Lake Powell

You can hike, camp, climb and rappel in southern Utah’s canyons — and, at Lake Powell, you can waterski in them, too. Fake lake, real fun.


Lake Powell is counterintuitive. First of all, it looks like veins. (Aren’t lakes supposed to look like blobs?) Second, it isn’t a “lake” at all. It’s a reservoir.

But you (and the other 199,999,999 annual visitors) can do so many lakey things in it you won’t care about Lake Powell’s unorthodoxies. Head toward the Arizona border for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area’s otherworldly boating, beaches and endless network of canyons. Read more...

 

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38F 17F Average Temperature
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THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN LAKE POWELL

Who knew “stringy-dandelion-root” was the ideal lake-shape for picturesque water sports? Lake Powell’s placid blue water runs right into sandy beaches, adding swimming and boating to the hiking, camping and sandstone dynamism you’ve come to expect from southern Utah. It’s been called “America’s lost national park” because the flooded canyons look so much like the federal designations that surround it, meaning travelers get to enjoy the same amber-/tangerine-/red-rock views by boat. It’s the desert without all the dryness.

ON LAND

Rainbow Bridge
Other hikes
Glen Canyon Dam & visitor center
Camping

ON WATER

Houseboating
Wakeboarding & waterskiing
Sea kayaking
Cathedral in the Desert
Marinas
Fishing
Boat tours

FROM RIVER TO “LAKE”: THE BRIEF HISTORY OF LAKE POWELL

From the floor of Glen Canyon, the good people of the 1950s looked at a spot 200 feet overhead and said, “I’d really like to float on an inner tube up there.” So they built a dam where God had built a canyon to make a reservoir where He’d put a river. (That Glen Canyon Dam still stands suggests His tacit approval of houseboating.)

The dam was authorized in 1956 and blasting for the diversion tunnels began the same year. Lake Powell — named for one-armed Civil-War-veteran-turned-explorer John Wesley Powell — began to fill up behind the completed Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 and visitors have been swimming unnaturally ever since.

DAM SHAME

Glen Canyon Dam was built to regulate water availability for the seven states of the Colorado River Compact: Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada. Hydroelectricity and rad spring breaks are its other obvious benefits.

But since it was a sketch in an engineer’s notebook, environmentalists have been fighting the dam. The phrase “America’s lost national park” contains more regret than romance. Besides arguments about drowned beauty, Glen Canyon Institute, which advocates draining Lake Powell, commissioned studies that have investigated the disruption of local flora and fauna, and even asserted the dam’s justifying purpose — water moderation for dry western states — is undermined by the amount of water lost to evaporation and seepage.

The debate rages on, and you gotta think it might not be so fiery if Lake Powell weren’t so much dam fun.

AND TWO OTHER THINGS…

Access to various points at Lake Powell can vary dramatically according to water level. Check with the National Park Service for current conditions, marina availability, etc.

And finally, a message to all you mussel-bound boaters: Treat your boat like a protein-shake bottle and CLEAN, DRAIN and DRY it after every use. Don’t exacerbate the recent infestation of nefarious quagga-mussels.

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