Surrounded by spectacular canyon country, Lake Powell forms the centerpiece of this vast 1.25-million-acre recreation area. Just a handful of roads approach the lake, so you'll need to go by boat or on foot to best explore this unique land of water and rock. As big as the lake is, it comprises only 13% of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The recreation area also includes a beautiful remnant of Glen Canyon between Glen Canyon Dam and Lees Ferry and reminders of pioneer life at Lees Ferry and nearby Lonely Dell Ranch.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument—50 miles uplake from the dam—protects the world's largest natural bridge. You can reach it on boat tours from Wahweap, by your own boat, or by hiking in on spectacular trails.
Of all the artificial lakes in the United States, only Lake Mead, farther downstream, has a greater water-storage capacity. When full, Lake Powell boasts a shoreline of 1,960 miles—greater than the west coast of the continental United States—and enough water to cover the state of Pennsylvania a foot deep! Bays and coves offer nearly limitless opportunities for exploration by boaters. Only the southern part lies in Arizona, where you'll find Glen Canyon Dam, Wahweap's resort and marina, Antelope and Navajo Canyons, and the lower parts of Labyrinth, Face, and West Canyons. Lake Powell's surface elevation fluctuates an average of 20–30 feet through the year (fluctuation has reached nearly 100 feet), peaking in July; it reaches 3,700 feet when full.
Unusually low lake levels in recent years has greatly affected the appearance of the lake. Marinas have had to adapt by extending boat ramps and repositioning docks. Hite, the farthest uplake marina, no longer had water access at press time. On the positive side, beaches and side canyons have reappeared for the first time in 30 years. Check with the marinas or at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center for current lake conditions.
Carl Hayden Visitor Center and Dam Tours
Perched beside the dam, the Carl Hayden Visitor Center (P.O. Box 1507, Page, AZ 86040, 928/608-6404, www.nps.gov/glca, 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, extended in summer) offers tours of the dam, exhibits, and an information desk for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Photos, paintings, and video programs illustrate construction of the dam and introduce the recreation area. A giant relief map helps you visualize the rugged terrain surrounding the lake; look closely and you'll spot Rainbow Bridge. Free guided tours of about 40 minutes visit the top of the dam, the tunnels, the generating room, and the transformer platform—call for times; no purses or bags may be taken on the tours nor are there storage lockers. Senator Carl Hayden, a major backer of water development in the West, served as an Arizona member of Congress from 1912 to 1969, a record 57 consecutive years.
Staff operate an information desk where you can find out about boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and interpretive programs in the immense Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The Glen Canyon Natural History Association (www.glencanyonnha.org) sells a wide variety of regional books.
Glen Canyon Dam
Construction workers labored from 1956 to 1964 to build this giant concrete structure. It stands 710 feet high above bedrock, the top measuring 1,560 feet across. Thickness ranges from 300 feet at the base to just 25 feet at the top. As part of the Upper Colorado River Storage Project, the dam provides water storage (its main purpose), hydroelectricity, flood control, and recreation on Lake Powell. Eight giant turbine generators churn out more than 1.3 million kilowatts at 13,800 volts. Vertigo victims shouldn't look down when driving across Glen Canyon Bridge, just downstream of the dam. The cold green waters of the Colorado River emerge 700 feet below.
Conservationists deplore the loss of remote and beautiful Glen Canyon, buried today beneath Lake Powell, and call for the removal of the dam. That's very unlikely in the near future, so for now, only words, pictures, and memories remind us of Glen Canyon's lost wonders.
Visits to developed areas cost $10 per vehicle or $3 per cyclist or hiker for seven days—free if you have a National Parks Pass, Golden Eagle, Golden Age, or Golden Access card. The annual pass to the recreation area runs $20. A seven-day permit for motorized boats is $10, then $4 for each additional one on the same trailer; an annual boat pass runs $20. Admission to the Carl Hayden Visitor Center is free.
Recreation at Lake Powell
Boating: If you don't have your own craft, Wahweap and Bullfrog marinas will rent you a boat for touring, fishing, skiing, or houseboating. Boat tours visit Rainbow Bridge and other destinations from Wahweap Marina. Sailboats find the steadiest breezes in Wahweap, Padre, Halls, and Bullfrog Bays, where spring winds average 15–20 knots. Kayaks and canoes can be used in the more protected areas. All boaters need to be alert for approaching storms that bring wind gusts which can exceed 60 mph. Waves on open expanses of the lake are sometimes steeper than ocean waves and can exceed six feet from trough to crest. Marinas and bookstores sell Lake Powell navigation maps. The National Park Service provides public boat ramps and ranger offices at most of the marinas. Park Service publications detail not only the recreation opportunities, but also the dangers to be aware of.
