Lake Powell – Heart of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

May 2024 – Spectacular Glen Canyon on the Arizona/Utah border was transformed into Lake Powell when the Colorado River was blocked by a big dam in 1963, creating one of the largest manmade lakes in the US. Today, Glen Canyon Recreation Area is a fabulous place to enjoy the outdoors, and we went there last week to do a little exploring.

The beauty of the Lake Powell as it snakes through the Glen Canyon on the approach to the dam is truly awe-inspiring.

Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with a boat weaving between the cliffs

A boat weaves between the walls of Glen Canyon on Lake Powell.

The views change throughout the day as the light changes. Although the most magical times are at the beginning and end of the day, we thoroughly enjoyed driving the scenic road to Wahwheap that goes past several overlooks. The water was a rich dark blue, making a wonderful contrast to the whites and browns of the cliff walls.

Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam was responsible for creating gorgeous Lake Powell.

Lake Powell Arizona near Glen Canyon Dam 2

These are the tops of Glen Canyon’s very steep cliff walls.

We could see boats far below cruising the twisting path through Glen Canyon. What a fun way to see it!

Boats on Lake Powell Wahwheap Overlook Arizona RV trip 2

What a unique boat ride this would be!

Boats on Lake Powell Wahwheap Overlook Arizona RV trip

Coming and going…

In the distance we could see Wahwheap Marina which is loaded with houseboats and big cruising boats along with smaller power boats. Many are available for rent, and we made a mental note to return someday to get out on the water. It wasn’t in the cards for this trip, though.

Wahwheap Marina Lake Powell Arizona 2

Wahwheap Marina is set against a jaw-dropping backdrop!

Wahwheap Marina on Lake Powell Arizona RV trip

Not a bad place to have a boat — and some of them are huge!

The size and scale of the Glen Canyon Dam hydroelectric project is staggering. Lake Powell began filling with water on March 13, 1963. It didn’t finish filling up until seventeen years later on June 22, 1980!

On a plaque by the dam there are photos of Sentinel Rock which towered 200 feet in the air from the banks of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon before the dam was built. Once the lake was full, Sentinel Rock was submerged under 300 feet of water!

The lake is not a big round lake. Instead it consists of a long arm of the Colorado River with 90 water filled side canyons coming off of it on either side like tentacles. One of the best spots to see these bright blue tentacles is at Glen Canyon dam.

Lake Powell RV trip Wahwheap Overlook Arizona

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Lake Powell Arizona near Glen Canyon Dam

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Over 5 million people visit the Glen Canyon Recreation Area which each year. They come for all kinds of outdoor fun from boating to hiking, camping, taking photos and playing in the water. Spring and Fall are great because the weather is warm but not too hot. All summer long, the lake teems with people and boats.

The whole area is rich with breathtaking sights, and a drive along US-89 is a journey past towering red rock drama. Now-famous Horseshoe Bend is just a few miles south of Glen Canyon Dam. Amazingly, it was unknown to residents of Page just 60 years ago.

Just a few miles southwest of Glen Canyon dam as the condor flies, US-89 meets up with US-89A at a sharp turn and then reveals the wonders of Navajo Bridge, Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon and “Cliff Dwellers” as you head west. This is Canyon Country, and for travelers coming up into Utah from Arizona, it is the beginning of some of the most majestic scenery America has to offer.

Red rocks at Lake Powell Arizona

Looking at the far shore of Lake Powell from Wahwheap Overlook.

Glen Canyon Dam has large parking areas on either side of it, and you can walk all over the huge boulders that line the sides of the canyon. Buddy and I dashed off to explore the boulders — it was just so inviting!

We could hear Mark yelling, “Be CAREFUL!” far behind us. The wind was whipping, and he was afraid we’d go over the edge into the water far below. However, even though it looked like we were on a dangerous precipice, we were actually quite safe with several shelves of boulders stair-stepping down a ways before we’d be anywhere toppling over into the fast flowing water.

Red rocks near Glen Canyon Dam Arizona

What a place for photography!


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Pup on the red rocks near Glen Canyon Dam Lake Powell Arizona

Buddy’s fur was flying.

The rocks had wonderful lines and shapes. Buddy disappeared into a small slot canyon and then reappeared, trotting happily towards me.

Pup runs through slot canyon near Lake Powell Arizona

Dog heaven.

As I said, Glen Canyon and Lake Powell are stunning at any time of day, but some of the coolest scenes happen early. We returned to the Wahwheap Overlook scenic drive at dawn and waited for the first wink of sunlight to appear across the lake.

Sunrise at Lake Powell Wahwheap Overlook in Page Arizona on an RV trip

Good morning, Lake Powell!

Sunrise over Lake Powell near Glen Canyon Dam and Page Arizona

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The far side of the lake backs up to some wonderful mesas and rock pinnacles. I loved the layers and shapes of the mesas and stone pinnacles in the misty distance.

