Our Favorite Hikes and Canyons

Our Favorite Hikes and Canyons

Gail Buckley - Lake Powell Houseboating 102 Expert
Gail »

Gail Buckley: [Summary Here]

There are so many places to visit when you come to Lake Powell, you could write a book about them. (Actually, people have written books about them, and one of my favorites is The Boater’s Guide to Lake Powell: Featuring Hiking, Camping, Geology, History & Archaeology, by Michael R. Kelsey; check it out.) But what’s that one must-see place that I bring people to, when they’ve never been here before? You could make great arguments for the inspirational view of Rainbow Bridge, or perhaps Moki Canyon, or the kayak paradise of the Escalante River arm, but my hands-down choice is Defiance House. You have simply got to see this place.

What is Defiance House?

Defiance House is an original cliff dwelling built by the Ancestral Puebloans more than 700 years ago. It was named by the archeologists who discovered it, because it featured intimidating pictographs (rock drawings) showing warriors with clubs and shields. The scientists even found intact bowls within—with scraps of food still in them!

Those pictographs are still there. The food was eaten by the archeologists—oh, I’m just kidding. I’m sure it was analyzed in some lab somewhere. But here’s the thing about Defiance House: It’s not just one the best preserved structures at the lake. It’s one you can actually go inside. How cool is that?

How to Get There

Simply boat north, about 11 miles, heading up the middle fork of Forgotten Canyon (yes, that’s another of our natural wonders here) about three miles, and anchor there. I recommend you take a power boat (and we rent them if you need one); it’s the fastest way. From there, Defiance House is just a short hike from the beach. It’s only about a half a mile—and even less in summer, when the water level is higher.

Since it’s so accessible (there’s no strenuous climbing involved), it’s perfect for the whole family; and since it’s close to us here at Northlake, it’s an easy day trip.

Why it’s Special

I love Defiance House because it’s one of the few places where you can get up close and personal with these ancient Anasazi ruins. You can touch them. You can climb down a ladder and sit in the same little room, called a kiva, that the ancients sat in. You can see the pictographs. There are numerous other ruins in the area to explore. There are often park rangers there, who can regale you with fascinating historical tidbits. And you can take some of the best photos there.

Where to Stay

Defiance House is about a half hour away from our marina by power boat, and there are lots of beaches right there, where you can anchor and camp. And because Defiance House is so popular, lots of people do just that. When I bring friends there, however, we like to keep it quieter and more private, so we’ll camp at Hansen Creek or Knowles Canyon, or often right here in Bullfrog Bay. They’re more secluded, more private, more in keeping—I think—with the inspirational Defiance House experience.

An Ongoing Mystery

The Ancestral Puebloans vanished years ago. They’re a tribe that’s simply gone. Archeologists have different theories about why they vanished (soil depletion? climate change?), but no one knows for sure. Which means—and this is what I like to tell visitors—that this is a mystery that you can ponder, and maybe even solve, on your own! It’s a neat thing to think about when you’re standing in the exact spot where these people spent their lives, centuries ago.

Jim Knapp - Lake Powell Houseboating 102 Expert
Jim »

Jim Knapp: [Summary Here]

One of the great things about houseboating at Lake Powell is the sheer number of places to visit. Some of my colleagues have written articles about their favorite spots to bring first-timers; interestingly, each one chose a different place. So did I. For this article, I’d like to whet your appetite for visiting my favorite spot to escape from it all here at Lake Powell. And that’s the Escalante.

What it Is

The Escalante is one of the five rivers that feed Lake Powell, and it’s also one of the largest. But that’s not why it’s my favorite. I simply think it’s the coolest. It’s fairly inaccessible. You must really commit to going there. But boy is it ever worth it.

Getting There

The Escalante enters Lake Powell at Mile Marker 68. What that means is that it’s 68 miles north of the dam, at the southernmost portion of the lake. Since it’s so remote, many people think the Escalante is a Northlake attraction, but it’s actually pretty close to the middle.

If you’re sailing north from Wahweap Marina (where I’m based), you’ll see a marker buoy that says “Escalante River” when you get there. From Wahweap, it’ll take you over a day to get there by houseboat; by powerboat, count on about two hours—and you’ll need to stop at Dangling Rope marina (about midway up the lake) to refuel.

Take it Easy!

The canyon of the Escalante river runs about 12 miles, and it gets pretty narrow in the back. (We have plenty of “slot canyons” here at Lake Powell—some get so narrow, you can barely pass your shoulders through them.) If you’re going by houseboat, be sure to follow the buoy markers in the main channel to stay in deep enough water. In the back canyons, whether by houseboat or powerboat, go slow and watch out for shallow spots, which you can recognize by their lighter color.

So What Can You See There?