Fishing: You'll need an Arizona fishing license for the southern five miles of Lake Powell and a Utah license for the rest. Get licenses and information from marinas or from sporting goods stores in Page. Anglers can catch bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and striped), walleye, channel catfish, black crappie, and bluegill sunfish. Trout swim in the cool waters of the Colorado River below the dam; special regulations apply here. Anglers need to be able to identify the river's four endangered fish and release them.
Hiking: You can choose between easy day trips or long wilderness backpack treks. The canyons of the Escalante in Utah rate among America's premier hiking areas. Other good areas within or adjacent to Glen Canyon N.R.A. include Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Paria Canyon, Dark Canyon, and Grand Gulch. You'll find descriptions of these first two below. See Moon Handbooks: Utah for Dark Canyon and Grand Gulch, as well as Escalante. National Park Service staff at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center (928/608-6404) and the Bullfrog Visitor Center (435/684-7420, closed in winter) can suggest trips and supply trail descriptions. Several guidebooks to Lake Powell offer detailed hiking, camping, and boating information. Most of the canyon country near Lake Powell remains wild and little explored—hiking possibilities are limitless. Be sure to carry plenty of water.
Mountain Biking: Cyclists can head out on many back roads. The visitor centers have a list of possibilities.
Scuba: Divers can visit the canyon cliffs and rock sculptures beneath the surface. Visibility runs 30–40 feet in late Aug.–Nov., the best season, and there's less boat traffic then. In other seasons, visibility can drop to 10–20 feet.
Summer, when temperatures rise into the 90s and 100s F, is the busiest season for swimming, boating, and waterskiing. Spring and autumn are the best times to enjoy the backcountry and to fish. Winter temperatures drop to highs in the 40s and 50s, with freezing nights and the possibility of snow. Lake surface temperatures range from a comfortable 80<\#161>F in August to a chilly 45<\#161>F in January. Chinook winds can blow day and night from February to May. Thunderstorms in late summer bring strong, gusting winds with widely scattered rain showers. Annual precipitation averages about seven inches.
Packing It Out
Much of the revenue from the fees has gone toward improving water quality and cleaning up the shore. Visitors can help by packing out all trash. Also, anyone camping within one-quarter mile of the lake must have a container for solid human wastes unless a toilet is available on the beach or on your own boat. Plastic bags, with the exception of NPS-approved waste bag containment systems, may not be used for this purpose. Camps need to be within 200 yards of a toilet, even at the primitive camping areas, such as Lone Rock, Upper Bullfrog, Stanton Creek, Farley Canyon and Dirty Devil River. Ask at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center for locations of floating restrooms/pump-outs/dump stations and land-based dump stations.
Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas (2233 W. Dunlap Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85021, 800/528-6154, 602/277-8888 greater Phoenix, or fax 602/331-5258, www.lakepowell.com) operates accommodations, RV parks, restaurants, marina services, boat rentals, and boat tours. Reservations are recommended, especially in summer. To make reservations seven days or fewer in advance, contact each marina or resort directly. The company provides services at Wahweap (928/645-2433) in Arizona and at Bullfrog (435/684-3000) and nearby Halls Crossing (435/684-7000) in Utah. A ferry (435/684-3000) crosses the lake between Bullfrog and Halls Crossing, saving a long detour by road. Farther uplake, Hite (435/684-2278) has accommodations but no water access at press time due to low lake levels. All the marinas stay open year-round; you can avoid crowds and peak prices by arriving in autumn, winter, or spring. Private or chartered aircraft can fly to Page Airport, Bullfrog's small airstrip, and Halls Crossing's large airstrip.
Another company is currently developing a resort and marina at Antelope Point on Navajo land in Arizona; see description below.
The name means Bitter Water in the Ute language. Wahweap lies seven miles northwest of Page; turn right on Lake Shore Drive 0.7 mile past the visitor center.
