There’s nothing like getting gritty on a desert river to make a kid happy. One of Utah’s most spectacular canyon floats is also its most family-friendly. The San Juan meanders through a 2,000-foot-tall red-rock canyon for 84 mostly mild miles, rimmed by sandy beaches, limestone plunge pools, and a few epic, gooey mud flats to grease up in. It’s also chock full of educational opportunities—the upper river is littered with Anasazi archeological sites, a people who somewhat mysteriously disappeared from the area 700 years ago. Within a few miles of the Sand Wash put-in there are two petroglyph panels and a stunning set of moki steps, stair-like footholds carved into a cliff face to access a defensible stronghold, and a very well preserved riverside cliff dwelling on day two. Further on, harder layers of limestone rock constrain the current to a fast clip, whizzing you through and a handful of splashy Class II rapids and past stone monuments like the sombrero-shaped named Mexican Hat rock.
Some folks opt for a shorter trip, pulling off the river at the town of Mexican Hat, named for the rock formation, but most continue through the towering canyon for three more sun-drenched days to the Clay Hills takeout a few bends upstream of Lake Powell. Private-trip permits were mostly all filled by February ($18/person; check with the BLM field office for cancellations: 435-587-1544), so to go this spring, book a six-day trip with outfitter OARS, and let them set camp each night, cook you omelets and blueberry pancakes each morning, and teach you a thing or two about the archeology and geology you’ll be floating past ($1095). Let your guides know you’re keen for a mud fight and they’re bound to find your family a wallow or two.
STAY: 6 days