Kayaking Lake Powell's Glen Canyon

The hidden side of a watery Utah playground.

Little-Known Fact: The Escalante River, which feeds into Lake Powell, was the last river in the continental United States to be named.

Some 280 million years ago, the spot I’m standing on would have been at the far eastern edge of an extensive ancient sea. A while later (we’re talking in geologic terms here), the sea receded and scorching winds shifted the remaining sands into dunes, some reaching 1,200 feet high. After more time, the sand compressed into stone and the earth heaved and tilted, creating the bedrock uplift of the Colorado Plateau.

Down through the sandstone poured snowmelt from the young Rocky Mountains, and grain by grain the porous sandstone washed away. Left behind was a magnificent canyon, which Major John Wesley Powell named “Glen” when he first traveled its length in 1869.

Major Powell wouldn’t recognize it now. Whereas he could have stood on this spot and looked down into that muddy brown river surging nearly 600 feet below, I am cooling my toes in the brilliant blue-jewel water of Lake Powell. The lake began forming in 1963 after completion of the Glen Canyon Dam, and didn’t reach its 186-mile zenith until 1980.

My tent, tied to buff boulders, sits below an endless low sweep of faded ruby-red Navajo sandstone and flaps idly in the wind that April so often brings. My lakefront spread occupies only a few feet of approximately 2,000 miles of shoreline (including 96 side canyons) within the 1.1 million-acre Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

An enchilada pie warms on the stove and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon stands open, oxidizing in the desert air. Chalk up another benefit of this excursion; weight is not a concern for the paddler of a kayak.

On this, our fourth trip to Lake Powell, we paddled south from Halls Crossing, one of five marinas, exploring and camping on isolated shelves and underneath fabulous shadowy overhangs. We build small driftwood fires after dinner and watch the light dance in ghostly patterns on the sandstone walls. Most of our time has been spent in slim side corridors sometimes barely wider than our boats.

To avoid the afternoon winds we’ve shoved off early each day, paddling on a morning mirror that reflects the painted precipices hundreds of feet into the flat water. Last night the weather took a turn as dense clouds formed darkly from the west and in a heartbeat blew into a torrential storm that sent us flying into the tent.

Here is an infinity of peace, gentleness, and raging beauty. We break from our reverie only long enough to make plans for another visit.

Contact Information:

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Headquarters

Box 1507

Page, AZ 86040

520/608-6200 or 520/608-6404

Glen Canyon Natural History Association

Box 581

Page, AZ 86040



Glen Canyon is located in southern Utah. Page, Arizona (520/645-2741) is the nearest sizable town, offering stores, motels, restaurants, churches, a hospital, and a museum just 2 miles from the dam and visitor center. There are also restaurants and lodging available at the larger marinas ~ such as Wahweap and Bullfrog Basin.

Getting There:

Wahweap, the largest marina, lies near Page, Arizona, about three hours north of Flagstaff on U.S. 89. Halls Crossing is about two hours from Blanding, Utah, on UT 95 and UT 276. In summer, frequent ferries connect Halls Crossing to Bullfrog Basin Marina.

Seasonal Information:

The area is one of extremes. Temperatures range from the 100s in the summer to below freezing in the winter. Winds are strong.

The lake is open year-round, but summer is filled with jet skiers and other noisy folks without enough sense to avoid the heat, which can last clear into September. Fall, with crystalline skies and golden leaves on side canyon trees, is also immensely appealing. Winter is mild, with an occasional dusting of snow to highlight the sculptured sandstone. Spring — when the desert is blooming — is an especially rewarding time to visit Glen Canyon.

For more information, contact Arizona Roads and Weather (520/779-2711), Utah Roads and Weather (801/964-6000) or National Weather Service (801/524-5133).


Bighorn sheep, coyotes, foxes, rats, mice, snakes, lizards, beavers, kangaroo rats, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and other birds call Glen Canyon home. Make sure you get a free field checklist of the 270 species of birds of Glen Canyon. Ravens, eagles, hawks, owls, sparrows, and swallows are regular residents of the canyon country, where canyon wrens sing their unforgettable song.

For fishing information, call 800/695-3474.


Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

There are 730 species of plants in the area. Cactus, yucca, blackbrush, rabbitbrush, and grasses dominate desert plant communities. Spring or summer precipitation prompts sand lilies, fleabane, evening primrose, lupine, Indian paintbrush, and globe mallow to bloom. Pinyon and juniper trees grow at higher elevations.


  • A National Park Service campground is located at Lees Ferry. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are limited to eight people per site. No hook-ups are provided.
  • Primitive campgrounds are located at Lone Rock beach, Hite, the Bullfrog Bay area, and Farley and Stanton Canyons. No fees are charged, and water is not available.
  • Campgrounds with full utility hook-ups and those without are provided by a concessionaire at Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Halls Crossing. For more information about developed campsites, boat tours, or water recreation equipment rental, call 800/528-6154.
  • Primitive camping (from car or boat) is allowed at least one mile from developed areas and more than 100 feet from paved roads. Camping is limited to 14 consecutive days.

