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Things to Do Around the Green River

By Brian Higgins
April 10, 2023

Like Creedence Clearwater Revival said in their 1969 song “Green River,” on their album “Green River” — “If you get lost, come on home to Green River.” Now this is probably just because we here at Utah.com appreciate art on a different level than most people, but that song always makes us think of Green River, Utah, and the nearby Green River.

But unlike CCR, who just wanted to skip rocks and take a dip, we know there’s plenty of activities to be found in the bustling towns and stunning natural areas in the surrounding region. If you’re looking for some aquatics-free adventures in the San Rafael Swell, then come on home to (the areas nearby the) Green River. 

Golf and Disc Golfing in Green River State Park

What better place to start your just-off-the-Green adventures than on the green? The putting green, of course. At Green River State Park, you’ll not only find a stunning 9-hole golf course lined with cottonwood trees and natural water hazards, but a state-of-the-art 18-hole disc golf course as well! And it’s all within slicing distance of the Green River. So you might end up getting wet after all. 

With the steadily flowing waters of the Green and the imposing Book Cliffs as a backdrop, this course makes for an excellent day-trip destination, even if you hit more birds than birdies. It’s also got wallet friendly pricing ($15 for 9 holes, $25 for 18), so it’s a great course for beginners who don't want to break the bank just to spend the day in the weeds. For $15, though, you won’t mind landing on the beach, or even leaving to go hang at the beach.

Feel like trading your 4-wood for a Frisbee? The park also has a championship level 18-hole disc golf course! If you’ve never played disc golf, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Instead of driving a golf ball, you’ll be driving discs. And yes, you will be driving them. Just like with golf clubs, disc golf features different options — drivers, midrange, putters — designed to achieve different types of shots. Somewhere in between hiking and golfing, it’s a great way to get outside and enjoy golf without all the frustration (aka all the golf).

You can rent clubs, discs and carts at the clubhouse and pro shop within the park. The rest of the park also features spaces for camping, picnicking, boating and fishing. 

Bouldering in Joe’s Valley

Jay Z famously had 99 problems. Joe V (as in Joe’s Valley) has over 700. And having over 700 bouldering problems (short climbing routes) within a single natural area is a pretty good problem to have. Welcome to Joe’s Valley, a treasure trove of sandstone boulders just begging to be climbed by you and our crew. 

Located about 20 miles outside of Orangeville, Joe’s Valley is one of the most sought after bouldering destinations in the world. It’s got just about everything a climber could want. Forgiving yet grippy sandstone? You’ve got it. Quick and easy approaches? Oh yeah. Flat and featureless landings? Big time. Climbing routes for every ability level? Let’s see if you can guess the answer. And that’s not to mention the glistening waters of Joe’s Valley Reservoir that are just waiting to embrace your sweaty, chalky body at the end of a hard day. 

No equipment? No problem! Well, more accurately: no crash pads, no problem. You’ll still need to figure out climbing essentials like chalk and shoes yourself, but whether you’re a casual climber or crimping connoisseur, you’ll probably have those on hand. What you might not have are the cushioned landing pads, or crash pads, that you’ll need to boulder outdoors.

That’s where Cup of Joe’s coffee shop in Orangeville comes in. Not only do they serve a mean — you guessed it — cup of joe, they also rent crash pads out to local climbers! So if you think that nothing pairs with a V5 like a venti macchiato, Cup of Joe’s is the place for you. They’ll also be able to steer you towards some of their favorite routes and areas. 

If you’re experienced with outdoor bouldering, you probably don’t need any advice from us. If you’re new, or have only bouldered at the gym, just remember that safety is paramount. Always have a crash pad positioned where the climber can easily land on it, and always have spotters ready to guide them to the mat. Additionally, you should always practice leave no trace principles, pack out what you packed in and consider using sandstone-colored chalk, since the area doesn’t receive much rain. 

Feel more comfortable with two feet firmly planted on the ground? You can enjoy everything else Joe’s Valley has to offer, whether that be hiking, fishing, swimming, mountain biking, canoeing or sitting in a camp chair while your friends climb (a highly underrated pastime). Or, better yet, come back in early October for the Joe’s Valley Bouldering Festival to see some of the world’s best climbers do their thing. 

Explore the Arapeen Trail System on an OHV

From winding forest trails to dune-filled deserts, the San Rafael Swell, or simply “the Swell” to locals, has just about every kind of off-road adventure you could ask for. In fact, it’s got so much off-roading, it’ll ruin on-roading for you for good. 

The shining star of the area is the Arapeen Trail System, which features over 600 miles of trails that meander through the mountains and canyons of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The shining star of that shining star (the shining-star-squared if you will) is Skyline Drive, which travels along the top of the Wasatch Plateau and offers stunning views throughout. The trail is wide and mostly smooth dirt, but riders who want more challenging terrain can easily find it on one of the many offshoot trails that make up this vast system. 

