Buckhorn Draw Road: San Rafael River Swinging Bridge


After dropping down from “The Wedge” and passing the Pictograph Panel, the next interesting stop in the drive through the San Rafael Swell is the Swinging Bridge over the San Rafael River.  This is the last suspension bridge in Utah, and it’s been here since 1937.

When the CCC completed construction on the bridge, it opened up a huge portion of the San Rafael Swell that had previously been nearly impossible to access.

The 167-foot-long bridge no longer carries cars and trucks.  While it could probably still handle the weight, it would be a scary experience.  The bridge doesn’t feel completely stable, which is how it earned the “swinging” name.

Beautiful sandstone cliffs surround the old bridge, and its newer replacement — a nice, two-lane concrete structure.  The new bridge wasn’t in place until the early 1990’s.

A few miles upstream at “The Wedge” overlook, the San Rafael River lies 1,000 feet below the rim of the Little Grand Canyon of Utah.  But here, at the point where Buckhorn Draw Road crosses the river, the water is just a few feet below your feet.

If you want to camp in the San Rafael River, this is a good place.  There are primitive campsites under the cottonwood trees along the river.

As you leave the bridge, headed south towards Interstate 70 on Buckhorn Draw Road, you’ll also be leaving the incredible sandstone scenery behind.  One of the last big rocks you’ll pass is the easy-to-spot Bottleneck Peak.

A mile or two down the road, be sure to stop and look back at the mouth of the Little Grand Canyon.  It’s a dramatic view that stays visible in your rear-view mirror for quite a while.

This part of the road would best be driven heading north, so that you can enjoy this view all the way along.

By the time I reached Interstate 70, those puffy white clouds that were floating by earlier in the day had turned into dark, menacing storms.  I was glad to get off the dirt road before everything got too wet.  Once on the highway, I sped towards the eastern edge of the Swell…

… stopping for just one picture, at the rest area near the eastern portal.

If you’ve never seen Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, you should consider adding Moab, Utah to your itinerary.  The city is only about 70 miles from the eastern edge of the Swell (south on US 191), and makes for a good overnight stop (or longer, if you have the time).  I’ve covered Moab extensively on previous trips, so be sure to check out my visits to Arches and Canyonlands in 2009, in 2005, and 2004, as well as other attractions in the area, like Dead Horse Point and Fisher Towers.

After leaving the San Rafael Swell, I drove non-stop towards the Colorado border.  Just beyond it, at Fruita, I knew I could access the scenic drive through Colorado National Monument, and I was hoping to get there before sunset.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive through the San Rafael Swell, including the Swinging Bridge area:

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