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PLANNING ON VISITING LAKE POWELL SOON?
I can’t believe it’s taken me five years to write this post! I guess it’s just given me extra time to think of everything you need to know before planning a Lake Powell vacation. And it’s a lot.
And after working at Lake Powell for six seasons (four in Bullfrog, two in Wahweap), not just visiting, I like to think I’m pretty qualified when it comes to knowing about visiting Lake Powell.
Half my job this whole time, after all, has been answering questions about how to visit Lake Powell, where to go on Lake Powell, how to get to Lake Powell, everything.
One time in Bullfrog someone actually called and asked me how to get there from San Fransisco. Seriously.
And I had a revelation today that I would be able to write the ultimate post about planning a Lake Powell vacation and everything you need to know before getting here and decided I needed to do it right now. Right now.
If you’re looking for things to do on Lake Powell, this isn’t really the post for that. (But there will be one sooner than later.) This is more of the logistical side of things, just general info you may not know, all in one helpful place for your enjoyment (if you like planning things.)
So, here are all the things you need to know about a trip to Lake Powell that you probably wouldn’t have thought of. Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions in the comments, too!
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Things to bring if you’re visiting Lake Powell
This isn’t a specific boating packing list or anything, just a few things to bring aside from usual desert adventure stuff (like sunscreen, water, a hat, etc.)
The first two things are the most important if you’re going out on the lake, the rest are just good reads for a trip out here.
This is mostly a list of books about Lake Powell, the Colorado River, or water in the southwest that are pretty relevant to visiting Lake Powell.
It may also introduce you to some of the Lake Powell/Glen Canyon Dam controversy). Here is a whole post about Lake Powell books, too.
- Lake Powell Map (the Stan Jones map is the best one, I have like, three)
- Boaters Guide to Lake Powell
- Where the Water Goes
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water
- Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West
- Science Be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the Colorado River
- Downriver: Into the Future of Water in the West
- Hayduke Lives!
Lake Powell Vacation
Planning a trip to Lake Powell can be extremely overwhelming with all the different marinas, the size, and so much more.
But I’m here today to help you with the details of visiting Lake Powell with the experience of someone who worked there for almost six years.
Lake Powell Hierarchy Breakdown
The running of Lake Powell can be a little confusing, so here is a brief explanation. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is run by National Park Service.
Aramark is the park concessionaire (runs the stuff in the park) for everything but Antelope Point and Hite.
Wahweap (and Bullfrog, Halls Crossing, and Dangling Rope) is part of Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas. So Wahweap is in Lake Powell is in Glen Canyon. All the names can be confusing.
Lake Powell is massive
Like, so massive. It has more shoreline than the west coast of the United States (almost 2,000 miles). It’s five hours by car or boat from Bullfrog to Wahweap. Twice that in a houseboat.
From the dam, the lake goes for 186 miles. Plus, it has two river arms to explore and 96 (or so) canyons, some 15-20 miles long. It’s. Huge. Most people don’t realize how big the lake actually is.
When you’re planning a Lake Powell trip, be sure to keep in mind how far apart things are when you’re looking for things to see and do there. Also keep in mind Dangling Rope is closed for good.
You cannot get to Horseshoe Bend from the lake
One of the things I do now is set up private boat tours and I can’t even tell you how many people ask if they can see Horseshoe Bend on the boat tour. No. You can’t. There’s a dam in the way. I’ve had people argue this with, believe it or not.
You can easily visit Horseshoe Bend on your own though and do the short hike to it or do a rafting tour through the bottom with Wilderness River Adventure. You can’t see Havasu Falls here, either.
Bullfrog is in the literal middle of nowhere
Seriously. There are small towns nearby like Hanksville, Green River, and Blanding, but if you want to go to a real store (like Target or anything) it’s almost a four-hour drive.
Way less people visit Bullfrog because it isn’t on the way anywhere. You’re basically going there with a purpose. It’s also just a lot smaller. Though it does make for a good weekend getaway in Utah.
If you want to visit the lake and are going from Blanding to Capitol Reef, you could spend a night here just for funsies since it’s between the two, but if you’re not going on the lake here, there isn’t much to do in Bullfrog itself.
