Early last spring, when it was still chilly, John Louviere, program administrator of Utah State University's Outdoor Recreation Center, led a group of students down the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. Their final destination was Lake Powell. Louviere was astounded by what they found. "With the lake receding so much from five years of drought, it was spectacular to see what was hidden beneath the water," he says. "I was impressed by the canyon system reemerging after being hidden for so long."
Lake Powell, one of the nation's most widely visited lakes, lies amid multicolored desert canyons. Together with ancient rock arches and other formations, it makes up Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The most common Glen Canyon vacation tale often consists of lounging in a houseboat for a week on Lake Powell. Yet the lake itself makes up only 13 percent of the park, which rests on the Utah-Arizona border. Beyond its shores, some of the country's most prized hiking trails weave through canyons that date back some ten million years, attracting adventure seekers intent on exploring. Visitors are also drawn to Glen Canyon's historic monuments, which reveal the stories of early native tribes in the Southwestern desert. Whether you have only a couple hours, or days or weeks, the park's treasures offer experiences that can fit into various trip schedules.
Most travelers enter the national recreation area through Carl Hayden Visitor Center near Page, Arizona. The southwest edge of the park—including its two marinas—is the most accessible and developed. Close to the popular Rainbow Bridge, Lee's Ferry, and Glen Canyon Dam, this is often the best location for first-time visitors.
The entry fee into the park is $10 for seven days, and a year-round pass is $20. Dogs are allowed on basic boats but not carpeted boats. Dogs are not allowed on backcountry hiking trails.
The Carl Hayden Visitor Center is just north of Page off State Highway 89. About 230 miles (370 kilometers) farther northeast off Utah Highway 95, Hite Visitor Center is located in the most remote and less-developed part of the park. Visitors can reach Bullfrog Visitor Center, between Page and Hite, via Utah Highway 276. Route 276 also takes guests to nearby Halls Crossing Center.
Great Lakes Airline is the only carrier that flies into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area via Page. Flights leave from Phoenix, Arizona. A non-refundable, one-way ticket costs about $100. A one-way, refundable ticket runs $159.
Things to Do
It took 17 years to fill Lake Powell after the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. Its 1,960 miles (3,154 kilometers) of shoreline—longer than the entire continental U.S. Pacific coast, excluding Alaska—give access to more than a hundred captivating canyons.
Six marinas are stationed on the lake. The most popular, Wahweap, is about six miles (ten kilometers) away from Page and has the most options for lodging, boat rentals, and shops. Other marinas include Bullfrog, Halls Crossing, and Dangling Rope (only accessible by water), as well as Antelope Point, near Wahweap, and Hite. Motorized boat rentals are available at Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Antelope Point.
Boat rentals within the park are available only through Aramark and Antelope Point Marina. Prices range from $816 for a basic boat for three days during low season to $9,995 for seven days on a deluxe boat in the summer. Boats rented from outside communities cannot be delivered inside the park. Visitors must transport these boats themselves.
Currently, the prolonged drought as well as the increasing demand on Glen Canyon Dam for power are resulting in extremely low lake levels, and a number of Lake Powell facilities have been affected. Hite Marina is closed for the foreseeable future. Call ahead for a report on conditions before finalizing plans at Lake Powell facilities and marinas.
Hiking From the Water
Just because you're on water doesn't mean you can't dock your boat and explore the canyons. "Some of the most rewarding experiences come from wandering around the canyons," says Kevin Schneider, management assistant at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. "There isn't much overgrown vegetation like in the forest, so you can explore off-trail. You really get the feeling of being in the wilderness."
Visited by 300,000 people a year, Rainbow Bridge is a sacred site to the Navajo and other Native Americans. It is also the world's largest natural bridge. The U.S. Capitol building could fit beneath its archway, which stands 290 feet (88 meters) high and 275 feet (84 meters) wide. Some avid hikers choose to trek 14 miles (23 kilometers) around Navajo Mountain to Rainbow Bridge. This route requires a lot of endurance, excellent map-reading skills, and a tribal permit from the Navajo Nation. Others can take a boat tour leaving from the Wahweap Marina. For more information, call Wahweap Marina at 928-645-2433.
Glen Canyon Dam
Don't pass up the free 45-minute tour of Glen Canyon Dam to learn how it can generate more than one million kilowatts of electric energy a day at peak capacity. From 1960 through 1963, construction workers poured 5.37 million cubic yards (4.11 million cubic meters) of concrete to build the dam and the power plant. The tour also covers various water issues and information on how the dam has affected the Colorado River. For details, call the Carl Hayden Visitor Center at 928-608-6404.