If you’re already on the phone with the bank trying to lock down a personal loan for your brand new set of UTVs, don’t worry — there are plenty of places to rent in the area. Big Mountain Lodge sits at the foot of the trail system and has all the equipment and advice you’ll need to adventure on the Arapeen. Whether you’re looking for a quick jaunt or an all-day affair, the folks at Big Mountain will not only steer you to some of their favorite trails, but also provide a cozy place to lay your head and enjoy a nice meal. 

The Swell has other OHV destinations that will really rev your engine, too. Fans of dune riding can explore the White Wash Sand Dunes area and its exciting mix of open dunes and sandstone canyons. Fans of Dune reading, meanwhile, can set up a shade tent and enjoy their sci-fi classic without fear of approaching sand worms. 

Other popular areas include rides near The Wedge Overlook, Buckhorn Wash and Temple Mountain. If you haven’t got the faintest clue what kind of off-roading you like, consider booking a guided tour from a local outfitter! They’ll take care of all the planning, so you can focus on the fun. 

Plan a Petroglyph Parade

Did you know that the Swell is home to some of Utah’s finest examples of ancient rock art? It’s true! And not only are these sites well preserved, they’re also easily accessible, either just off the road or via a quick hike. Picture the entire region as your own personal gallery. It’s like the Museum of Modern Art, except for, ya know, the modern part. 

Actually, ancient art is very similar to modern art in at least one sense — no one knows what the heck it means. The rock art in the region can be attributed to two cultures: the Barrier Canyon Culture, a hunter-gatherer society that migrated through the area thousands of years ago, and the Fremont Culture, a more stationary people who inhabited the region between 2,000 and 700 years ago. Not much is known about either culture, so the meaning of their art has been lost to time.

A few of the sites, like the Buckhorn Pictograph Panel, feature art from both cultures. You can recognize the difference between Barrier Canyon and Fremont style art pretty easily. The Fremont people typically carved their art into the rock, creating petroglyphs, while Barrier Canyon artists predominantly used paints to create pictographs. Barrier Canyon art is so distinct, actually, that the knowledge of the culture’s existence is entirely attributed to the art they left behind.

Heading west from Green River, you’ve got an opportunity to make a day of it with a nice loop that hits five rock art sites and a few more scenic destinations. It adds up to around five hours of driving time, but it’s one of the best ways to see the Swell and experience ancient art up close. Just remember not to get too close — grease from your fingers can damage the art. And under no circumstances should you add any of your own creations to the art. Artists hate that, and the visitors who come after you will too. 

Here’s Utah.com’s patented petroglyph and pictograph parade. Pecks of pickled peppers not included. 

  • Stop 1: Black Dragon Pictograph — Accessible via a quick turn off from I-70. Check out cool pictographs of human and animal figures, several of which combine to make the shape of a dragon. Fremont era petroglyphs are present too.
  • Stop 2: Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel — Another panel featuring art from both the Fremont and Barrier Canyon cultures. Take in views of Little Grand Canyon to the west along the way, and check out the well preserved dinosaur print about 10 minutes further up the road.
  • Stop 3: The Wedge Overlook — Just like with Big Grand Canyon, you can’t say you’ve been there unless you stopped to look around. Take in the views of Little Grand Canyon at this classic Swell locale.
  • Stop 4: Lunch in Castle Dale, Orangeville or Huntington — You probably worked up an appetite with all that ‘splorin’. Find a spot in one of these nearby towns and refuel. 
  • Stop 5: Molen Reef Petroglyphs — After lunch, put on Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and head on over to the Molen Reef petroglyphs. Here you’ll find Fremont style animal carvings scattered across a series of boulders. Multiple snake figures represent one of the earliest known examples of a “motif.”
  • Stop 6: Rochester Panel — The finest example of Fremont petroglyphs anywhere, the Rochester Panel will probably be the highlight of your day. With a dense array of carvings ranging from human figures, animals, nature scenes and mysterious lines, this landmark is truly something to behold. 
  • Stop 7: Head of Sinbad Pictograph — You’ve got one more in you, right? On the way back to Green River, pull off I-70 and check out the Head of Sinbad pictograph. You might think you’ve seen it all at this point, but the fine details of this painting are seriously impressive, especially considering it was made over 3,000 years ago. 
  • Stop 8: Green River — Time to enjoy a well deserved meal after a long day of exploring. Our recommendation? The Tamarisk. Not only is it one of the best places to eat in Green River, but it’s got excellent views of the water, too. 

No matter how you spend your time in the area surrounding the Green River, whether golfing by its banks or exploring deep into the canyons of San Rafael Swell, you’ll always find something new to discover and appreciate. And if it starts to feel like home, well we’ve got a good song for you.