Don’t know where to stay in Lake Powell? That post should help you narrow it down.
Wahweap is by Page
Wahweap is the much bigger, and much busier, marina on Lake Powell and you can find it just a short drive from Page, Arizona. This end is much easier to visit if you’re just passing through the area since it’s right off Highway 89.
There still isn’t much to do in Wahweap if you aren’t going out on the water, but it’s better if you just want to go and see the lake since you just drive ten minutes off the highway to get to the water instead of 90 minutes round-trip.
It’s also going to be easier to get to Lake Powell via Page versus Bullfrog because you can technically fly into Page but Flagstaff is closer to Page than Grand Junction or Salt Lake to Bullfrog.
Page, AZ tours
- Upper Antelope Canyon
- Lower Antelope Canyon/Horseshoe Bend half-day tour
- Half-day tour of Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons
- Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell Flight, River Rafting
- Horseshoe Bend helicopter flight
- Helicopter tour with Tower Butte landing
- Secret Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
To get the view of Reflection Canyon, you have to hike almost 20 miles
If you look at Google Images for Lake Powell, chances are you’ll see one or ten pictures of Reflection Canyon right away.
This is the canyon that looks like a snakey/curvey canyon. You can boat to it, no problemo but if you want that iconic view, you’ll have to hoof it.
That’s right. An almost 20-mile round-trip hike, most likely as an overnight trip, is how you get that view. And that’s after driving like, 50 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock road which is an awful road (it’s super rough).
It’s not an easy hike and is barely even a trail. You’ll need route finding skills and to definitely be prepared for this one. So unless you’re into a backpacking trip and have experience with that, I’d skip this for now.
What you can see depends on the lake level
For the most part, you’ll always be able to see the main sights, but with low lake levels, things that have been underwater for years are going to be visible again.
As for the main things like Rainbow Bridge or Cathedral in the Desert, you’ll still be able to see them easily, just with more hiking.
The part of Cathedral in the Desert that you’ll be able to see or get to will definitely vary with the lake level. It’s one of my favorite things on the lake though.
Update 2022: Visit Rainbow Bridge at your own risk. The dock is no longer connected to the shore but you can still park there and use the bathrooms, you need kayaks or something to get to the shore and do the hike though.
Most of the lake is in Utah
That’s right. Almost all of Lake Powell is in Utah but Arizona gets all the glory. All the magnets and mugs and stickers have Arizona things on them (or Horseshoe Bend) even though almost then entire lake is in Utah.
This bothers me more than it should but I’ll survive.
Wahweap, which is in Arizona, is the busier and bigger marina, and way easier to access, so I guess I understand a little bit, but still. It’s almost all in Utah.
If your boat sinks, don’t just abandon it
Most people with sinking boats won’t just abandon them, but it has happened. And if it does, it will probably be found.
Abandoning a sinking boat doesn’t make much sense but if you do and it’s found, you can get major fines from National Park Service since it’s a pretty major environmental concern.
If you’re coming from the Grand Canyon or Zion, you’re probably going to Wahweap
It’s just a couple of hours from either rim of the Grand Canyon and Zion to Wahweap but it’s 5-7 from either to Bullfrog. I got tons of calls in Bullfrog of people that we’re on their way there from the Grand Canyon or Zion.
They were usually just leaving and would be there in a couple of hours! But they were looking for Wahweap.
I also had someone call Bullfrog asking if we were on Lake Powell and I said yes but not by Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. She kept saying “but you’re on Lake Powell, right?” Yes. But in the middle of nowhere. Hours from town and Page and other parks.
You can usually tell when people are looking for Wahweap based on questions they’re asking or where they’re coming from and the insistence that we were on Lake Powell was one of them.
It can all be on Lake Powell but like I said before, it’s massive. Bullfrog and Wahweap are not close. And Bullfrog is closer to Moab than Zion and the Grand Canyon but that’s still at least three hours.
If you’re planning on visiting Lake Powell, just double check the end that you’re going to or closest to, especially if you’re on your way.
Related, I would double-check RV reservations (the main offender of booking the wrong marina and Wahweap is most likely booked up.)
The lake part of Antelope Canyon doesn’t look like the land part
That’s not to say the lake part of it is bad but it won’t look like what you see when you Google “Antelope Canyon.” It is all the same canyon though, it’s just a very long canyon.
