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Exploring: Lake Powell

Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Park

Lake Powell attracts approximately 3.5 million visitors a year. This park is a recreational boaters’ dreamland. The red rock contrasts with the blue water to make a brilliant vision of color and depth. Imagine the Grand Canyon flooded, this is basically what Lake Powell is. Exploring this region by watercraft is the best way to see the Park. This area was first explored by John Wesley Powell, Mr Powell was a former military officer who was given the opportunity to map the southwest. Powell’s journey through this region was rather spectacular and described by many legends.

Lake Powell is 187 miles long and has 1960 miles of shoreline. The many side canyons provide fantastic journeys into solitude. Although there are many visitors to Lake Powell the sheer size of the lake assures everyone of their own little private cove. Amongst the beauty of the red rock canyons are some of the most impressive sights in the world. Rainbow Bridge is the world’s largest natural rock bridge. This is a sight of reverence for Native Americans. In respect for the Native American religion, visitors are asked not to approach the formation.

This is a very controversial body of water. Construction of Glen Canyon dam began in 1956, this was a time when the Government was thinking of regulating the flow of the Colorado with a series of dams along its length. One of the most influential environmentalists of the era was David Brower. Mr. Brower was the Leader of the Sierra Club. In exchange for the government’s vow to hold off on two dams planned for the Dinosaur National Monument area, Brower agreed to not protest Glen Canyon Dam. This was a decision which would haunt him to this day. The Sierra club has changed their stance on the Glen Canyon dam, calling for its removal.

There are great arguments on either side of the Lake Powell fight. On one hand, the lake brings in massive amounts of tourism dollars. I myself have been houseboating on this lake three times. The water actually makes the park more accessible to the everyday person. On the other hand, the reasons for making this dam have not really come to fruition. By nature of the area of the lake, about 1.5 million acre-feet are lost to evaporation and leeching into sandstone walls. The lake is slowly filling up with silt, originally planned to last seven hundred years it is estimated that the lake will become silt bound in two to three hundred years. Although the dam does account for 3 percent of the electrical power generated in the Western states, this power is only adding to a current surplus at this time.

The Boating

There are four land-based marinas on Lake Powell. Hite Marina is the Northern-most and the furthest away from crowds. Bullfrog and Hall's crossing Marina’s are located about mid-lake, these are across from each other separated by Bullfrog Bay and the main channel. There is a ferry providing the only vehicular way across the lake at this point. Wahweap Marina is the Southern most marina, located near Glen Canyon Dam this is the most popular of the four. Dangling Rope is a floating marina located near Rainbow Bridge, this marina allows fuel ups for people coming upriver or downriver.

Houseboats are available for rent at any of the four marinas. The government has contracted a private firm to run the boat rentals and concessions at the marinas. Aramark is the company providing houseboat rentals. I have found this company to be very reliable and easy to work with. There are four different classes of houseboats available for rent. These range from your basic place to sleep to luxury condos afloat. The 59’ Admiral class is the most luxurious way to cruise the lake, my favorite feature of this ship is that it is the only one with a real refrigerator. All other boats have a gas fired fridge, these are pretty much worthless unless you never open them. Even the lowest class of houseboat is still an adequate and cheap way to see the lake.

Renting a houseboat can be a very economical vacation with enough people. The houseboats sleep between 6 and 12 people. If you can round up enough people to fill up the boat the cost gets rather low per person, usually cheaper than a hotel.

The best tactic for this lake is to use the houseboat as a base of operations. We always bring at least two other boats with us. You can use your smaller boats to go fishing, water skiing and exploring while leaving the houseboat as a docked hotel.

Runabouts, fishing boats and personal watercraft are also available for rent. The prices on these are rather high though.

The Camping

There are two kinds of camping at Lake Powell, waterborne camping and land based. We normally pick up our houseboat on a Saturday morning. Bullfrog is our usual place of rental. We usually drive down Friday night and spend the night in the primitive campground on the way in to Bullfrog. This campground is free and has widely spaced campsites, some of which are near the shoreline. It is very easy to camp here, as the marina isn’t far off and you can be off early in the morning.

There are many side canyons where you can ease your houseboat or watercraft up to a sandy beach and either sleep on board or pitch tents. Although a houseboat is the best way to “camp” you can do it from a smaller boat. This is where a more mobile boat really comes into play, use your runabout to scope out possible beaching spots for the houseboat. The beauty of this lake is the solitude you can find in the more remote regions. The Escalante arm of the lake is my favorite region. The scenery of this section of the lake is among the best. There are many canyons off this river arm where you will be the only campers there.

All campers on Lake Powell must carry a portable toilet. A big problem here is the fluctuation of water levels when people camp on a beach and do the morning ritual. Water rises and you get the picture…

The Fishing

Lake Powell is one of the best warm water fisheries in the state of Utah. Some of the species here include: Striped Bass, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, Catfish, Bluegill, Crappie and Carp.

The Stripers are the largest fish in the lake. The Utah state record came from Powell and is near 50 pounds. These fish average in the 2 to 10 pound range and put up a valiant fight. These are some of the best fighting freshwater fish in my book, not much jumping just pure power. As the year goes by, these fish, which start out shaped like footballs, become thinner and thinner. Stripers live on the shad populations in the lake, towards the end of the summer the shad population decreases and the stripers tend to become thinner. These fish are usually found around large canyon walls early in the season and then tend to follow the shad to the backs of canyons later in the year.

Smallmouth and Largemouth bass fishing is usually the best in the Spring. When the fish are spawning in the shallow water they are easier to find. Fish the points and rocky shorelines about 10 to 15 feet deep to catch the spring spawners. Once the warmer weather hits, the fish will move to deeper cover, this makes the fishing a bit more difficult.

Catfish can be caught off any sandy beach year round. The best tactic is to throw out some shrimp or a ball of worms, carp meat also works well as a bait. Brace your rod and let it sit. This is a great night time diversion, drinking beer while watching the poles off the back of the houseboat is very relaxing. Most of the catfish will average between 1 and 3 pounds but they are still fun to catch.


As much as I love going to Lake Powell I do think it should have never been created. As I have said, this is a very touchy subject. Look at the Sierra Clubs position and the Glen Canyon Institute to see reasons to drain the lake. One of my favorite places to visit in Southern Utah is Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon would be much like this park if not for the millions of acre feet of water covering it.

Rent houseboats at: www.visitlakepowell.com
See the Drain the Lake site: www.glencanyon.org
David Browers letter on the Sierra Club site: www.sierraclub.org/sierra/199703/brower.html



Canyonlands National Park Maze & NE Glen Canyon N

Canyonlands National Park Maze & NE Glen Canyon N

More than just a map - National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps are designed to take you into the wilderness and back. Printed on durable tear-resistant waterproof material this map can go anywhere you do! Each map is based on exact reproductions of USGS topographic map information updated customized and enhanced to meet the unique features of each area. Folded and printed on plastic for durability.




cover   Utah Atlas and Gazetteer
by DeLorme (Editor)

Book Description
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Scale equals 1:250,000 or 1"=4 miles. Contour Interval is 300'. Each 
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Utah Camping Guide : The essential handbook for ...

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