San Juan: Honaker 2 Slickhorn

Here’s a good one out of Mexican Hat, Utah that ties the best of the San Juan with a finish in a rarely visited section of Slickhorn canyon.

Hiked down the Honaker Trail just west of the Goosenecks State Park to the San Juan river last weekend (7 Mar 2014). Nice moderate trail despite the 1200ft descent, 2.5miles, 1.25hrs. Paddled to Johns Canyon and spend the night. Good water in plunge pool next to river, 14.5miles, 4.5hrs. Next day, paddled to Slickhorn Canyon, threading Government Rapid. At 700cfs it was bony with a couple must do moves, moderate class II+ 7.5miles, 2hrs. Like Johns, good water is in the last pool by river. Hiked up Slickhorn canyon to Trail Canyon, 7miles, 5hrs. This was slow with lots of route finding around the pour offs and boulder jams but spectacular. Look for intermittent trails around all the hard bits on the south/ right side of the canyon. Intended to camp at the junction given Adkison’s guide book description (he’s pretty over the top in describing imaginary difficulties) but with lots of day light, followed the sun as it rose out of the canyon over the potholes and slick rock making it to the car on established foot paths in Trail Canyon, 3.5miles, 2hrs. Streams, pools, and potholes were everywhere so no need to carry water in either canyon (in March). Overall a sweet moderate 2-3 day trip. Lots of other options too….


  • Top of Honaker trail w/ nice car camp, N37.18865 W109.95145, 5190ft
  • Bottom of Honaker trail, N37.18554 W109.96151, 3927ft
  • Johns Canyon Camp w/ good water, N37.24496 W110.07559
  • Slickhorn Canyon w/ good water, N37.31671 W110.14875, 3764ft,
  • Confluence of Slickhorn and Trail Canyon, nice camp sites, N37.34686 W110.06246, 5272ft
  • Car at top of Trail Canyon, N37.34068 W110.00786, 6145ft


  • A 2WD car is OK for all travel here. Just bring a shovel in case.
  • Bike shuttle, 2.5hrs, 1/2 on dirt, pretty fun actually, especially descending the switch backs w/ ~5miles of fast down hill off the mesa. First dropped gear at the top of Honaker, drove to the top of Trail Canyon, 1.25hr, biked back cutting off the top of the loop by hiking overland 1.25miles to the Elbow, N37.35273 W109.97409, then back to Honaker.
  • Permits: Required! Do it! The Monticello BLM was very accommodating and helpful so don’t abuse this cooperation. You need one to float the river and a second backpacking permit if you plan on spending the night in Slickhorn. These can be picked up in Monticello on the way down. You’ll need to watch a 10min “Leave-no-trace” video and do a boat checkin at Sand Island or Mexican Hat boat launches. Call to coordinate.
  • When to go: March! Cool temps, lots of water, no river lottery just call for a permit.The San Juan is damn controlled and runnable any time of year.
  • Some pics:

Looks so good. Precisely the kind of stuff I like to do. Added to the list, for sure.

I followed in David’s footsteps and did this trip over the Thanksgiving break from school (also solo). It was a great late fall trip, permits very easy to obtain. There was a surprising amount of sunlight on the river, not as much shade as I expected. I saw exactly 0 people, the only drawback to doing the trip this late in the year was that the daylight hours were quite short. With only 10 hours of daylight the trip took 3 1/2 days, including the bike shuttle (I do like slow mornings, so maybe could have done it in three days). Thanks David, for the inspiration! This trip is a classic.