Houseboating on Lake Powell: Oasis in the Desert

Lake Powell
Lake Powell

It’s almost 10 p.m. in the red-walled canyons of Lake Powell. The desert air is still warm, almost hot, and all is silent except for the occasional splash of jumping fish.

From the roof of our rented houseboat, anchored in a secluded cove near Good Hope Bay, I watch as thousands of stars cover the clear night sky, their twinkling lights reflecting in the deep lake waters.

Such peaceful evenings are worth remembering. Here in this remote corner of the world, the worries of daily life are left far behind. Perhaps that is one of the reasons so many visitors flock to Lake Powell each year.

As the second largest man-made lake in the country, Lake Powell stretches its fingers over 180 miles from Northern Arizona into Southern Utah, and is part of the Colorado River in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The lake was named for Civil War veteran Major John Powell, who explored in the region in 1869. But it wasn’t until 1966, when the Glen Canyon Dam was completed, that the lake came into its own.

It took almost 17 years for Lake Powell to reach “fill” capacity and a depth of 500 feet. Since then, it has become a major destination for houseboating and other water sports. The lake covers more than 90 canyons and has almost 2,000 miles of shoreline, more than the entire western coast of the United States.

My family and I pick up our rented houseboat at Bullfrog Marina Motorboats, where Jet Skis and houseboats of all sizes and price ranges are available for rental. Since our houseboat sleeps 12, we’ve asked several other family members to join us.

Rental prices range from $1,074 to $3,256 for a fully equipped, three-day houseboat rental.

“Houseboating is a great option for families who want to vacation together,” says Dan Cole, general manager of water operations. “Many families come down here year after year together.”

Our boat includes a mini-kitchen, two bathrooms with lake-water showers, four tiny bedrooms and a nice living room. The kids are thrilled to see the large slide that runs from the roof of the boat to the water, and I like the deck chairs under the shade on top of the roof.

It is our first houseboating experience, and we’re surprised to find that the houseboat feels like a big RV built for the water. There is a bit of a learning curve in handling it, but we soon catch on.

Houseboating on Lake Powell is best for those who like exploring remote locations, who enjoy rugged but gorgeous scenery and who like a bit of adventure.

Although winters can be cold at the lake, it’s open year-round. Early summer is pleasant. Late summer can be extremely hot. “The best time to visit Lake Powell is in the fall,” Cole says. “The crowds are gone by then, it’s cool enough to hike and explore, but the water is still warm.”

Veteran visitors to Lake Powell offer advice to first-time boaters. “Be sure to buy all your supplies before getting on the lake,” says one. “There is only one little store at the marina, and you can’t make a quick trip back if you’ve forgotten something.”

Keeping food supplies cool is not easy. Terry Cartrite, who has vacationed at Powell for the last 16 years, takes plenty of ice onboard. “We take fresh items that need cooling for the beginning of the week, then rely on canned foods by the end of the trip.”

Cartrite also stresses the importance of having a second motor boat or Jet Ski along with the houseboat. “The second boat adds a degree of safety,” he says.

Our houseboat travels at about 10 miles per hour, so we’ve decided to pull two extra motorboats behind it.

After the boat is loaded, it’s time to set out. “It doesn’t matter where you go,” Cole says. “The whole lake is beautiful!”

Red, white and yellow layers of rock line the sheer canyon walls, displaying the Earth’s ancient age in a dramatic way. The water is so clear that I can see way down.

The region is a fisherman’s paradise. The Escalante and San Juan rivers feed into the lake and both are popular fishing areas for large and small mouth bass, crappie, catfish, carp and striped bass.

Hikers have an unending wilderness to explore at Powell. In arid weather, hikers can explore hundreds of dry river bends into the canyons. Wildlife abounds, including wild donkeys, many birds and even coyotes.

Our boat heads out toward Good Hope Bay, and four hours later, we pull into a deserted cove. We’ll spend the next few days anchored here. My favorite part of the day comes each night at dusk, when we head up to the houseboat roof, pull out the chairs or lie on cushions to stare up into the night sky. There are no city lights to impede the stars here, and nature’s best show soon begins.

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