Swaseys Leap

Lower Black Box
San Rafael Swell

     The Lower Black Box is a real jewel. The San Rafael River has carved a deep narrow slot canyon into the heart of the San Rafael Swell. The Coconino sandstone walls are 400 feet high and in places only 25 feet wide. Hiking this canyon involves miles of wading and swimming. Getting through the Lower Black Box is an exciting and entertaining adventure. 

          This should be considered one of the best river hikes in Utah. The San Rafael area has not received the attention of the National Parks, which means your chance of meeting other hikers is small. This also means that you must be self-reliant, plan ahead and use good judgment. The San Rafael Swell is one of the most primitive and rugged areas in the lower 48 states. Emergency Service, help or rescue is not close by or easily obtained. The Lower Black Box can be deadly and should be taken very seriously.

Local Legend:
          Swaseys Leap, shown on USGS maps as Swazys Leap, is named after Sid Swasey. Local legend has it that Sid bet his brother Joe that he could jump the gap on his saddle horse. According to the legend, Sid made the jump and won a herd of sheep from his brother. Several years later, Sheepherder Paul Hanson built a log bridge across Swaseys Leap for the purpose of getting his sheep across the flooded river. The log bridge fell into the river in 1997.

General Information:
Click here for Google Earth KMZ file.Click Here For Route Map
Click Here for Trailhead Map       This hike is usually done from Midsummer through fall and will require 7 to 8 hours to complete. You will be wet and in the water for a minimum of 4 hours, hypothermia is a serious danger. Every member of your group most know how to swim or wear a life jacket. The river is usually muddy and you will be walking over submerged rocks and swimming long deep pools much of the time. Everyone in the group will require a good walking stick. You will also require good water walking footwear; this means NO sandals or Tevas. Canvas hiking boots or athletic shoes work great. Drybags are required for everything you do not want soaking wet. If the air or water temperature is questionable use a wet suit.

          You should carry a 50-foot length of webbing or rope for emergencies. Many people use an inflated inner tube to float through the deep-water sections of the Lower Black Box. I have never tried using an inner tube, but it could be fun. For floatation I have always placed drybags in my backpack and used it as a float when required. I will also suggest that you carry 3 liters of drinking water per person. The water in the San Rafael Swell is heavily mineralized and works as a laxative, even after being filtered.

          A GPS is useful in identifying the correct trailhead and checking that you are on course. Navigation for this route is easy. Good map reading skills and the USGS 7.5' Map titled "Spotted Wolf Canyon" are essential.

          The Lower Black Box is rated 2C III using the Canyon Rating System. This canyon has a high flash flood danger, check the local weather report before entering this canyon.
The hike requires good weather, 80 degree plus temperatures, and river flow rates less than 75 cubic feet per second. Visit USGS real-time streamflow conditions for the San Rafael River.

Looking into the Lower Black Box Inside the Black Box

Trailhead Information:
            From Green River Utah drive west 29 miles to Ranch Exit #131. 
The San Rafael Swell is criss-crossed with roads. Stay on the road described until told to turn off of it. Drive north 5.8 miles on the well-maintained dirt Cottonwood Wash road to Sink Hole Flat. Turn right (east) at tee and drive 1.8 miles. Turn left (northeast) at tee and drive 2.7 miles. Turn right (east) at tee and drive 3.5 miles. Turn right (east) at tee and drive 3.2 miles to the trailhead. The final 3 miles to the trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle or 4-wheel drive. The Trailhead consists of a log barrier across the old Sulphur Springs 4-wheel drive road.

Route Information:
          From the Lower Black Box Trailhead (N38 57' 52", W110 28' 38") follow the old Sulphur Springs 4-wheel drive road 2.2 miles down to the San Rafael River (N38 58' 19", W110 26' 40"). Cross the river, bushwhack through the Tamarisk, and start hiking northwest. Special attention to remembering the river crossing is a good idea, since this is where you leave the river and return to your vehicle after exiting the Lower Black Box. 

          After a short time of hiking northwest you should find a hiker-made trail that follows the bench above the river. It is an enjoyable 2.8 miles from the San Rafael River crossing to Swaseys Leap (N38 59' 27", W110 27' 57"). There are several viewpoints along this trail where you can look into the Lower Black Box.

          Several hundred yards east from Swaseys Leap the trail descends to the river. Jump in and begin hiking downstream. It is nearly four miles of strenuous river hiking until you reach the exit. There is no trail through the Lower Black Box; you are walking in the river. The river is usually muddy and you will be walking over submerged rocks. In many places the canyon floor is filled with water and swimming or floating across deep pools is necessary. In several places it is necessary to scramble over rock falls.

          Flash flood potential is very high.  Once you enter the Black Box it is difficult to turn around or escape.  Hypothermia is a serious possibility in cool weather.

Inside the Box Looking into the Black Box

Related Links:
Death in the Lower Black Box

Upper Black Box Route Description

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