You can either go by boat or kayak. If you’re kayaking, I’d leave from Antelope Point since it’s much closer. Just be prepared that the lake part of Antelope Canyon is very busy.
You can only see the main land part (Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons) by tour since it’s on Navajo Nation. If Navajo nation is closed (like it currently is) don’t try and hike in these on your own.
It’s disrespectful and just not allowed. This also goes for any other Navajo Tribal Parks or canyons.
It looks easy to get lost, but it’s actually pretty hard to do that
The first time I went out on a boat in 2016 I was like how on Earth does anyone navigate this!? But it’s actually not that confusing once you’re out there.
Most canyons are marked by buoys, as are the San Juan and Escalante River Arms and Rainbow Bridge. There are red and green mile marker buoys in the main channel that are lifesavers when it comes to navigating.
If you’re just going and don’t see any mile markers, you could be in a canyon or one of the river arms if you took a wrong turn out of a canyon.
It really helps to keep your eye on the next buoy as far as where to go through the main channel. Navajo Mountain is also a good landmark.
From Bullfrog, it will be to the south and from Wahweap it will be to the north. If you’re going North, it will be on your right whether it’s in front of or behind you. If you’re going south, it will be on the left.
Having a Lake Powell map with you (I love the Stan Jones Map) makes navigating a lot easier and less scary. It also has all the canyons and cool sights marked on it.
If you’re planning on renting a boat, book it in advance
This isn’t always the case, but if you’re planning a Lake Powell trip in the summer, I would highly advise renting a boat in advance, especially if you’re renting from Wahweap.
And if you rent from town, they usually launch the boat for you but you’d probably need to rent a slip for the boat if it’s more than one day (I’m not sure specifics on rentals from town though.)
And probably the hotel too
And camping and the RV park. Especially on weekends and holidays. And this goes for Bullfrog and Wahweap.
Since I don’t work at the hotel I’m not sure what availability looks like anymore, but from what I’ve heard, it’s very busy, and I would definitely book ahead if you know you’ll want to stay there, especially in Bullfrog since it’s so much smaller (48 rooms vs 348).
At least Wahweap is by Page and has plenty of other options that are nice and affordable. In Bullfrog you’ve either got Ticaboo or Hanksville as options and neither are great.
And boat slips, while we’re at it
Bullfrog may be different but Wahweap has been so busy this year and slips have been booked a couple of weeks out, so definitely book that in advance, too. And don’t just pull into any slip because that’s annoying for everyone and mean.
It’s busy but there are plenty of places to get away from the crowds
North lake is a lot less busy, so that’s the obvious answer. If you’re visiting south lake though, you can still easily get away from the crowds right near Wahweap.
The further north you go and out of the bays and popular spots (especially Padre, Antelope, and Navajo Canyons) the fewer people you’ll see. Further back into canyons is also a good way to see fewer people.
Lake Powell in October is also perfect and great for avoiding those summer crowds. It’s my favorite time of year to be at the lake and I think the best time to visit Lake Powell in general.
Cell phone service comes and goes
Theoretically, if you can see Navajo Mountain you’ll have service of some sort. Verizon is best all over, but it can still vary.
You can just be going through the main channel with no service and then get a bunch of texts randomly then it’s gone again.
It comes and goes and will usually be there in unexpected places. You most likely won’t have service in canyons so if you need it, try going back to the main channel.
The north end is way prettier
I’ll die on this hill and probably argue it with anyone. This isn’t to say the south end isn’t pretty, because it is, just in a different way.
But the north end is prettier. The whole surrounding area at the north end is just better. It’s all good but north is best.
Pretty much all of the pictures in this post are north lake, like, Rainbow Bridge and up.
Lake Powell hotels
Antelope Point isn’t run by Aramark (but the rest is)
Antelope Point Marina is the only marina on the lake not run by Aramark (and Hite but that’s not accessible by water anymore). So asking Wahweap about Antelope Point availability won’t help.
Hite is not accessible by water
Hite is the northernmost, uhh, marina, I guess? But it’s not a marina at this point. It’s mostly just a gas station in the middle of nowhere on Highway 95.