I guess I’ve teased you enough by this point. But that’s kind of like a trip up the Escalante. As I said, you need to commit to it.

But you’ll be rewarded for your effort and your patience. The place is stunning. The solitude is overwhelming. Climb out and explore; there are tons of ancient Anasazi ruins within hiking distance. Boat far enough, and you’ll come to LaGorce Arch in Davis Gulch. At one hundred feet high, it’s one of the most photographed spots on the lake. It offers water views on both sides.

But Can You Camp There?

There’s not a ton of beaching in the Escalante, but it can be found. I wish I could tell you about a great spot, but they come and go in concert with the water level here. Think of it this way: One foot of vertical elevation change in water level could translate to ten feet—or more—of shoreline lost or gained. The good news: No matter how many times you visit, you’ll always see something different.

What to Bring

I’d say to bring your common sense. The Escalante is secluded. You won’t find radio service. There’s no cell signal. In the deep canyons, you can’t even always get GPS. So if you’re sketchy about being totally disconnected, you may want to reconsider. This is a spot for the more adventurous, but that’s why I like it. If you’re like me, you’ll like it, too.

Robert Knowlton - Lake Powell Houseboating 102 Expert
Robert »

Robert Knowlton: [Summary Here]

Some people come to Lake Powell just once. Some are regulars. Others (like me) live here all year round. But whether you come here once or often, there’s one place here that absolutely tops my list of must-see places. And that’s West Canyon.

In my opinion, West Canyon is Lake Powell at its finest. While it’s a visit for the more adventurous types, know that I’ve taken my family there, and they all loved it as much as I do. By the time I’ve finished describing it for you, I think you’ll want to check it out, too.

Getting There

West Canyon sits around 30 miles uplake from Wahweap Marina, where I’m based. (It’s easy to find on any Stan Jones map, the go-to hardcopy resource here at Lake Powell.) By houseboat, it’s about a two- or three-hour drive. That’s why I always go by powerboat: It’s faster (which also gives you more time to explore once you arrive) and a lot stingier on fuel.

You’ll see West Canyon approach on your right. Sail into it as far as you can. The water will get shallow as the canyon narrows, so once you’ve gone as far as you can, beach your boat (on a powerboat, tilt and trim the motor to ride up on the beach) and tie it off to a heavy bush or rock with the included rope.

Hoof It

Now that your boat is secure, start hiking the canyon. Follow it back. You won’t hit a trail until you’ve been hiking about a half hour, depending upon the water level at the time (that beach you used could be much higher or lower).

Now that you’ve found the trail, get ready for the good stuff.

Prepare to be Awed

After about an hour of beautiful hiking, the canyon will narrow even more. Way more. I’m 190 pounds, and I can just fit through the opening without pivoting my shoulders. That’s why they’re called slot canyons.

Once you go through that slot, the canyon opens up again, with soaring rock walls towering some ten stories above you, banded in magnificent reds and bronzes that change color with the sunlight. Ahead of you, you’ll find a beautiful pool of standing water. It’s not too big, maybe 30 feet across, but if you want to keep hiking, you’ll have to cross it. You can wade most of it, but count on about 20 seconds of actual swimming to get past the deepest part in the middle. (I once swam that in October, and it was cold!)

Continue past the water, and the canyon will narrow again, treating you to a second slot. That’s about as far as I usually go with my friends and family, but you can actually hike your way all the way to Antelope Canyon if you keep going.

Keep Your Eyes Open

The desert is usually pretty quiet, but you can catch sight of wildlife if you’re alert. There are coyotes, lizards, ravens, and hawks. I’ve even seen a rare California condor soaring overhead. Their wingspan can reach ten feet; it’s pretty amazing.

Time it Right

West Canyon is a place you want to see early in the day. In the summer, you’ll want to arrive there by around seven or eight a.m., so you can be done by around one pm, and thus avoid being there during the hottest part of the day. Bring plenty of water; you’ll need it.

Be sure to check the weather forecast before you leave. If thunderstorms are predicted, reschedule. You don’t want to get caught in a potential flash flood—and West Canyon will still be there for you when it’s sunny again.


About the Experts

Gail Buckley - Gail Buckley’s houseboating adventures date back to the 1980s, when she and her husband would visit the lake several times each year with friends. In 2010, she turned her love into a new career at Lake Powell; today, she’s the Boat Rentals Manager for Northlake at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Jim Knapp - Jim Knapp first moved to Lake Powell more than 25 years ago; today, he’s the Director of Boat Rental Maintenance for Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas. A factory-certified mechanic for numerous top marine powerplant brands, he’s also a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain for 100-ton craft.

Robert Knowlton -Robert Knowlton started his career at Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas as a seasonal worker during college more than six years ago. Today, not only is he a full-timer—he’s the Director, Southlake Boat Rentals, based at Wahweap Marina.