Lake Powell's Remote Canyons
The Colorado River and its tributaries have cut an extensive complex of deep canyons in the Glen Canyon area. Many of the canyons are located far from roads - some are even far from the nearest rugged jeep trail. These canyons would be very difficult to visit had they had not been inundated by the sparkling waters of Lake Powell.
Today, Lake Powell serves as a highway to adventure, where people can travel in comfort and see sights that were virtually unknown in the days before the lake. From Glen Canyon Dam, Powell's water backs up for about 186 miles, inundating some 96 named canyons. It is great fun to explore these canyons, to boat and kayak and fish and ski in these remote areas.
Some of Powell's canyons are famous and are visited by scores of people. Some are little-know and seldom visited. At Powell, it is possible to get into a remote canyon where you are totally alone. Camping in remote canyons is great fun. When the sun goes down and the stars come out, in the more distant canyons you will not be able to see or hear anything related to human habitation. Many people crave that kind of solitude.
Below we give information about some of Powell's remarkable canyons.
Rainbow Bridge Canyon
This is the most popular remote spot on the lake. Here you will find Rainbow Bridge (the largest natural bridge in the world). Rainbow Bridge Canyon is a spur off of Forbidding Canyon, located about half-way between Wahweap and Bullfrog marinas.
When Teddy Roosevelt visited the bridge in 1913, he had to make an arduous 20-mile (one way) trip down slickrock slopes and treacherous ledges, through a maze of sandstone passages. Today, the bridge is a major stop for private boaters and also tour boats, taking people on sightseeing tours of the lake. (There are floating restrooms but no other services near Rainbow Bridge. Bring your own drinking water.)
Some of the most beautiful slot canyon photos are taken in Antelope Canyon, south of Lake Powell. However, the scenic area is in the upper canyon. The lower portion, accessible from Lake Powell, is not nearly so photogenic. To photograph the upper canyon you need to engage the services of a Navajo guide. Inquire in Page or Wahweap to book a guide.
The Padre Bay area is considered to be one of the most scenic on the lake. Photogenic rock formations here include Gunsight Butte and The Cookie Jar. The “Crossing of the Fathers” occurred here, where Spanish priests exploring what is now the Southwestern US found a place they could descend into Glen Canyon and cross the Colorado River.
A small year-round stream has carved a tight slot canyon here, on the edge of Navajo Mountain. The hike up West Canyon is one of the classic canyoneering treks in southern Utah.
The canyons carved by the Escalante River and its tributaries are some of the most beautiful and remote in this region. The upper canyon area can be explored only by people willing to backpack long distances. The lower canyons can be toured by boat, or by making short hikes from the lake's edge.
A restored ancient Native American Indian ruin (Anasazi ruin) can be seen high on the wall above the Escalante arm of Lake Powell.
The Cathedral in the Desert is located at the end of Clear Creek Canyon, off of the Escalante arm. The Cathedral attracted considerable attention a few years ago, when it was exposed because drought lowered the lake's level. Today the Cathedral is mostly underwater.
San Juan Arm
The canyons on the San Juan arm of Lake Powell are the most remote on the lake. Exploring this area requires long boat rides from either Wahweap or Bullfrog marinas.
Impressive ancient Native American (Anasazi) rock art and ruins can be seen on a shelf above Forgotten Canyon. (The ruin has been stabilized and partially restored.)
Dirty Devil River
At low water levels, the lake ends near Hite, near the mouth of the Dirty Devil River. When the lake level is high, water backs up for many miles into the gulch carved by the river, providing access into a roadless area that is scenic and remote.
Colorado River Canyons
When Lake Powell's level is high, water backs up for miles past Hite, into an area near the bottom of Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River. At high water, you can boat into the mouth of Dark Canyon, which includes an extensive roadless wilderness area. Driftwood often makes boating a challenge in this area.
Kayaking Slot Canyons
Some of Lake Powell's side canyons become very narrow – two narrow to be navigated by power boat. Some people consider it great fun to explore these areas in kayaks. When the lake level is high, these flooded slots can be kayaked for miles. Beautiful narrow canyons good for kayaking include:
- Cathedral Canyon
- Cascade Canyon
- Wetherill Canyon
- Face Canyon
Bring plenty of fuel if you plan to explore Powell's remote areas. Running out of gas is the most common problem boaters encounter. In some spots it may be many hours or even days before another boat comes by.
Carry plenty of water and other fluids. Away from the marinas there are no convenience stores – no fuel or groceries or soft drinks.
Watch for shallow areas and submerged obstacles. The lake's level varies from week to week and year to year. A channel that could be navigated safely a year ago may now be dry or have hazards.
Powell's remote canyons add to its personality, making it unlike any other lake in the world. A paradise of water, sand and rock.
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