It’s a beautiful area but there isn’t much to do there for visitors. And you definitely can’t get here by water, especially now. But if you’re driving from Blanding to Capitol Reef, it’s a nice little stop.
The only way to access Rainbow Bridge is by boat or a 20+ mile hike
That’s right. Options are pretty limited but there are a few ways to get there on the water. In normal times, they have big boat tours to Rainbow Bridge from Wahweap. You can also rent a boat to drive yourself or get a private boat tour.
As for the hike, it’s a 1-3 day trek you need a permit from Navajo Nation. Oh, and it’s 30 miles round-trip. This isn’t a hike for a casual visit to see Rainbow Bridge, that’s for sure.
If you’re not going out on the lake, there isn’t much to do but enjoy the views
I wish there was more to offer here that isn’t on the water, but it is a lake, after all. If you’re not renting a boat, kayak, or jet skis, options on what to do and still enjoy the lake are pretty limited.
Driving or hiking to views and overlooks or activities just in the surrounding area will be what you’re left with. But they’re are plenty of great views of Lake Powell you can get to by land.
It is still cool to see the lake from land though because it is so different than most lakes out there. If you’re in Wahweap you can relax on Lone Rock Beach and if you’re in Bullfrog, Hobie Cat Beach. You can at least swim in the lake this way.
Cliff jumping is actually illegal
At least over 15 feet. Someone actually died earlier this year cliff jumping. It might sound fun but you never know what’s under the water. The shoreline isn’t just flat, it varies wildly and you can’t always see rocks under the water, but they are there.
So is drone use
It’s illegal and it’s annoying. Here are some common drone use questions that are relevant for all national parks. Don’t be that person.
There are only two hotels right on the lake
One is the Defiance House Lodge in Bullfrog and the other is Lake Powell Resort in Wahweap. Neither are right on the water since the water level changes so much but it’s as close as you can get.
There are also no campgrounds right on the water (because of the changing levels) unless you’re camping on the lake by boat. There are campgrounds and RV parks in both Wahweap and Bullfrog though.
The park has an entrance fee
The entrance fee to get into Glen Canyon is $30 per vehicle. If you have a boat, it’s an additional $30. If you have a national park pass, that will get you in (I’m not sure about your boat though.)
There are additional fees for any activities in the park but not for launching your boat. And you don’t need to do anything special to launch your boat, just launch it and get decontaminated when you leave.
Lee’s Ferry isn’t a ferry
In Bullfrog I had a few people ask about how to take the Lee’s Ferry but it’s not a ferry. It’s the only place in Glen Canyon where you can drive down to the Colorado River.
It’s also where they start Grand Canyon rafting trips from. They have a couple of hiking trails and a campground. I finally got to see it this spring and it was really cool seeing the Colorado and Paria Rivers meeting here.
The ferry goes from Bullfrog to Halls Crossing, not all the way down lake
The ferry is currently not running because the water level is so low. Keep this in mind when planning on getting to Lake Powell, at least the north end.
Another question I got a few times was if the ferry goes from Bullfrog to Wahweap. It definitely does not. That would take like two days. It does go from Halls Crossing to Bullfrog (and back) though.
It can be a fun thing to do (I still haven’t done it) but only saves about 30-45 minutes of driving since you have to drive down to Halls Crossing and back out from Bullfrog.
It’s convenient if you’re visiting one of them and going the opposite direction from which you came but it’s not. a necessary part of visiting North Lake Powell.
If you’re driving to Bullfrog from Blanding and leave late in the day or don’t want to take the ferry, do not turn left onto highway 276 by Halls Crossing.
You might miss the ferry and either have to wait 2 hours or backtrack if it’s not running. I repeat, do not turn left towards Halls Crossing! Keep going until you see the sign for Bullfrog and Ticaboo.
I gave those directions a lot and one time had someone call back mad at me after giving these directions and repeating them for her not listening and turning left at Halls Crossing then having to drive around.
Just don’t do it unless you know the ferry is running or want to see Halls.
You can’t see all of the lake in one trip
You can’t see all of the lake in years. Maybe even a lifetime unless you just live on the lake and spend all of your time out on the water.
