We still have A LOT of exploring to do at Lake Powell! You could spend years sailing up and down the 185 miles of this massive lake and still not see all that there is to see. There are hundreds of small side canyons, Native American ruins and petroglyphs, arches and natural bridges, and slot canyons only accessed by boat. Since we didn’t really know what to expect when we visited Lake Powell, we wanted to give you a few pointers for your first trip.
Water levels vary widely from year-to-year. When we visited last in 2020, the water was extremely low, making some areas inaccessible, and others dangerous due to sandbars and ancient submerged trees. Be careful!
First of all, the lake is impossible to see in one trip. To ride from the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona, all the way to Hite, near the far northeast end would take 8-10 hours. That’s speeding along at 25 miles per hour in the main channel missing all that Lake Powell has to offer. You are much better off choosing a section of the lake and exploring it thoroughly. We chose the Bullfrog Marina, and we’ve got some good tips around that portion of the lake.
Also, expect the lake to be busy. There are tens of thousands of summer visitors, and that makes for wait times on the ramp, and choppy water in the main channel. One of the most interesting things you can do is take a small ski boat and explore some of the dozens of canyons that branch off the main channel. Near Bullfrog, we checked out the following:
This is a long, beautiful wall that is perfectly framed in the red rock of southern Utah. If you like Zion National Park, you’ll like the Tapestry Wall. It is about 10 miles north of Bullfrog Marina.
This canyon has three winding passages, and one got so narrow that we had to turn off the ski boat and use oars to keep us away from the walls! There is also said to be a ruin to visit, though the lake level was too low for us to find it.
This small canyon has several nice, calm bays where you can stop and get lunch. No channels go very far in Annie’s Canyon, and on a busy day there can be lots of waves from passing boats.
Slickrock Canyon is small. We also saw a lot of fish surfacing in this area of Lake Powell. There were even three river otters that we spotted while we ate lunch.
This was our favorite canyon. We arrived early in the morning and no one else was in yet, so we were able to tube and fish and have fun. This canyon is beautiful, and offers lots of places for great photos.
This canyon is famous for its restored Ancestral Puebloan ruin. You can make a short hike to climb down into a pit house, and see the petroglyphs carved on the wall. We’ve written more about it here.
The water is so low at the Rincon right now that you can’t access the petrified trees without a fairly serious hike. This area is virtually inaccessible.
This is a small, but beautiful arch located in Davis Gulch on the Escalante arm of Lake Powell. The water is low enough right now that it is difficult, but possible to access.
Three Roof Ruin
This ruin is located at the far end of the Escalante Arm high up on the cliffside. There is no way to climb and visit the ruin due to the low water levels. You can still see the ruin from a boat, though.
Hole in the Rock
This location marks the location where early Utah pioneer settlers risked their lives coming down the canyon walls to cross the river (yes, Lake Powell used to be a river). You can park the boat and hike up the steep climb to better appreciate these early travelers. We looked at the steep climb, and that was enough for us. It’s a quick stop along the main channel in Lake Powell.
Rainbow Bridge is definitely worth a visit. It requires a short hike, but the gorge into this National Monument is beautiful. We wrote a full post on this area here.
Tips for Families
- You will need a boat. Exploring the lake is virtually impossible without watercraft of some kind. We went with family that owns a boat.
- Make sure that you follow all boating and water safety rules while at Lake Powell.
- We camped in the campground near Bullfrog.
- Definitely get a map of the lake. We had a great map that labeled each of the canyons and sights that we keep on the boat. This map will give you a little overview. Bullfrog is at the northern section of the park.
- Junior Ranger program. There is a Junior Ranger program at Rainbow Bridge, and also one that can be turned in at the Visitor Centers throughout the park. We turned ours in at the Glen Canyon Dam at the southern end of Lake Powell.