Distant mesas at Wahwheap Overlook at dawn on Lake Powell on an Arizona RV trip 2

Layers upon layers…

As the sun rose, highlights appeared on the rocks and cliff faces. This was a truly magical time of day. No one was around and the air was still.

Wahwheap Overlook at dawn on Lake Powell on an Arizona RV trip

Sunny highlights appeared as the land woke up.

A car drove on the road by behind me and then two more followed. I could hear them drive all the way to the boat ramp, and then I heard the rev of their boat engines as they took off. Suddenly a series of boats snaked through the canyon and disappeared into the deeper water beyond. Hopefully the fish were biting!

Wahwheap Overlook Lake Powell Glen Canyon Dam Arizona

Fishermen make their way out to the best fishing grounds.

Glen Canyon Dam was controversial when it was built because many historical treasures and magnificent landscapes were lost forever beneath the Colorado River water that filled the lake. Before the dam was built, some folks thought the area deserved to be a National Park. Many felt it was unwise to build the dam.

Interestingly, most of America’s major dams were constructed at a time that followed decades of plentiful rain and snowmelt. The data the engineers were working from was biased towards wetter than normal conditions. However, at that time and even today, no one knows what the Colorado River was like in the 13th and 14th centuries when the ancient Indians abandoned their pueblos all across the southwest and Mexico due to intense and persistent drought. If that data could have been taken into account, Glen Canyon Dam and others might not have been built!

Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell in Page Arizona on an RV trip

Lake Powell hovers around 50% of water capacity these days..

Oh well, that’s all water over the dam now. Lake Powell is gorgeous and we’ve just scratched the surface of all there is to see in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Before you pack up and go, here are some notes about the seasons: Spring is a great time to visit Lake Powell, however it can be exceedingly windy. Like 40 mph gusts and dust devils. Summer has much less wind but is very hot. Fall is cooler than Summer and less windy than Spring. Our visit one January was exceptional because there were few tourists and the air was very clear after some winter rains. It’s chilly at that time of year, but it’s a great time to go!

Happy campers and puppy at Lake Powell Arizona

Happy campers at Lake Powell

This little portrait of us was captured by a gal named Beth that we met on the trail. We were lamenting that for once we didn’t have our cameras, and the view was out of this world. She said, “I’ll get a pic of you three!” and she got it on her phone and emailed it to me. What a kind gesture that was, and what a great memento of that beautiful hike and view!

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14 thoughts on “Lake Powell – Heart of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

  1. Emily, you and Mark excel at capturing the many moods of whatever location you’re at due to your diligent efforts to get out with your cameras at so many different times of the day. It’s hard to explain, but your photos (always impressive!) provide a kind of depth to the ambience wherever you are and highlight the area’s attributes – a wonderful bonus for a reader. That’s a sweet family pic at the end of your post!

    • WOW!! Thank you so much, Mary. You totally made my day!! We love getting out and feeling the mood of the place and looking for those spots that encapsulate it. A lot of times we finish and we’re not sure we were able to do that, but beautiful reactions like yours give us massive encouragement! We love the pic at the end too. Beth certainly captured it well!

  2. Wow, some excellent photos here, (again)! Your photos are always great, but these photos of the lake are way above your normal work! We never got to this area in our short time in Arizona.

    • Thank you so much, Pete! Lake Powell is really photogenic and is just loaded with incredible views and vistas. I hope we can get to some of the more remote spots and see more. Since you didn’t see this area way back when, you’re just going to have to come back! 🙂

  3. Seeing Buddy running around after his close call still fills me with joy to this day!
    Take care you guys!

  4. There really aren’t many words to try and describe this majestic landscape. I also lamented over the treasures that were submerged. Progress as they say! Awesome job you guys did once again.

    • So true, Annie, words and images can only go so far. Standing there and being immersed in the scenery is, in many ways, indescribable!! There is talk of drilling holes in the dam to account for the lower water levels and there are people pushing to drain Lake Powell so the Colorado River can run free again. Who knows how it will all play out!

  5. Fabulous post, Emily, Mark and Buddy. Best descriptions ever…matches the matchless scenery!!!

    Love, Mom

  6. Why was it not in the cards this time? Are you three (including Buddy) on a schedule or have a reservation somewhere? I have a place for you three to go. So last summer when I had time around my birthday I went west of Elko, NV. There is BLM land southwest of Elko which is up on a peak of I believe about 7,000ft. Reason why I went up there was because with the solar maximum I bought an extendable antenna pole which I don’t need to secure because of how it was built. It attaches to the back corner of the 5th wheel and I can raise it about 25ft above the 5th wheel.

