Hiking the Wedge and GoodWater Canyon Rim Trail in San Rafael Swell, Utah | East Approach

Looking for something to tire you out to no end? Look no further than the Wedge and Goodwater Canyon Rim Trail in San Rafael Swell. This 21-mile trail will take you for a ride, and tire you out faster than you can say “I’m in!” Let me answer this question right now: no, I didn’t hike the whole thing, and no, I never planned on hiking the whole thing. The cool thing about this trail is that there are three different trailheads to start at, and you can hike it, trail run it, or bike it! I want to return here and bike it one day since I think it’ll be a great way to see the whole trail at a reasonable speed. So, I’ll be back here this spring or summer. Anyways, let’s get to some quick beta about the journey!

Quick Beta

  • Mileage: 21.3 miles; I did 4 miles one-way (8-round trip) on the east side, and 2 miles one-way (4-round trip) on the west side.
  • Elevation gain: 1,230 ft. over 21.3 miles; my other legs were relatively flat with less than 200 ft.; the trail gently rises and falls.
  • Highest Point: ~6,300 ft.
  • Best time to visit: Mid-April through mid-October, possibly early November
  • Total hiking time: about 3 hours for the 8-mile east side, ~1 hour or 4-mile west side
  • Kid-friendly: Yes!
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, must be on-leash
  • Bathroom at the trailhead: Yes, there are pit toilets at each trailhead
  • Gear I brought: 25-liter backpack, 3L Osprey water reservoir, map, compass, knife, sunscreen, food (beef jerky, protein bars, dried apricots, granola bar, beef stick), sun shirt, chapstick with SPF, first aid kit, Canon EOS R camera, Canon 24-70 MK II lens.
Approaching from the East Rim, you see this marvelous view to your south!

The hike

The hike turns back and forth through a series of canyons that get more dramatic as you go. The best views on the east side of the trail are going to come within the first half mile or so. Here, you’ll see the dramatic canyon, looking south towards Little Grand Canyon. I was blown away that this was in Utah!

The canyon walls tower above the canyon floor. It’s quite spectacular!
The trail is narrow and well-marked. You won’t lose it while you’re on it, unlike other desert trails!
These are some of the views looking northwest. It’s pretty everywhere!

This trail rises and falls gently as you walk up and down the little canyon “fingers”. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, check out this trail map from AllTrails – it’s like tracing a hand with many fingers! There’s no steep terrain and the trail remains generally flat. You can cruise along at a pretty good pace without worrying about getting too tired. The one concern on a warm spring or summer day is the sun! There’s not too much shade on the trail, but more about that in the “Need to Know” section.

A family of bikers passed me on the trail. Man, do I wish I had one at the time! Next time!
The beauty of the swell. My goodness, it’s just gorgeous out here!
The family of bikers is already across the canyon. This photo and the other were taken a minute apart!

I ended up turning around after about 4 miles or so, mainly because I wanted to make sure I could see more of the area in the short time that I was here. So, with a sad but determined heart, I turned around and headed back towards my car. I made good time getting back, and I averaged around 21-23 minute miles. I stopped frequently to take photos and had one long stop when I made the decision to turn around to take in the views, eat some food, drink some water, and snap some photos. It was a really pretty trial, but I knew to experience the full extent, biking the trail would be the way to go. So, I will return at a later date to bike this trail!

A group of trail runners passed me as well. Yeah, I guess I was the slowest one there!
The bikers make one final appearance. See if you can spot them!

Need to Know

No matter the season, Utah’s sun can and will burn you!

This hike will be as long as you make it be, but you will start burning in as little as 15 minutes on a clear, sunny day. Wear sunscreen, wear a hat and sunglasses, bring lip balm with SPF, and pack extra sunscreen just in case. I hiked about 8 miles and I was feeling the sun, even in mid-October. In summer, it’s even more intense and the sun is out for more of the day. Consider getting a sun hoodie to wear on your hikes. I have the Eddie Bauer Solarfoil Hoodie and I swear by it! It’s super light, has thumb pockets, and covers most of your hand, and the hood is awesome when the sun is high!

Utah is DRY. Stay hydrated, even in winter.

Southern Utah is dry, especially in fall and winter. Stay well hydrated and be prepared to not have any water on the trail. If you noticed earlier during the “Quick Beta” section of the blog, I didn’t list my water filter. That’s because I knew there were no places for me to even find water to filter! Be aware of this when you pick hikes to do in southern Utah and all areas of Utah. There are some areas of San Rafael where water is findable and filterable, but this hike wasn’t one of them. Make sure you have enough water for whatever you’re doing as well – I was nearly running out near the end of this hike!

Deserts have some of the most colors in all the world!

Justin’s Suggestion

The best way to see this whole trail is to bike it. The second best way to see this trial is to trail run it. The third best way to see this hike is to hike it. You can approach this hike from multiple areas, and hike it like I did if you’d like. I did two short legs before realizing I wanted to bike the whole thing at some point. The west side is driveable for part of the trail, and that’s where some of the best views of Little Grand Canyon lie. If you’re going to hike it like I did, I’d suggest hiking the east side for about 3 miles and turning around, and hiking the west side for about 1.5 miles and turning around. If you have the option to bike it, do that! Or, drop one car at one end and one at the other to thru-hike it!

The Moon popped out to say hello!
On the road home.

Take A Hike!

Depending on how you’re prepared to do this trail, it can be very fun! I’d guess this is one of the main attractions you’d be seeing if you’re hanging down in San Rafael Swell for an extended weekend. However, there is a lot more to see, and some of it is down a long canyon. We’ll head there eventually. Will it be the next blog? Possibly.

In any case, I’ll catch you next time!

Parting shot:

High noon. Actually, it was more like 3pm I think!

Next blog: More San Rafael Swell. It’ll be a fun one!


2 thoughts on “Hiking the Wedge and GoodWater Canyon Rim Trail in San Rafael Swell, Utah | East Approach

  1. Those canyons are SICK! They rival those of the Grand Canyon…the hike looks intense, but breaking it up east and west makes it manageable! Glad you had a great time!


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