It’s just such a massive lake (remember point one?) and you could see highlights and a lot in a week if you’re out on the water all day every day, but if you just have one or two days, you’ll barely scratch the surface.
You don’t need a boating license
Surprisingly, you don’t need a boating license on Lake Powell. Not even to rent a boat. Anyone can go in and get one (if there’s availability) and hit the water.
Boating experience is a plus (for you) but not necessary at all for the marinas. This really surprised me when I started working there! I blame Sponge Bob.
But you do need a fishing license
You may not need a boating license for Lake Powell but you do need a fishing license if you plan to fish.
It can be extremely windy
This is particularly true in the spring but can happen in the summer during monsoon season (June to September but it doesn’t rain every day).
The high winds make hiking extremely unpleasant with sand blowing everywhere and it makes the lake very choppy and more dangerous.
Like, boats capsizing or sinking dangerous. Obviously this doesn’t happen to every boat in a storm or wind but it’s something to keep in mind, especially if you’re not an experienced boater, though it can happen to anyone.
I’m not just trying to scare you, I just want you safe. This is also something too keep in mind if wind is in the forecast and you were going too rent kayaks or paddle boards.
We had calls to rescue a couple of paddlers that were stranded in wind or storms because they couldn’t get back.
It also makes it a lot colder when you’re speeding through the water which is probably the least of the concerns I would have on the water in high wind.
The shore is more rock than sand
Like I mentioned above, Lake Powell has metric boatloads of shoreline so you may be expecting tons of beaches.
And there are beaches, a lot more on the south part of Lake Powell, but the majority of the shoreline is rocky. It is just a massive flooded canyon, after all.
And the beach availability will change with the water level. A beach could be there one year then gone the next if the water is higher or just unreachable of the water is too low.
This can make finding a spot to tie up the boat difficult sometimes, especially in some of the canyons.
It is safe to swim in Lake Powell
Yes! If you’re visiting Lake Powell, swimming is a must (says me who only swam in it like twice ever 🙃).
You can swim pretty much anywhere on Lake Powell EXCEPT FOR IN THE MARINAS! This is a safety thing.
You’ll see people swimming from the docks at the private marinas off their houseboats but they’re not supposed to. It’s really not safe.
First of all, there is so much boat traffic. Second of all, electricity. Seriously, swim anywhere but the marina. Again, I’m not just trying to scare you, I just want you safe.
All that out of the way, if you aren’t boating and want to swim, Hobie Cat Beach and Stanton Creek in Bullfrog are great or Lone Rock and The chains in Wahweap.
If you are boating, head out of the busy areas and find a nice quiet place to cool off. You don’t have to be anchored somewhere to swim, but if you are swimming in an open area, make sure you put your orange flag up so other boaters know there are people in the water.
If you rent a houseboat, get a powerboat too
Renting a houseboat is for sure one of the best ways to experience Lake Powell. Just be sure to rent a powerboat and maybe even kayaks with it.
You really can’t explore the lake if you just have a houseboat because they’re so big. It’s very difficult to navigate the canyons and extremely inefficient.
Enter the power boat! Anchor that houseboat up real good then use the powerboat to explore during the day.
Fall is the best time to visit
Spring is windy, summer is super hot and extremely busy, but fall is just perfect. Not too busy, not too hot, not too cold.
I would also visit in winter if you can and don’t mind most things being closed on the lake/in the marinas. That’s the absolute best time if you don’t mind cool weather and don’t want crowds at all.
2023 things to know about visiting Lake Powell
- Dangling Rope is closed for good.
- See current launch ramp opening/availability here. Check there before getting to Lake Powell because it’s constantly changing.
- The water level is really low, but you can still boat just fine. Just use caution near the shore and try to stick between the red and green buoys in the main channel if you’re nervous.
- You can check the current water level and snow pack here.
- The ferry is not running.
- Boat tours may or may not be running, but private tours are.
- Everything is pretty much operating as normal.
Books to read before visiting the Four Corners:
- The Bears Ears
- In Search of the Old Ones
- The Lost World of the Old Ones
- House of Rain
- Finders Keepers
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Hayduke Lives
- Desert Solitaire
Are you planning a Lake Powell Vacation? What do you want to do there? Have you been before? What did you think of it?