Carl Hayden Visitor Center, next to the dam and Glen Canyon Bridge, is open daily except December 25 and January 1.

Located 15.3 miles down the river from Glen Canyon Dam, Lees Ferry offers a ranger station, launch ramp, courtesy dock, and fish-cleaning station.

Wahweap Marina, 5.5 miles from the visitor center along Lakeshore Drive, is the largest marina and lodging facility in Glen Canyon. The concessionaire provides lodging, food services, gift shops, laundry, showers, and a service station. Full marina services, including buoys, boat rentals, tours, repairs, dry storage, and fueling, are available. The National Park Service provides a self-service ranger station, drinking water, restrooms, free boat pump-out stations, picnic area with grills, fish-cleaning station, and ranger programs in summer.

Halls Crossing, reached from Blanding, Utah, via state highways, offers a ranger station, free boat pump-out station, and launch ramp. The concessionaire provides lodging (housekeeping units), laundry, showers, store, and service station and offers full marina services (except boat tours).

Bullfrog Basin can be reached by paved highways from Hanksville, Utah, and offers a new visitor center with bookstore. The National Park Service also provides a launch ramp, free boat pump-out station, fish-cleaning station, picnic area, and a paved aircraft landing strip. The concessionaire provides lodging, food services, gift shop, stores, laundry, showers, and service station and offers full marina services.

There are restrooms, portable toilet dump stations, and boat pumpout stations at Bullfrog, Dangling Rope, Halls Crossing, Hite, and Wahweap. Vehicle-accessible dump stations are located at Bullfrog, Halls Crossing, Hite, Wahweap, and Lone Rock (Memorial Day through Labor Day only).

A regularly scheduled ferry (fee) runs between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog Basin. For more information, call 801/684-3000.


Contact park office for information.


Free permits are required in the Orange Cliffs (801-259-4351), Escalante (801/826-5499), and Eskolone (801-826-4315) areas. Fishing requires a state license.

Developed campsites run about $10 per night.


  • Beginning in 1997, anyone camping in the recreation area within one mile of Lake Powell will be required to carry and use portable toilet unless their boats or campers are self-contained or toilets are available on the beach.
  • Motor vehicles and bicycles are limited to established roadways.
  • Pets must be leashed at all times.
  • The limit for staying at any one site is 30 consecutive days.
  • Special hiking and camping regulations apply in the Escalante, Orange Cliffs, Colorado River, and Lees Ferry areas; follow posted instructions.
  • Ground fires are prohibited in the Escalante and Orange Cliffs area and allowed only in grates along the Colorado River between the dam and Lees Ferry. If you bring wood for a fire where fires are allowed, use a fire pan and carry out all coals.


  • Temperatures can be extreme. Winter months have freezing temperatures, and July and August are very hot, with severe daily thunderstorms that cause flash floods in constricted side canyons.
  • Carry plenty of water. Drink at least one gallon of water daily during hot weather.
  • Firewood is scarce.
  • Certain areas of the lake are periodically closed to swimming because of bacterial contamination from feces. Because desert soils lack sufficient bacteria, fungi, and moisture, buried organic materials decompose extremely slowly. Human and pet wastes left on beaches, as well as wastes dumped directly in the water, cause pollution and can cause closures. Every two weeks, biologists take water samples at about 50 beach and marina locations. When fecal coliform bacteria (FC) counts remain high for two consecutive samplings, the site is recommended for closure to swimming. Signs and bright yellow buoys mark the closed areas. Once an area is closed, water samples are taken every day until the FC counts return to and remain at safe levels.

Leave No Trace:

Stay on established roads and trails where they are provided, and avoid stepping on crusty desert soils, called cryptobiotic crusts. Microorganisms compose this crust and prevent soil erosion.

All LNT guidelines apply.


Maps are available at all marinas and visitors centers.

USGS topo maps for Glen Canyon (7.5 minute quadrangles)

  • Lone Rock

USGS topo maps specifically for the Escalante Canyon area (7.5 minute quadrangles)

  • Davis Gulch
  • Eqypt
  • King Mesa
  • Red Breaks
  • Scorpion Gulch
  • Silver Falls Bench
  • Sooner Bench
  • Stevens Canyon South
  • Sunset Flat

Other Trip Options:

  • In the same area, Escalante Canyons (801/826-5499) include some of the most remote, wild, and beautiful country in the Southwest. The Escalante, the last river in the continental United States to be named, meanders slowly between towering canyon walls. The area is reminiscent of Glen Canyon before Lake Powell and offers some of the finest opportunities for desert hiking on the Colorado Plateau.
  • Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the world’s largest natural bridge, is accessible by boat (tours) from Wahweap or Bullfrog Marina.
  • For information on other hiking areas near Glen Canyon, contact:

Antelope Canyon

LeChee Chapter House

Box 1257

Page, AZ 86040

520/698-3272 or 520/698-3316

Paria Canyon

Bureau of Land Management

318 North 1 East

Kanab, UT 84741


Grand Gulch Primitive Area

Bureau of Land Management

Box 7

Monticello, UT 84535


Henry Mountains

Bureau of Land Management

Box 99

Hanksville, UT 84734


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