate on four rivers in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Check out the itineraries below for more information to help you design your trip.
Part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers program for its outstanding natural beauty, the Rio Chama flows through northwest New Mexico from the El Vado dam, past our take-out point at Big Eddy, to the Rio Grande. You’ll start your trip in 1500-foot canyons of multicolored sandstone, wind through Ponderosa forest, and finish your trip under the expansive skies of open desert.
Get an early start with a three-hour drive from Durango to El Vado Ranch. At the ranch, you’ll rig the boats and head down the river. You’ll pass old homesteads and hot springs as your wend your way through canyon country. A few small rapids keep things splashy and fun.
Here the canyon deepens, the sandstone walls rising as high as 1500 feet above the river. Large ponderosa pines offer welcome shade, and there are several opportunities to get out of the boat and explore the landscape. Hike to the canyon rim at Rio Cebolla, or to the dinosaur tracks in Dark Canyon and give your paddling arms a break.
Your final and biggest day on the river, you’ll continue all the way to your take-out at Big Eddy. You’ll emerge from the canyons into an open desert landscape, passing the iconic Monastery of Christ in the Desert landmark before cooling off in the biggest rapids of the trip (class II), arriving at your destination in the late afternoon.
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Beginning in the wide river plain of Bluff, Utah, the Upper San Juan leads you through sandstone canyons sculpted into domes and rounded cliffs by millions of years of wind, past the remains of 1000-year-old ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and petroglyphs, the abandoned mines and buildings of early colonizers, and otherworldly geologic formations.
Drive the 2.5 hours from Durango to the Sand Island boat ramp and campground. Depending on your arrival time, you can either rig the boats and launch, or camp at Sand Island. There’s a short hike to the Sand Island petroglyph panel available to your group while the crew rigs the boats.
You’ll pass innumerable archaeological sites, including a large ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling referred to as River House. Butler Wash and Comb Wash, through which the Upper San Juan cuts, is often considered the richest archaeological region in North America. As you enter San Juan Canyon, you’ll navigate a few class II rapids to keep things spicy.
You’ll emerge from San Juan Canyon into the Mexican Hat syncline, marked by a dramatically striated landscape, and the deep red sandstone formation for which the town of Mexican Hat is named.
For a 2-day version of this trip, with one night on the river, you’ll want an early start from Sand Island (consider camping there the night before) and simply cover more river miles each day. Whether you choose a 2- or 3-day program will be impacted by your educational goals and the places you’d like to explore along your trip.
The Lower San Juan exchanges archaeological sites for dramatic geology and rigorous hiking opportunities. You’ll enter the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as you float through goosenecks carved deep into the sandstone earth. Challenge yourself in the biggest rapid of the Upper or Lower San Juan near the end of your trip.
Drive three hours from Durango to Mexican Hat, Utah in the morning. Your crew will rig the boats, and you’ll launch. Shortly, you enter the Goosenecks of the San Juan, a 14-mile series of entrenched meanders where the river, at the bottom of deep, almost vertical cliffs, nearly doubles back on itself.
You have the chance to get out of your boats and hike to the canyon rim on the Honaker Trail, and look out over the landscape for a change in perspective. Get back in the boats and splash your way through a few small rapids.
The highlight of Day 3 is another hiking opportunity. This hike takes you up John’s Canyon, a long canyon that runs into the San Juan. You’ll be challenged to ascend a dramatic pour-off as you make your way up into this cut in the Cedar Mesa plateau.
Your final full day offers another canyon hike, up Slickhorn Canyon, as well as the biggest rapid of either the Upper or Lower San Juan. Government Rapid, rated class III, will push you a little harder than those you’ve splashed through already, while still being suitable for even beginner boaters.
Float the calm remainder to the take-out at Clay Hills and make the drive back to Durango.
Combining both the Upper and Lower sections of the San Juan River, this trip brings you the archaeological highlights of the Upper, as well as the dramatic geology and hydrology, and adventurous side hikes that come with the Lower. Read the descriptions of the other San Juan River trips for more details.
You’ll pass innumerable archaeological sites, including a large ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling referred to as River House. As you enter San Juan Canyon, you’ll navigate a few class II rapids to keep things spicy. As you emerge from San Juan Canyon you come into the Mexican Hat syncline, marked by a dramatically striated landscape, and the deep red sandstone formation for which the town of Mexican Hat is named.
Shortly after setting out for the day, you enter the Goosenecks of the San Juan, a 14-mile series of entrenched meanders where the river, at the bottom of deep, almost vertical cliffs, nearly doubles back on itself.
Get out of the boats and hike up John’s Canyon, a long canyon that runs into the San Juan. You’ll be challenged to ascend a dramatic pour-off as you make your way up into this cut in the Cedar Mesa plateau. You’ll also tackle the biggest rapid of either the Upper or Lower San Juan, Government Rapid, rated class III, before making camp at Slickhorn Canyon.
This is a short day in terms of river miles that offers two fantastic options for side hikes up Slickhorn Canyon as well as Grand Gulch. You’ll camp at Trimble.
Float the final eleven miles to the take-out and Clay Hills, and make the drive back to Durango.