Lake Powell Resort offers several types of rooms—many with lake views—at $119 d ($139 d lake view) summer, less in winter; guests enjoy swimming pools and the exercise room. The lodge's fine-dining restaurant, the Rainbow Room (928/645-1162, daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) features a panoramic view; in summer there's live entertainment and dancing. Buffets may be available in summer for breakfast and lunch. Bene Pizza serves pizza, sandwiches, and smoothies daily in summer near the boat ramp entrance. The boat tour desk and a large gift shop lie just off the lobby.
An RV park ($27) north and west of the lodge provides hookups, store, coin showers, laundry, and use of the resort's pools and exercise room. Wahweap Campground (mid-March–Oct., $15) has drinking water but no showers or hookups just to the north; no reservations taken. Campers may use the pay showers and laundry at the RV park. Interpretive programs are given here most summer evenings. Turnoffs for the RV park, campground, picnic area, and a fish-cleaning station lie between Lake Powell Resort and Stateline, 1.3 miles northwest of the resort. Beyond the Stateline area, you'll come to the picturesque Coves Day-Use Area, set on low white bluffs overlooking the lake and a few beaches. You'll find boat ramps just south of the lodge and across the Utah border at Stateline.
The resort offers a variety of lake tours (928/645-1070 same week, 800/528-6154 more than seven days ahead) ranging from an hour-long paddle-wheel cruise around Wahweap Bay ($13) to a 7.5-hour trip to Rainbow Bridge, 50 miles away ($99). The other tours are a 90-minute Antelope Canyon cruise ($28), three-hour Navajo Tapestry tour to Navajo and Antelope Canyons ($49), and a 2.5-hour dinner cruise ($61). Children 3–12 get a discount except on the dinner cruise. Boat rentals at Stateline include kayak, personal watercraft, fishing, runabout, patio, and a variety of houseboats. You can also rent water skis and water toys.
Vicinity of Wahweap
Lone Rock in Utah, six miles northwest of Wahweap off US 89, is a primitive recreation area on the shore; there are outhouses but no drinking water, and the cost is $6/vehicle. Boat camping along the lakeshore is a great option for people with their own craft; you must carry a portable toilet and be more than one mile from developed areas.
Antelope Point offers a boat ramp, docks, and beach access southeast of Wahweap on the other side of Page. Plans are in the works to develop a full-service resort, but at press time only houseboats were offered; you can check with Antelope Point Marina (602/952-0114 resort, 800/255-5561 houseboat rentals, www.azmarinas.com). From the junction of Coppermine Road and AZ 98 south of Page, turn east one mile on AZ 98, then turn left 5.5 miles on Antelope Point Road to the boat ramp and docks at road's end. Turn right 0.3 mile just before the boat ramp for beach access.
Rainbow Bridge forms a graceful span 290 feet high and 275 feet wide; the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., would fit neatly underneath. The easiest way to Rainbow Bridge is by boat tour on Lake Powell from Wahweap Marina.
The more adventurous can hike to the bridge from the unsigned Cha Canyon Trailhead (just north across the Arizona-Utah border on the east side of Navajo Mountain) in 17.5 miles each way or from the Rainbow Lodge ruins (just south of the Arizona-Utah border on the west side of Navajo Mountain) in 13 miles each way. The rugged trails wind through highly scenic canyons, meet in Bridge Canyon, then continue two miles to the bridge. Hikers must be experienced and self-sufficient. The best times to go are April to early June, September, and October. Winter cold and snow discourage visitors, and summer is hot and can bring hazardous flash floods. Because the trails are unmaintained and poorly marked, hikers need to use topo maps. The Carl Hayden Visitor has trail notes and trailhead directions for the hikes and sells topo maps. Also see the monument's website, www.nps.gov/rabr.
The National Park Service cannot issue hiking permits to Rainbow Bridge. Obtain the required tribal permits from Cameron Visitor Center (P.O. Box 459, Cameron, AZ 86020, 928/679-2303, fax 928/679-2330) or from the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department (P.O. Box 2520, Window Rock, AZ 86515, 928/871-6647, www.navajonationparks.org). Both offices are open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.; the Cameron office may extend its hours to 7 a.m.–6 p.m. daily in summer. In the Page area, permits are available at the upper Antelope Canyon ticket booth and the Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park office (4 miles south of Page in LeChee, 928/698-2808).
On to Lees Ferry