Exploring Glen Canyon: Cathedral in the Desert

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This wasn’t my first time in Cathedral in the Desert, but it was a totally different experience from the first time.  Cathedral in the Desert is in the Escalante River arm of Lake Powell, Clear Creek Canyon specifically.  It’s one of those places on the lake you just have to see.  It’s easy to get to and easy to find, which makes it even better to visit.

Last year we went pretty late in the year so the water was really low.  This time we went at the end of June so the water was almost at its highest point for the year, which was way higher than the previous year’s peak.  This made getting farther into the canyon a lot easier since we didn’t have to watch the prop as much.  When it was low we had to make sure we didn’t hit any of the walls with the propeller.

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This time going in was a lot more exciting.  The water was more emerald and it was glowing in the sun coming through from the canyon above us.  It was crazy how bright it was, I never would have thought it would look like that.  I could have stayed there a lot longer just looking at the water.

With the water this high we didn’t have to climb up the ropes to see more of the canyon.  The picture above is part of what you have to climb up, but it was all underwater so we just hopped out of the boat and wandered into the picture below.  We could have kept going if we climbed up the Moki steps, but we were all a little nervous about getting back down.  The Moki steps are to the left of the little waterfall.  They are little holes carved into the wall to help climb up difficult areas.  You can see them better in the second picture below.

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We didn’t spend tons of time here since we had to go down to Dangling Rope before going back, but I would love to go back again and try going up farther.  I’m not sure how far you can go, but I know it’s kind of like this the whole way.  Plus, I’ve always wanted to try using Moki steps.  At least these aren’t too high.

Where is the Cathedral in the Desert?

It’s in Clear Creek Canyon on the Escalante River Arm of Lake Powell.  It’s the second canyon on the left once you’re out of the main channel and in the Escalante.  Definitely bring a Lake Powell Map to easily navigate.

It’s two hours, give or take depending on the boat, from Bullfrog to Cathedral in the Desert.  It’s definitely closer to Bullfrog and will probably take three hours, give or take, from Wahweap.

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What to bring boating on Lake Powell

Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry!  I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese.  There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.  Bring some extra water, just in case.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.  Don’t forget to keep applying it all day!  You will get burned if you don’t.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the strong desert sun.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Stan Jones Map – This is a must for anyone going out on Lake Powell.  It shows every canyon and all the cool arches, features, marinas, and more.  Buy it here!

Boaters Guide to Lake Powell – If you’ll be houseboating on Lake Powell or spending more than a day on it, the Boaters Guide to Lake Powell is so good to have!  This is where you’ll find tons of hikes and things to see/do on the lake.  Check it out here.

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How to get to Catherdal in the Desert

It will be easiest to take a powerboat but you’ll want to be careful in one the further back you go.  There are levels to the Cathedral in the Desert and you don’t want to get stuck.  You can always take jet skis if you’re coming to see it from a houseboat beached nearby or take a kayak or paddleboard in from your ski boat or houseboat.  You can either take your own boat or rent a boat or jetski to go see it.  If you’re renting a boat to see Cathedral in the Desert, I would rent it in Bullfrog.

When is the best time to see Cathedral in the Desert?

I would say when the water level is lower because then you can see a waterfall in there and it’s just something that happens so rarely, it would be amazing to see.  If the water level is higher though, it’s easier to see the higher up areas of it.  Whenever you go, don’t try and hike or climb any higher than you feel comfortable and if there are any ropes already there, use them with caution.

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Is Cathedral in the Desert worth it?

100%!  200%!  Yes!  It’s one of the coolest things to see on Lake Powell and you can see why.  Most people just go to Rainbow Bridge, which is also worth it, but I think this is even better.  You can paddle around in the glowing waters (if you catch the light at the right time) or you can boat in and climb up a little higher to one of the other levels.  Just be cautious of other boats and paddlers going in and out.

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Tips for visiting Cathedral in the Desert:

  • Cathedral in the Desert is in the Escalante River arm at the end of Clear Creek Canyon.  It’s a couple canyons in on the left.
  • Definitely get a map to bring along to help navigate on the lake and consider the Boaters Guide to Lake Powell, too, if you’ll be on it for a few days.
  • Definitely, keep an eye on the prop as you get farther into the canyon.  If the water is low it can be an issue.
  • If you’re renting a houseboat and have jet skis, kayaks, or paddleboards, those are perfect for getting further back into the canyon.
  • Be careful climbing up the ropes and Moki Steps.  Or maybe on the way back down.   Or both.
  • I would recommend going mid-summer when the lake is highest just because it’s easier, but it’s awesome with the water high or low.  Either way, this is a bucket list-must.
  • Definitely, wear sunscreen and bring tons of water.  It’s so hot and the sun will burn you to a crisp.  It happened to me on this trip even though I put lots of sunscreen on.
  • Take time to explore more of the Escalante River Arm.
  • If you’re feeling really adventurous, make a stop at Hole-In-The-Rock and climb up.  I haven’t yet but want to.
  • If you’re flying in, Page or Flagstaff Arizona are the best options.

Have you been to Cathedral in the Desert on Lake Powell?  How far did you go?  Do you want to go?  What is your favorite thing on Lake Powell?

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