    Anyway, the reason for going up there is because with the solar maximum there are opportunities to have some awesome skip with 10 meter ham radio and CB radio. Normally at my house I can get as far east as Puerto Rico (From Sacramento, CA), and as far west as Hawaii. On that 7,000ft peak I was hitting Europe. A LOT of people that do not speak English. Mostly Russian.. I was also hitting Japan, and I think South Korea. This was 10 meter. On CB radios I was reaching Russia, but I did not get to Japan or any other Asian country. It was an amazing place to camp. Great views, and it was cool when I was there. There was a day where we had snow though, and another with hail. My cat did not like the hail. Anyway, give it a try next time you are in northern NV!

    • No, no reservations on this trip, Gary, but staying on a houseboat is an expensive proposition and deserves a lot of research beforehand. We did have a general schedule for this shakedown cruise, and we didn’t have time to kick back and study the houseboating options!

      Your spot southwest of Elko sounds awesome, especially for ham radio operators. How cool to hear all those foreign languages and have those awesome views too! When we were in the Sea of Cortez halfway between Cabo and the mainland, we heard lots of Russian on the VHF radios in one area. I’m not sure if we were surrounded by Russian fisherman or if there was a VHF skip of some kind!

      I sympathize with your cat and the hail. Hail on an RV roof is deafening and quite frightening too!

      Thanks for the tip about that spot and your interesting story, and happy trails and Ham-speak, both English and otherwise!!

      • Amazing! Sucks that you weren’t able to get the boat. I was thinking abou tit, and since I am not full timing it right now (I wish I were), I try to get as much fun as I can wherever I go. It’s great reading this site for years and years because you three love the same spots I love. I have been to so many spots where you three (including buddy) have gone that I found magical. Only appropriate to share. It was off the beaten bath. This was in March when I went, not in summer. I made a mistake on what I had wrote. It was March 2023. This time out it was just myself, and my kitty. I left my Lhasa with my brother who has a shih tzu who is almost the same kind of dog, but they love each other, and spend all day playing together so it’s a great place to leave her if I will be out. The kitty does well. She’s only 3 years old (2 during last trip) and new to travel, but she’s coping really well. I was able to leave her out of her crate inside the 5th wheel fir the first time. She usually rides in big crate on the floor next to me when I drive. She loves pillow/blanket caves so I made her a deep pillow and blanket cave with a bathroom, bedroom, and a play room with all of her cotton balls. Every time I stopped she was in bed and came out to greet me when I checked on her. I was afraid of her getting caught up in the slide mechanics or somewhere she shouldn’t go and get trapped. She likes to hide so the pillow and blanket fort worked great.

        When out and about I always have her wearing her harness so she’s used to it and all I have to do is attach a leash. She’s pretty content with sitting on her window perch I made out of the back of the couch and a couple small boards with padding on it.

        Anyhow to the point of all this.. Elko.. I do not like to share this spot but it’s time to let the world know! I wish I had my camera so I could post pics but I am at work. I don’t use phone to take pics of my travels. You have a great camera BTW. Anyhow, Between Winnemucca and Battle Mountain off hwy 80 you will see old hwy 4 that turns into Midas Rd. (certain parts of road not plowed, but rarely gets enough snow to close). You want to head up midas probably 7-10 miles and there will be a dirt trail towards Adam Peak (to the left, you will see it long before the road. It’s about 7,500ft up). There is a dirt road to your left that even has a stop sign, but it heads right to alex peak. It’s called “Blue Belle Mine Road”. When you get up there you will see so many dirt road turnoffs. There are a lot of caves and old mines up there so you might see a few vehicles up there but there is more than enough room and there are awesome views up there. You can see almost Elko, and definitely see Winnemucca. There is Hog Head’s canyon where people ride dirt bikes and ATVs. You have that side by side too so you will have a boatload of trails to hit and mines to look at. If you ever go make sure you get a mine map so you can take your side by side up there. Not a lot of people know about this place except for adventurers going to the cave and others going to the canyon to ride. It’s one of the most beautiful high desert places I have ever been right behind Valley of Fire where you all were and one of the places I went because of you three! I have a couple off road scooters that are battery powered so I have a good time on the trails. I get about 25mi per charge.

        • Those kitty blanket forts sound fantastic. What a lucky cat you have. Buddy loves to hide in the blankets too, and I built him a fort once when he was a puppy, but nothing nearly as elaborate as what you’ve built for your girl! I’m impressed you take her out on a leash. That’s important as a traveling cat, so I’m glad she’s accustomed to it!

          Your special spot outside Elko sounds fabulous. Thank you so much for the detailed info. We’ll definitely have to check it out sometime. There aren’t too many places in this world that are up to the caliber of Valley of Fire, but those long distance views from the top sound incredible. You’ve tantalized and now it’s on our bucket list for sure!

          Your battery powered scooters sound like a blast. 25 miles per charge is pretty good. Have fun out traveling — sounds like you’ve had a lot of great adventures already!

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