There are so many things I wish I knew before visiting Lake Powell for the first time during our three-week Arizona-Utah road trip. I failed to put much thought into researching logistics because I was just so entranced by the sheer beauty of the lake.
It honestly never crossed my mind that visiting Lake Powell could be anything but pure magic. After all, all the photos I had seen made it look like a dream.
Don’t get me wrong, Lake Powell is stunning and 1000% worth visiting. However, I do think that in order to fully enjoy your trip it’s important to know what to expect before you go.
In other words, learn from our mistakes.
While adventuring around Lake Powell we encountered one mishap after another. These mishaps make for great campfire stories now, but they were quite the headache at the time.
In this guide, I cover an array of things I wish I knew before visiting Lake Powell. This guide will prepare you for any activity and make sure you have a great time camping, boating, off-roading, or just swimming.
A First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Lake Powell: Things I Wish I Knew
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Common Questions about Lake Powell
Is Lake Powell Free?
Lake Powell is part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Visitors with an America the Beautiful Pass don’t have to pay the entrance fee. If you plan on visiting any of the Utah Mighty 5 National Parks like Bryce Canyon or Zion during your trip, I recommend getting this pass.
Otherwise, the entrance cost is $30 per vehicle; good for 1-7 days.
What is the Best Way to See Lake Powell?
There are so many different ways to enjoy the lake. Lake Powell truly has something for everyone, whether you wish to experience the lake’s grandeur from the water or from atop Wahweap Lookout.
Visitors can choose to boat, jet ski, kayak, swim, or simply play along the shores.
However, to truly see the lake and understand its size and beauty I do think renting a boat is the best way to take full advantage.
I go into further detail later regarding what to expect boating on Lake Powell, as well as things I wish I had known before we went.
Let’s just say, It’s not your typical sit-back and unwind lake outing.
How Much Time Do You Need at Lake Powell?
How much time you need to spend at Lake Powell really depends on how much of the lake you want to see and how you want to see it.
We spent one full day boating on Lake Powell and barely scratched the surface. The lake is incredibly expansive and covers over 186 miles. Ideally, we would have loved to rent a boat for more than one day. Doing so would have allowed us the freedom to pull over at night and camp along the shore.
This sort of multi-day boating trip allows visitors to venture deeper into the canyon, escape some of the crowds, and visit destinations such as Rainbow Bridge.
Keep in mind that if you also want to kayak, explore the off-roading trails, or primitive camp across Wahweap Bay you’re going to want to up your days spent at Lake Powell.
Do You Need a Boating License for Lake Powell?
Surprisingly, you do not need a boating license to rent or operate a boat on Lake Powell.
Having said that, please consider your own confidence level and expertise before attempting to operate a boat in a very large and busy body of water.
Cole’s skills were put to the test on more than one occasion, and he’s been running boats for years. The lake is highly trafficked, the water level can drastically change in a matter of seconds, and the canyons can be extremely narrow to navigate.
The History of Lake Powell
Before you can truly enjoy Lake Powell it’s important to understand its history. Even the pure existence of the lake is controversial.
Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir that was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon. Glen Canyon Dam was constructed, the canyon was flooded, and the recreational hot spot now known as Lake Powell was born.
The Current Water Crisis at Lake Powell
Unfortunately, the water level at Lake Powell is continuing to decline.
Recently Lake Powell’s water level hit a record low of only 25% capacity. While low water levels put the summer hot spot at risk for closure, it more importantly threatens the water source of more than 22 million people.
How in the world we will engineer our way out of this one, I don’t know. What I do know is that if seeing Lake Powell is on your bucket list, I suggest you make the trip sooner than later.
You can track the current lake levels here.
Things I Wish I Knew Before Camping at Lake Powell
There are several things I wish I knew before visiting Lake Powell, so let’s start with camping. I had romanticized camping in front of Lone Rock at Lake Powell for some time, so you can imagine my dismay when I realized it just wasn’t going to happen during our trip.
Lone Rock Beach Campground
Lone Rock Beach Campground is the area that allows cars to drive on the sand and set up camp along the shoreline.
The fee is $14 per vehicle and sites are undesignated, first-come, first-served style. Naturally, the most highly sought-after spots are the ones right along the water.
What I didn’t realize, and wish I had known, was how difficult it was to get to these spots. Vehicles were stuck in the sand, spinning out, or being pulled out by friendly neighbors all around us.
Cole looked at me with that, no-way-we’re-driving-down-there-look, and I immediately knew we weren’t going to have a front-row seat to Lone rock after all.
I wish I had known more about the wind and the sandy driving conditions before visiting Lake Powell.
We could not even unfold the layers of our tent because the wind was so strong, it felt like the wind was going to rip it straight out of our hands. Everyone else was sheltered safely within the walls of their RVs, without any worry of being blown away. We were the only two newbies trying to set up a camping tent.
We originally thought maybe the windy night was just back luck, but apparently, strong evening winds are a common thing at Lake Powell. The more you know, right?
We gave a good fight, trying to enjoy the view from our camp chairs, but the flying sand was too relentless. We finally decided to pack up and head towards Beehive Campground.
