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Lake Powell – Another planet right here in the USA

Lake Powell is truly otherworldly

At times you feel like you have just been personally dropped into a science fiction movie (in fact several have been filmed here) – on a huge lake, surrounded by desert, sheer cliffs with painted stripes, and bizarre rock formations. Lake Powell is in southern Utah (with a little section in Arizona). It’s full of scenery similar to what you might see in Utah National Parks like Capital Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands – except you access it all by boat.

Lake Powell is HUGE and very spread out. Due to wacky topography, it is very unusual in its shape

Its shoreline (including all of the nearly 100 side canyons) is over 2000 miles –that’s longer than the Pacific coast of the USA. At its deepest point near the southwestern end at Glen Canyon Dam (completed in 1963), it is more than 500 feet deep. If you follow the path of the original river, it is over 140 miles long.

Top 5 Reasons to go to Lake Powell

1. Incredible Scenery – you gotta see it to believe it
2. Water Sports – perfect conditions for action fun
3. Relaxation – find a secluded spot (very easy)
4. Adventure – this is different from any other vacation, and it is the wild west
5. Camaraderie – it really is ideal for groups; go with fun friends

The only real option for experiencing Lake Powell is by boat

There are three major full service marinas at Lake Powell: Wahweap is near the town of Page at the southwestern end. Bullfrog (our access) is near the middle of the lake on the north side and Hall’s is also near the middle of the lake on the south side. A car and passenger ferry connects these two marinas.


Lake Powell is not for everybody. You can have a great time here, but you can be miserable too. Here are some of the factors that will affect your experience:

• Holy crap!! It’s HOT!! Can you handle heat? Summertime temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees. You can always jump in the lake to stay cool. The Lake is too cool to swim in before June or after mid-October, but a perfect lounging temperature in summer.
• Do you like camping? If you have a bare bones houseboat, it will feel like camping to some degree. We’ve also seen luxury private houseboats that are nicer than most middle-class homes so it’s really dependent on the houseboat you’re on.
• It’s not really a good vacation for just 2 people. Houseboats are a group vacation and it’s important that you can get along with everyone. Best to go with laid back, flexible, easy-going folks. There is more room on a houseboat than there is on a sailboat, but it’s still tight quarters.
• Do you like water sports? Lake Powell is famous for its awesome water skiing conditions and all the other types of water toys involving a ski boat and a rope (wake boarding, wake surfing, sky skiing, and more). Of course, if you’re not athletically inclined, it’s still fun to watch others and laugh at their spectacular falls. The jet skiing is amazing and a great way to explore the side canyons.
• We’re not fishermen, but based on the number of folks we saw fishing, it must be quite good. The striped bass tasted great and they were jumping all around us in our cove.
• Do you like desert scenery? It’s gorgeous and if you like adventure hiking, this place is tough to beat. It’s also easy to see great scenery from the comfort of your boat.
• Of course, lots of folks just find a nice place to park, then find a book and a beverage and relax all day – it’s a peaceful place for that, too.

Go with experienced folks with lots of toys

A Lake Powell vacation takes planning. If you can, find friends who have been before and pitch in to help them. We were fortunate to be invited by some friends who own part of a timeshare houseboat and have been dozens of times. They go to the lake at least 3 times a year and definitely know their way around. Here are some important things they helped with:

• First, they are great fun with awesome attitudes! Bonus that they have a very nice houseboat with four bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen, A/C, huge freezers, and lots of other creature comforts, including a swamp cooler.
• They have LOTS of water toys – skis, wakeboards, inner tubes, and most importantly 2 jet skis and a ski boat. If you’re on a houseboat without a smaller boat, it’s very difficult to explore the side canyons where most of the fun scenery is.
• They know how to provision food and drink for a week for a large group. Once you leave the marina, there is no easy way to re-stock. It also really helped that there were icemakers on board.
• They know the best places – for houseboat parking, for skiing, for hiking, for privacy. Avoiding the loud partiers and careless speed boats made for a safe and peaceful way to enjoy the lake.
• They know boating safety and are properly equipped.
• They are enthusiastic about teaching water sports. Tom learned how to wake surf in an afternoon.
• They know the most efficient ways to get the boats loaded and launched at the start of the trip and unloaded and checked-in at the end. These are grueling, tiring experiences that are best forgotten during the middle of the trip. Everyone pitches in to help then the first well-earned beverage tastes extra good.

