Exploring Lake Powell by Houseboat

Don Paulson / Jaynes Gallery / DanitaDelimont.com / Getty Images

The massive and magnificent area on the Arizona-Utah border offers endless adventure—swimming, kayaking, Jet Skiing, hiking, fishing—and is best experienced by staying on the water.

The 186-mile-long Lake Powell comprises 96 canyons and 1,960 miles of shoreline. Straddling the far corners of Utah and Arizona, it’s other-worldly: clear blue water, sandy beaches, slot canyons, ancient petroglyphs, hidden arches, and sweeping vistas. Trees are few and far between—it’s desolation at its most stunning. The second-biggest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Powell was formed in 1963 by the flooding of the Colorado River during the completion of the 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam. It became part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a region of 1.25 million acres where the Navajo and Hopi tribes have lived for centuries. To the rest of the world, the area is far from civilization—a four-hour drive from either Phoenix or Las Vegas. But those intrepid enough to make the trek are in for a most impressive travel experience.

I was first introduced to the area in 2009 with the opening of Amangiri (rooms from $1,400; 435-675-3999; aman.com), now the most successful property in the Aman hotel group. We opted for the drive from Las Vegas. Amangiri is nestled in a discreet valley among massive rock pillars and mesas, dramatically set at the base of a sandstone formation. Its design integrates the local geology at every turn, from its swimming pool to the concrete “picture frames” strategically displaying select views of the landscape. Layer on top the resort’s well-marked hikes, multiple outdoor hot tubs, 25,000-square-foot spa, and spacious lobby with several wood-burning fireplaces, and I was thoroughly smitten.

Do splurge on a via ferrata hike (from $295). Italian for “iron road,” it’s a series of fixed cables and ladder rungs used to climb steep mountain routes. Star guide J. J. McMahon can coach almost anyone to the top of the mesas. On a visit last year I did the newest ferrata—which had just been completed. It includes the option to walk on Hoodoo, a 232-foot suspension bridge with views of the waters of Lake Powell, which is a 20-minute drive away. Day trips to the lake can easily be arranged.

A few years after my first trip, I returned and stayed on Lake Powell, in a houseboat. It’s now my preferred way to experience the lake. There are four main marinas: Hite to the north, Bullfrog and Halls Crossing in the middle, and Wahweap Marina to the south. (All the marinas can be reached at 888-896-3829.) Page is the closest town of note; it began as a government camp in 1957 to house the dam workers.

Functional houseboats (from 46 feet to 75 feet long) can be rented from any of the marinas. Captains are not typically included since the boats are relatively easy to navigate. Choose carefully between boat layouts, as air-conditioned spaces on board can widely vary. And that’s important if you’re there in July, when temperatures can exceed 95 degrees. (The cooler and less-crowded shoulder seasons are May, June, September, and October.) Also consider water temperature, which peaks in August at 79 degrees. None of the marina rental options offer truly high-end yachts—there are very few of these on the lake, and they must be rented privately.


The author kayaking an inlet on Lake Powell. Courtesy Gray & Co.

Boats can be stocked in Page. There are plenty of good outfitting options, from kayaks and stand-up paddle-boards at Hidden Canyon Kayak (lakepowellhiddencanyonkayak.com) to supplies at Safeway and Walmart. Don’t miss a meal at the Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge (928-645-0007).

We headed out by powerboat from Wahweap to our moored private houseboat. It was 85 feet long, slept ten, and was fully staffed with captains, house-keeper, and chef. Map of the lake in hand, we were off, our vessel piloted by top-notch local captains Amy and Rob Callaway, founders of Trips Under the Sun (tripsunderthesun.com). The lake is well marked, and you can go wherever you wish. Our captains had already found an interesting spot and secured the boat. It was from there that we based our adventures, returning to the houseboat for meals and to sleep.

Our trip’s success was due greatly to Amy and Rob, who would whisk us away in their powerboats, illuminating the area’s geological features that date back millions of years—with petroglyphs detailed on 1,000-foot multi-colored rock walls—and even finding us some dinosaur footprints. After a couple of hours, we were talking about fossils, fissures, and windswept mesas like experts. From our houseboat base, we swam, fished, waterskied, hiked (including to Rainbow Bridge, among the world’s largest natural bridges), kayaked, stand-up paddleboarded among the slot canyons, and just chilled on the beaches. Although the lake can get crowded in peak summer season (July and August), you’ll never be bothered by crowds—there’s plenty of shoreline for all.

Off the lake, attractions abound. The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park are within 150 miles of Page. Nearby are the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; the Tibbet Spring Bone Bed Quarry; and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world, with 300-foot walls stretching 16 miles (six to eight hours of hiking). Trail conditions can vary; be sure to bring layers and expect wet feet by day’s end. You’re best advised to enlist the charming Yermo Welsh, whose Seeking Treasure Adventures (seekingtreasureadventures.com) will make sure you navigate Buckskin Gulch and White Pocket as well as North and South Coyote Buttes safely and enjoyably. Or head out with Utah dynamo Melanie Webb, whose Sol Fitness Adventures (solfitnessadventures.com) creates custom active experiences: Our final day she had us doing yoga on a mesa.

Cari Gray is the founder of Gray & Co., a travel company with a focus on luxury adventure trips; grayandco.ca.