Bluff was settled on April 6, 1880 in Bluff Valley, a narrow, cliff-lined valley cut through the deserts of south-east Utah by the San Juan River. While scrawny-looking desert vegetation dominates the scenery for miles in every direction, an abundance of cottonwood trees signaled a promise of well water to the settlers. The San Juan River passes along the cliffs lining the south edge of the valley, while Bluff is nestled against cliffs on the northern edge. The Cottonwood Wash emerges from a canyon to the north and passes through the middle of Bluff, being dry except following heavy rain storms. The cliffs sport fantastic rock formations including the Navajo Twins and Sunbonnet Rock.
The settlers of Bluff came at the call of leaders of the Mormon Church, who were anxious to settle the Four Corners area and to establish peaceful relations with the Indians of the area. The passage by wagon to Bluff involved a monumental and legendary crossing of the most rugged country in the west. Included in this journey were the crossing of the gorge of the Colorado river through the "Hole in the Rock", and the crossing of Comb Ridge, just west of Bluff. The settlers arrived in Bluff hungry and worn out, and set out immediately to grow food necessary for their survival.
The original settlement was built in the form of a fort. Log cabins, built from cottonwood trees, were arranged in a square with all the doors and windows opening into the square. This arrangement provided protection from the Indians. Later on, they moved onto separate lots and the fort was dismantled, parts of it being incorporated into individual dwellings. The site of the fort is now preserved as a historical site by the Hole-in-the-Rock association, with a restored cabin, a replica of the meetinghouse, ruins of an early stone house and other artifacts.
The population of Bluff in 2000 was 320 and is estimated to be about 250 as of 2006. U.S. Highway 191 approaches from the north through Cow Canyon, a narrow passage up through the cliffs, and then turns westward paralleling the river valley. Utah Highway 162 begins at Bluff and heads eastward into Colorado, roughly following the San Juan River. The elevation is 4,320 feet. Some vacationers are attracted to the Bluff area by the remote wilderness area surrounding it. Bluff is just outside of the boundaries of the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation which covers a large area to the south.