We spent our days doing a variety of fun activities: swimming, local hikes, reading, chatting with our friends, and lots of water sports

In the evenings we took turns cooking dinner for the group of 12 (6 couples), sunset viewing, playing board and card games, star-gazing, and more swimming. Some goofy theme parties – Hawaiian, Christmas in July, and glow sticks – helped liven things up. Every meal was delicious, but some couples took their turn very seriously and their talents were gourmet. One couple must have heard rumors about our lack of cooking creativity, because they asked for our turn, too. So our job was to make the happy hour punch. That’s a recipe worth repeating!

For us, jetting off to explore the nearby side canyons was a highlight. The scenery and the isolation is truly hard to duplicate anywhere else.

Using the ski boat for transportation, the group took a long exploration day downriver to two distant side canyons – one to hike a long, incredibly narrow slot canyon (Smith Fork Canyon), another to hike to some well-preserved Anasazi ruins (Forgotten Canyon). Our hosts are very athletic and have great endurance so this was a normal hike for them. Tom loved it. Our other friends liked it, but thought it was too long and hot. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the sights and the company.

Tom says it was the highlight of the trip.

Sheila says she’s glad she stayed on the houseboat to read and seek the shade since their hike was about 5 hours. No amount of sunscreen would have kept her from frying.

A few random unrelated thoughts:

• The fish can be alarmingly friendly when you are swimming, sometimes nipping at toes but never hard enough to hurt. Beware if you have any body jewelry – we don’t, but one of our friends had a belly-button ring and the fish were enamored with it.
• It was warm enough most nights that we slept on the roof of the houseboat under the stars and just used the bedrooms for storage. With no light pollution, the stars are truly brilliant and shooting stars are common sights. We could even watch satellites traverse the sky.
• Even though it looks like there is not much wildlife, it’s there if you look for it and get lucky – mule deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, beaver, bobcats, and porcupine. Mostly we just saw footprints, but we did see plenty of waterfowl , ravens, and surprisingly, bats at dusk – we cheered them on in their quest for insects.

We have several friends who love Lake Powell so much that they go every year, sometimes multiple times. While we both enjoyed it, for us it is more of a once every 3-5 years kind of trip. The Lake is so HUGE, it would take many visits before one could see all corners and there is so much more scenery to see. We really focused on the northeastern side this time. Heading south and west, there is a lot more territory to explore, including the Escalante and San Juan river arms and Rainbow Bridge National Monument (the largest natural stone arch in the world). Tom enjoyed the water sports and hiking available and he loved the fact that there is no shopping. Repeat – there is nooooo shopping.

Sheila says: Well, there is Stan’s …the restaurant, gift shop and gas station combo that gets lots of business on the way to and from Bullfrog Marina. 🙂

Trip Date: July 2014

?  What are your favorite Lake Powell side canyons?? What other lakes do you enjoy?

5 Comments

  1. January 21, 2016 at 12:30 PM — Reply

    Looks like a really unique lake experience! I’m so used to lakes being surrounded by greenery so this one must be neat to be surrounded by desert while boating. Adding it to my list of places in U.S. to go now!

    • Tom and Sheila
      January 21, 2016 at 1:39 PM — Reply

      Hey Gina, you’re right. I tend to prefer trees, but the desert and canyon walls make for a very different experience. In fact, just a short walk up and you can see for miles since there are no trees. I remember such a feeling of solitude from above our quiet mooring spot. Love the concept of your stories and look forward to reading them. Some of our favorite memories come from spending only a day or so somewhere! Trips don’t have to be long to be memorable or romantic. 🙂

  2. Sandra H
    August 2, 2015 at 2:54 AM — Reply

    Tom and Sheila, it really does look gorgeous so I may pencil it back in on my must-see list with a reminder to make it a September trip.

  3. Sandra H
    July 29, 2015 at 10:19 AM — Reply

    As I was scrolling down the page, oohing and ahhing at the stunning scenery, I was mentally putting Lake Powell on my must-see-someday list. And then I read the summertime temps get over 100 degrees! So I think I’ll just keep looking at the photos, it really does look beautiful though.

    • Tom and Sheila
      August 1, 2015 at 12:11 PM — Reply

      Sandra, it’s true! Oh, so hot, BUT the temps are much more reasonable at other times, esp. June and September. You could plan a September trip to Powell and the water would still be nicely warm. A little breeze would have made all the difference!

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