There are several contenders, but Lake Powell is the best of the best. Here’s why.
America is home to a glut of amazing lakes. Tahoe, Crater, Flathead, and Havasu just to name a few. But in terms of sheer adventure, nothing beats Lake Powell for its houseboats, water-skiing, cliff jumping, swimming, boat-hiking, extra elbow room, and limitless exploration. Here’s what makes Lake Powell the most fun-loving body of water in the country.
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Lake Powell started after the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963 to store water for residents of Arizona, Nevada, and California. Powell wouldn’t become a full lake until 1980, however, after 17 years of “filling” reached an average water depth of 400-500 feet. Rather than being a giant bowl of water like other reservoirs, Lake Powell looks like a flooded Grand Canyon, which is downright stunning.
When factoring in the countless side-canyons and jagged coastline, Lake Powell has over 2,000 miles of shoreline. This is more than the entire west coast of America! What that means is there are a lot of sandy beaches, harbors, and private coves in this 186-mile long lake. But Lake Powell isn’t just bigger—nearly every square inch is visually fascinating and takes on a slightly different look every year as water levels vary.
To get the most from Lake Powell, you really need to explore some of the 96 side canyons. While major channels and larger bays are still fun, playing in the canyons is where it’s at. The first time I did so, I uttered to my friend, “This is canyon-hiking by boat.” It really is. Only better—if you ever get hot, simply jump in the water. Oftentimes, you can even water ski in the larger canyons—not just boat hiking, ski hiking. It’s magic, I tell ya.
As if Lake Powell needed more going for it, there is actually a National Monument about halfway into the lake. Dubbed Rainbow Bridge National Monument, it’s home to the largest natural bridge on earth. Before the formation of Lake Powell, visiting the monument used to require a long, rugged, horseback ride. Now it’s just a two-mile hike (round trip!) from the boat harbor, which can be accessed by private vessels or tour boats. Either way, both the canyon leading up to the trailhead and the bridge itself is surreal.
Seeing Lake Powell from any of its three major marinas is a worthwhile experience in and of itself. But to get the most from the lake, you really need to go inside its belly, so to speak. That will likely require your own boat or a rented one in the form of a ski boat, pontoon, wave runner, or houseboat. These can be arranged at the Wahweap or Antelope Point marinas on the Arizona southern side of the lake, or Bullfrog Marina on the northern Utah side. Lakeshore hotels are also available at Wahweap or Bullfrog, as well as campgrounds.
Lake Powell didn’t invent houseboats, but it certainly popularized them. In fact, it’s the most popular houseboating lake in America. Over three million people visit the lake each year and stay an average of five days, which is the longest of any federal park. Given everything on tap here, it’s no wonder people want to stay as long as possible, and houseboats make that possibility a comfortable reality. They don’t come cheap, though.
Extra Elbow Room
Despite its popularity, Lake Powell can be surprisingly uncrowded, even in peak summer season. There are two reasons for this: its massive size and its near-100 side canyons. While major channels and beaches are often crowded, delightful isolation can often be found in the next canyon over. Yet another reason that makes Lake Powell so appealing.
Like the extra elbow room, Lake Powell often has glassy smooth water well into the afternoon. This makes it ideal for skiing and swimming all day long. Again, the major channels can get choppy due to either wind or a surplus of boats. But it’s not uncommon to find untouched water in one of the many side canyons. You’ll never know unless you try.
Be warned: Cliff jumping over 15 feet is forbidden at Lake Powell. It can also be dangerous, similar to a speeding car. This law is routinely broken, and many folks will insist that it’s exhilarating. But many people have died cliff jumping here. However, it can still be exhilarating jumping from under 15 feet, so make sure to do that. And when in doubt, don’t do it.
As fun-loving as Lake Powell is by day, it gets even better by night. Whether camping at one of its many beaches or sleeping on top of a houseboat, both options will keep you well-lit under a star-filled sky. Known for its lack of light pollution, this is an excellent way to wind down after a full day of adventure.