The Upper San Juan River- Private Group Trip

Explore archeology, relax, and connect on this Upper San Juan River Trip

This river has it all: vast archeological resources, side canyon hiking, geological wonders, and even rapids! This comfortable, family friendly rafting trip accesses remote backcountry with the amenities of car camping. The grab-bag nature of the Upper San Juan makes it a truly unique river experience.

Treat your group to an outdoor learning adventure that features comfortable camping, great food, breathtaking scenery, and quality time as a group. This stretch features everything you could want on a river trip: wildlife sightings, archeological explorations, and even some fun splashy rapids. Done as a four day, three-night trip, the Upper San Juan is accessible for first time campers, while providing a unique experience for veteran river runners.

Archeological Wonders

The Upper San Juan is famous for its archeology. The entire left river bank is part of the Navajo reservation, and the area is rich with Native American History. This trip includes side hiking to explore dwellings, petroglyph panels, and lithic scatter sites.

Guided natural history

Archeology, geology, wildlife, and moderate rapids are all part of the Upper San Juan. A few days passing through tall canyon walls, floating along bighorn sheep preservation, and navigating rapids will be sure to bring your group closer together.

The San Juan River: Bluff, UT to Mexican Hat, UT
Call 435 259-7750 for availability
4 days and 3 nights, OR 3 days and 2 nights
Group Size:
6 - 25
Cost for:
3 night trip - $1,155
Cost for:
2 night trip - $895

This is how we rate the challenges you might face on a CFI trip.

Level 1 - Easy

  • Low level of physical activity, minimal movement required
  • 0 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking or walking 0-2 miles per day

Level 2 - Moderate

  • Medium level of physical activity, some movement required
  • 1-4 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 4 miles per day
  • Flatwater or mild whitewater rapids

Level 3 - Active

  • Medium or high level of physical activity
  • 1-5 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking up to 5 miles per day
  • Class I - III whitewater rapids

Level 4 - Challenging

  • High level of physical activity
  • 1-6 nights spent camping or in the field
  • Hiking 5 or more miles per day
  • Class IV whitewater rapids
CFI's Essential Eligibility Criteria outlines specific challenges that you may face on CFI trips. Please consult the EEC for information on responsibilities of participants.
  • Can be combined with a trip down the Lower San Juan River. Packaged price for a 7 day, 6 night trip on the Upper + Lower sections: $1,795
  • Fee includes $10 BLM special area fee
  • Fee includes $30 Navajo Parks and Recreation special area fee

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Trip Narrative

The Upper San Juan stretch runs from Sand Island, Utah to Mexican Hat, Utah.

Sand Island campground is located about 10 minutes south of Bluff Utah. Bluff is a small town with camping, hotel and motel lodging, restaurants, and shops.

Once we launch, however, the sounds of civilization will drift away, and we will transition into river life! Days will be spent navigating the water, exploring side canyons, and spotting wildlife. With spectacular archeological resources, like the River House and Kachina Panel, your trip will feel like a journey back in time.

Eventually, the group will set up camp on a beach along the river. You can spend your evenings exploring around camp, reading from our trip library, or relaxing by the fire. Your guides will take care of preparing dinner, and the nighttime will bring some of the darkest, most starry skies in the United States.

The next day we will transition into the canyon! Sandstone walls will rise high above the water and rapids start to emerge! While they don’t range higher than class 3, they still provide some fun, family friendly thrills and splashes. We will wind our way through the canyon until we see the iconic Mexican Hat Rock.

Here, our journey will end, but the memories, connections, and adventures from this trip will live on!


Some people say food is the most important part of the adventure. On all our overnight trips, CFI will provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a morning and afternoon snack, and an appetizer before dinner. If you have a dietary restriction or food allergy, note it on your medical form so we can best prepare.

Depends on the trip. As a general rule, CFI provides all group gear related to fully outfitting your trip. Specialized gear like PFDs, wetsuits, dry bags, educational materials are all provided by CFI. Additionally, we take care of all kitchen and dishware needs. 

Find out more about trip specific packing.

Most importantly, a willingness to slow down, connect to your surroundings, and experience the moment. Additionally, participants are required to bring a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, personal clothing, medication, and other essential personal items. Many gear items are available for rent. Reach out to us if you are interested in seeing a trip specific packing list, or learn more about trip specific packing here.

CFI provides options to rent gear:

  • Two person tent: $30 / trip
  • Sleeping bag: $20 / trip
  • Kid sleeping pad: $7 / trip
  • Adult sleeping pad (paco pad): $15 / trip
  • Package deal: Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and one tent per two people: $40 / trip

For any CFI summer camp, gear rentals are free!

Every CFI guide has either a Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder certification. Your trip leader will have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Anyone working with youth has passed a background check, and shuttle drivers are insured with clean driving records. Backcountry trips carry In-Reach satellite communication devices for emergencies. All guides have been evaluated by Canyonlands Field Institute as possessing the judgement, skills, and disposition required for mitigating risk in the field. 

As technology grows more and more invasive by the day, CFI promotes connection to what matters. To achieve this, all school and youth programs are unplugged and students are not permitted to bring electronic devices. Not only is there rarely cell service, devices are a distraction to our ability to connect to the present moment. On Private Group Trips or Adult Seminars, the use of devices is permitted but discouraged.

CFI works hard to ensure a positive experience for all guides and participants. Because of the unpredictable nature of outfitting, we have created a series of policies so maintain our ability to manage risk in the outdoors.

For critical information regarding cancellations, deposits, and other participant responsibilities, please view our trip policies page or contact us with any questions.

Thanks for asking...We know this can be an awkward subject. The fact is, our guides work extremely hard and appreciate getting tipped! 

On school trips tips are not expected but greatly appreciated. 

On an adult or private trip, an industry suggested tip is about 10% if your program fee, depending on your experience.

If you wish to include a gratuity, cash is preferred, but sending a check or a payment to CFI's Venmo: @canyonlandsfieldinstitute is also a great way to thank your guides for their hard work.  Tips are always pooled and distributed.

Need to Know

  • CFI staff are trained educators and guides with first aid and CPR certifications. Back-country trips carry satellite communications devices.  
  • All cook and dishware, meals, snacks, and river gear are provided by CFI.   
  • Tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads are available for rent from CFI.

CFI is a non-profit organization and fees are not taxed. By choosing CFI, you are supporting our efforts to provide lifechanging outdoor experiences for hundreds of children per year.  Scholarships are available on an as needed basis.