Bullfrog, Halls Crossing, and Wahweap have the largest campgrounds from RV parks to primitive camping. Developed campgrounds are $18 a site and include facilities. Primitive camping at Bullfrog and Hite costs $6 a vehicle. Camping on the trails requires a permit. All follow the minimum-impact policy, requiring campers to leave trails and campsites in pristine condition. Campsites for Glen Canyon Recreation Area are listed on the National Park Service's website.
Just north of Page, Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument crosses into the Glen Canyon area and offers some of America's most mind-blowing hiking experiences. Established as a national monument in September 1996, it was one of the last parts of the country to be mapped. Its dramatic arches and pink-and-cream Navajo sandstone cliffs spread across two million acres (800,000 hectares) of open canyonland, making it a hot spot for off-the-beaten-path enthusiasts.
One such trek takes hikers along Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a 62-mile (100-kilometer) historic route that begins at the town of Escalante, Utah, and dead-ends at an overlook of Lake Powell. Hole-in-the-Rock Road has many side roads leading to hundreds of hiking excursions. However, most of them are unmarked. "When people come to hike, most like a straightforward trail," notes one Glen Canyon staffer. "Escalante doesn't give them that. It's a true wild place, where wilderness skills are essential."
Most of the hikes require maps, which are available at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Information Center. For information, call 435-826-5499. Backpacking permits are also required. For details visit Utah's Bureau of Land Managementwebsite.
About 30 miles (50 kilometers) down Hole-in-the-Rock Road is the Red Well trailhead that provides access to upper Coyote Gulch, a hidden treasure. Trekking through ankle-deep water, explorers encounter rock arches, a natural bridge, and small waterfalls. They'll also come upon a registration box where hikers should sign in with the time and date they began their trip and the expected date of return. The walk into the canyon is 13 miles (21 kilometers), so most hikers camp at least one night. The Escalante Interagency Visitor Information Center recommends a three-day trip. Backpackers can camp at the trail's midpoint and explore the canyon on day two. Camping in Coyote Gulch is dangerous due to flashfloods. No dogs are allowed, and group sizes are limited to 12 people. A free permit is required for overnight stays.
Carved by the Paria River, 38-mile-long (61-kilometer-long) Paria Canyon is one of the longest slot canyons in the world. One of its tributaries, Buckskin Gulch, consists of 13 miles (21 kilometers) of narrow, sedimentary-rock passageways that leave hikers awestruck. It is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest. The routes tend to be unmarked, but hikers can navigate down the canyon by trekking along the river's edge. Day hikers pay $5 each at any of the trailheads. Backpacker permits are available for $5 through the Bureau of Land Management. Call 435-688-3246 or visit their website.
Campsites aren't easy to find, but you can locate some on the terraces above the river. Camping here is limited to 20 people a day. The $5 camping permits go quickly and must be purchased in advance. You can buy them through the Bureau of Land Management's website.
The closest town to Paria Canyon is Lee's Ferry, Arizona. Visitors can park there and take a shuttle to one of the canyon trailheads. Shuttle services are listed on the Bureau of Land Management's website. To get to Lee's Ferry from Page, go south on Highway 89, then north on Alt 89 to Marble Canyon. Follow the signs to Lee's Ferry.
American Hiking Society
Specialists describe conservation efforts and highlight wilderness treks throughout the country.
This site offers trail descriptions and maps to subscribers.
Lake Powell Resort and Marinas-Aramark
This is the primary boating concessionaire in the park. The website gives information on prices, tours, and packages for watercraft rentals.
This website gives mile-markers, detailed directions to hikes, and great descriptions of treks in the Glen Canyon area.
Bureau of Land Management
The bureau manages most of the Paria Canyon and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument areas. The website offers information on permits, camping, maps, roads, and trails.
Barker, Scott. Arizona: Off the Beaten Path. Globe Pequot Press, 2002.
Huegel, Tony. Utah Byways: Backcountry Drives for the Whole Family. Wilderness Press, 2000.
Laine, Don, and Barbara Laine. Frommer's Utah. Wiley Publishing Inc., 2004.
Weir, Bill. Moon Handbooks: Arizona. Avalon Travel Publishing, 2005.