Things I Wish I Knew Before Swimming at Lake Powell
We visited Lake Powell in July, smack dab in the height of summer temperatures. I wanted nothing more than to plunge myself into the lake ASAP.
This brings me to the second thing I wish I knew before visiting Lake Powell: it’s not very conducive to swimming.
The shores of Lake Powell are rockier than they are sandy. Cole and I were unable to swim near Lone Rock. A steep bank, shallow water, and rocky bottom impeded our easy access to the water.
After attempting to swim in another location, the water turned out to be shin deep as far as we could see. We ended up laying on our stomachs in the water instead.
While we’re on the topic, the water at Lake Powell is freezing.
Regardless of how incredibly hot the temperature is in Utah during your visit, jumping in the water is still a shock, albeit a welcomed one, to the system.
Is it worth it? Absolutely.
In summary, the most fun we had swimming at Lake Powell was cliff jumping — an adventure that requires a boat. Which brings me to the third thing I wish I knew before visiting Lake Powell: Boating logistics.
Things I Wish I Knew Before Renting a Boat on Lake Powell
There are so many things I wish we knew before boating Lake Powell, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Renting a boat was a non-negotiable for me. I wanted to explore the lake, weave through the narrow canyons, and soak up the sunshine from the bow.
We rented a boat through a great, local family who helped us launch it from Wahweap Marina. Luckily they gave us some local knowledge of the lake and things to be on the lookout for.
For starters, Lake Powell is busy. There are boats just about everywhere. At times it felt more like we were on a highway during rush hour.
While this may not seem like a big deal on a wide-open calm lake, the narrow canyons of Lake Powell make for a different story.
The Water Depth Changes Drastically
Other boats are not the only thing you need to be on the lookout for. Lake Powell is a flooded canyon, after all, meaning what’s under the water is constantly changing. Add in the current low water levels on top of the unpredictable underwater geology and things can get tricky real quick.
When boating in Lake Powell, it’s important to be on high alert for the water depth, monitoring it closely.
Finding a Place to Moor the Boat is Hard
Additionally, we were surprised by how hard it was to find a safe place to moor the boat. We desperately wanted to swim but most of the lake is surrounded by cliffs and the entire sandy shoreline was full of large houseboats.
We did eventually find a place to swim (and serendipitously stumbled upon some cliff jumping) but it wasn’t easy.
The Water is Choppy
Lastly, and extremely important, if you plan on being the one operating the boat, the water is choppy.
Again, we thought maybe conditions were just abnormally rough on the day we went out. Later, a group of locals confirmed that these conditions were pretty typical for the lake.
The high volume of boat traffic and narrow canyon passages added to the churning of the lake. The result? White-capped waterways and high winds.
Did we still have a blast? Yes. But were we on high alert most of the time? Also yes.
Things to Know Before Off-Roading Around Lake Powell
Finally, on the long list of things I wish I knew before visiting Lake Powell: Off-roading safety.
Since we were able to camp at Lone Rock Beach Campground, I convinced Cole to let us drive around Waheap Bay to search for some primitive campsites.
While we did eventually find the campsite we were looking for, it came at a huge cost.
Off-roading around Lake Powell can be tricky because the lake level is always changing. It may look like the terrain is dry and safe to drive on. However, it could be a dried lake bed: dry on the surface and wet underneath.
While searching for the perfect, secluded camp spot we were unfortunate enough to hit a sinkhole in our Jeep. Within seconds our Jeep went from cruising on dry desert to being two feet deep in mud and sinking quickly.
You can imagine the panic that sets in when you’re two hours from civilization, without cell service, and watching your rental car sink into a lake.
Again, what we were sure was something that only happened to us, turns out, happens almost weekly. When we did finally get cell service and were able to call for help, the truck that came to our rescue knew exactly where to find us.
Apparently, many people off-road in the area and commonly find themselves in sinkholes disguised as trusty off-roading terrain.
Yes, our Lake Powell trip was riddled with unexpected mishaps, but yours doesn’t have to be!
Lake Powell is beautiful and full to the brim with adventure, but it can take you by surprise if you’re not prepared. Let me know if you have any further questions about Lake Powell in the comments.
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We are currently planning a family trip to Lake Powell and waiting for the 2023 houseboat rentals to open up for booking so I am very interested in the information you shared. It doesn’t sound like you rented a houseboat while you visited but I’m curious if you gained any knowledge about the challenges related to house boating? Specifically I’m wondering about managing a large houseboat in waters where the depth can change drastically…and how its possible to manage water depth in general – whether in a houseboat or a speedboat? I’m also wondering about how challenging it is to find a place to moor a houseboat overnight? Given the challenges, might it be better to stay at Lake Powell Resort and book guided tours instead? Fyi our group includes 9 people who range in age from 18 to 80!
Hi there! Renting a house boat would be SO much fun! And we saw several on the water when we were there. However, yes, it would come with several challenges. The wind, water current, traffic, and changing water levels are all things to consider. If you are not experienced operating a house boat I don’t think I would recommend it 🙂 BUT you know yourself and your group better than me so I would just trust your gut. Regardless, you will have a blast!