A Swell Time

Our recent trip to great state of Utah featured a lot of variety: a four day backpack on the historic Boulder Mail Trail, a day of canyoneering in Capitol Reef, downhill skiing at Brighton, and mountain biking in the central part of the state. We also caught up with our cousin Brian and our nephew Pat, so we got in some good family time, too.

Over the course of the week, we traveled by plane, bus, car, foot, rope, ski, and bike—not bad for a couple of flatlanders from the east. And we capped off the week with bear watching (ok, so the bear was the mascot at a Utah Grizzlies hockey game).

Part of our trip was spent around the town of Price, a coal-mining community of about 8,000 that at first glance doesn’t look like much of an outdoor playground. But there are some great mountain bike trails on the plateau just outside of town, and friendly locals told us about a nearby must-see area called the Little Grand Canyon in “The Swell.” After getting some vague directions, we poured over our maps and found what they were talking about—a Burea of Land Management recreation area in the heart the San Rafael Swell.

To get to the Little Grand Canyon required about 20 miles of driving on a dirt road…but “it’s a good dirt road where you can go 60 miles an hour,” to quote one of our new friends in Price. We were a little slower than that, but the road was in great shape. There was a visitor center kiosk along the way that provided some information as well as a few good area maps.

The locals were right that it’s a spectacular place, with cliffs and canyons as far as we could see. The Little Grand Canyon itself is not as grand as its larger namesake, but there are stunning vistas, petroglyphs, an old (1937) bridge, primitive campgrounds, and an abundance of hiking and biking trails. And what is plenty grand about this place is what’s missing: people, concessionaires, streams of vehicles, and the suffocating infrastructure that can be somewhat common in larger parks. This place is definitely a hidden gem.

As we were leaving Price earlier in the day to head towards the Swell, the guy at the local convenience mart asked where we were going. “Aaaah, yes, the Swell, you’ll love it,” he said. “It’s exactly like the Grand Canyon, only way better. And who wants to drive all the way to Arizona anyway?”

9 thoughts on “A Swell Time

  1. Magical vacation. Magical part of the world. A you found some of it deserted! wow Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. The Swell is a little out of the way, but totally worth stopping through if you are headed from SLC to Moab. We should swap notes (mostly so we can see your notes!).

  2. Great story! I think Dad, Jack, Tim and I went to the Little Grand Canyon when we drove from California to Georgia upon returning from Japan. That was about 50 years ago. Sounds like it hasn’t changed much, which is reassuring.

  3. Wow, beautiful post. I can’t believe southern Utah has the Swell along with everything else. Makes me want to go there TOMORROW. Also, the enchiladas look righteous.

    1. The Swell is def a good place to stop through…or to go as a destination, for that matter. Not many services, but good trails and a lot to see. Looking ahead, Souzz and I are scheming a float down the San Rafael. Tough to time water levels in the desert, but it looks like a really interesting one or two day trip. Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Fantastic! I just caught up on the pics. Looks like an amazing trip and I love that you got to backpack! Super cool petroglyphs too!!

  5. It took me a moment to figure out that BLM in this context stands for Bureau of Land Management, not Black Lives Matter.

    I enjoyed all the great photos! There’s a lot of Utah I haven’t discovered yet. I did a 3-day backpacking trip in Brice Canyon years ago, and it was quite memorable.

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