Meandering through the vast bays and narrow canyons of Lake Powell can give you the feeling of being lost in time. Sheer, towering rock faces narrow into jagged peaks or sharply flatten into lakeside plateaus. Ominous-sounding locales such as Last Chance Bay, Dungeon Canyon and Dangling Rope Marina impart an old southwestern touch.
Straddling the Arizona-Utah border about a nine-hour drive from Malibu, surrounded by canyonlands and geological marvels, Lake Powell is a recreational center complete with a timeless landscape.
“The stark beauty of the landscape—the brilliant blue of the sky and water contrasted with the rusty red of the rocks—brings photographers and artists from around the world,” says Denise Shultz of the National Park Service.
With its classic southwestern backdrop and more than 2,000 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty to do at Lake Powell. Visitors spend their time boating, water skiing, kayaking, fishing and hiking. Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon are all nearby, making for fun pit stops or day trips.
A “rainbow turned to stone”
Lake Powell’s greatest attraction, however, may be the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in Southern Utah. Its Navajo name is “Nonnezoshi,” which means, “rainbow turned to stone.” Often referred to as a natural wonder of the world, Rainbow Bridge is a sandstone arch that was created by millions of years of erosion.
Rainbow Bridge is one of the largest natural bridges in the world. With 290 feet from the ground to the top of the arch, it is nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty. When the lake is at full pool, water laps up under the arch and is reflected in the glassy surface below.
In 1910, Rainbow Bridge was named a national monument by President William Howard Taft. According to President Taft, he deemed the site a national monument to preserve this “extraordinary natural bridge, having an arch which is in form and appearance much like a rainbow, and which… is of great scientific interest as an example of stream erosion.”
There are two ways to get to Rainbow Bridge: by boat or by hiking. By boat, it’s a 50-mile ride from Wahweap, Halls Crossing or Bullfrog Marinas, followed by a mile and a quarter hike up to the bridge. Hikers can backpack along one of two trails that start near Navajo Mountain and lead to the bridge, which requires permits from the Navajo Nation. Whichever method you choose, Rainbow Bridge is worth the trip.
“People visit Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area for a number of reasons,” Schultz said. “[Rainbow Bridge National Monument] is accessible by boat on the lake. In addition, fishing, boating and other water activities are a big draw.”
There are three main options for lodging at Lake Powell: camping, houseboating or staying at a resort. Lakeside hotels can be found at Wahweap Marina and Bullfrog Marina, campgrounds at lakeside locations such as Wahweap, Bullfrog and Halls Crossing, while houseboats can be rented at a few of the marinas, though the largest selection is at Wahweap.
History of Lake Powell
Lake Powell was created in 1963 with the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River. It provides a source of power and water for the southwestern region. The Lake Powell area has served as the backdrop for a number of films as well, including “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Planet of the Apes” and “John Carter,” among others.
One of the first big draws to Lake Powell was tours to Rainbow Bridge. Soon, the lake was filled with enough water to begin recreational water sports, like skiing and fishing. Wildlife agencies stocked the lake with fish during the early 1960s by land and air, according to Lake Powell Communications. In areas that were too difficult to reach by truck, the agencies dropped fish into the lake using an old World War II bomber (agencies no longer need to stock the lake, it has been self-sufficient for around 40 years). During the 1970s, houseboats were introduced and became a popular activity.
During its first year after the completion of the dam, about 44,000 people visited Lake Powell. Today, the lake sees around 3 million visitors from around the world each year.
Located about a nine-hour drive from Malibu, with attractions such as Zion National Park and Las Vegas along the way, an excursion to Lake Powell has all the makings for a classic American road trip.
For more information on Lake Powell and the rest of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, visit nps.gov/glca