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Powell Boat Camping: Sky, Water and Rock

Also see this article: Where Can You Go Potty While Boating And Camping At Lake Powell?

It's 3.3 miles across Bullfrog Bay from the southwest point to the boat ramp. But it seems like a hundred when you're coming in at 4 mph, full throttle on your trolling motor, your big motor's tank bone dry. I know because I've done it - more than once.

I can't get enough of Lake Powell. In the past I've tried to maximize trips by pushing myself, my boat and my companions - sometimes to the danger point. Now, as gray hair makes me look older and wiser, I wonder what the hell I was doing. Yes, it was fun catching that one last fish. But it wasn't fun searching for camp in the black of night, sky and water and rock converging incoherently, no hint of moon or stars, trying to steer around rocks illuminated by a flashlight's thin beam.

Lately I've adopted a new motto: "Keep it simple, keep it sane." Now, if I fish past sunset in Neskahi, it's because I'm camped somewhere close by. Simple. No more mad dashes.

Simplicity is one reason I enjoy beach camping at Powell. I decide where I want to play and then I look for a comfortable beach close by. I've found great camping spots on every part of the lake.


The main event

The way I was raised, camping was simply a means to an end. We camped so we could stay close to our favorite fishing holes, or so the extended family could gather for a reunion &. Camping was a pleasant part of the outing, but never the main attraction.

At Lake Powell I've found my attitude changing. Camping at Powell is a joy in its own right. I can lean back against a rock, watch the canyon's light show and thoroughly enjoy myself. Away from the marina, in the back of some remote canyon, the setting sun turns billowy clouds into rose petals edged with crimson. The water darkens to an oily black, its surface a mirror that captures every detail of the rust-colored cliffs and towering rock formations. Sometimes it's hard to detect where water ends and the cliff begins.

A solitary raven cries out in a harsh voice as it flaps toward its night perch. And then an overpowering serenity rolls across the lake. Silence. Remarkable silence.

Stars appear. Just one or two at first. But then, before you realize it, they are everywhere. The Milky Way arches overhead, brighter than you've ever seen it before. You become dizzy as you stare at it, and try to comprehend its enormity. The night sky is powerful at Powell.

Some people say the enormity of the sky makes them feel insignificant. Not so with me. At Powell I draw power from the rocks, the water and the stars. I feel like I belong . like I'm part of a greater whole. It's a wonderful feeling.


Land of choices

A wide variety of experiences are possible at Powell. It's a big lake with room for all - from the kayaking beach camper to the houseboater or yachter steering a half-million-dollar craft, from the powerboater with a tiny cuddy to the backpacker who hikes in from a dusty Jeep road. More often than not, I'm one of those in a small tent on the beach. But I have experienced all of these styles, and all are enjoyable.

I like to escape with my wife to a secluded cove in the back of a remote canyon - our private little slice of paradise. Moonlight swims, cozy campfires, snuggling inside the boat's cabin, in a tent on the beach or under the stars: It can be very romantic . far more enjoyable than listening to my fishing buddies snore.

I also like to camp with my children. We have great memories of toasting marshmallows after days spent exploring, hiking, skiing, chasing crayfish, catching catfish and bluegill, and tumbling down sand hills headlong into the warm water.

Somehow, I often get coerced into taking teenagers to Powell. They come with irreverent excitement, blasting around the lake, skiing, wake boarding, jumping from cliffs . scary thoughts. A campfire 10 feet tall. Wild stories. Stupid jokes. Staying up until all hours of the night. It almost seems as crazy as getting your first tattoo or shopping for tattoo supplies. Actually, I enjoy taking young people to Powell. It can be a great experience for them - sometimes the most fun they have ever had in their lives.


Always changing

Every trip to Powell is a new adventure. The lake is a living, dynamic thing, constantly changing. The water levels, the seasons, the storm clouds, the migration of fish up and down the canyons - the experience varies widely from year to year, even from week to week.

Water levels are low right now. In general, that means more beach is exposed - more sandy camping spots. Because of the low water, I recently had the chance to stay overnight in a small canyon that John Wesley Powell named Music Temple. At high water levels there are few beaches and no good camping sites. But now I was able to find a stretch of sand flat enough to accommodate a small tent, letting me live out a fantasy that had stirred my imagination from the time I first read the enchanting words Powell recorded in his journal:

"On entering, we find a little grove of box elder and cottonwood trees, and turning to the right, we find ourselves in a vast chamber, carved out of rock&. The chamber is more than 200 feet high, 500 feet long, 200 feet wide through the ceiling, and on through the rocks for a thousand feet above& Here we bring our camp. When 'old shady' sings us a song at night, we are pleased to find that this hollow in the rock is filled with sweet sounds. It was doubtless made for an academy of music by its stormborn architect; so we named it Music Temple Canyon."

The floor of the chamber is now covered by water, but the canyon is still filled with the song of desert sparrows during the still of the evening.

It's less than a mile from the mouth of Music Temple to the end of the boatable canyon. The gorge narrows to the point that only small boats should attempt to enter its inner chamber. It's an ideal place for a short kayak adventure. Gliding quietly through this sanctuary, near the heart of Glen Canyon, even irreverent teenagers sometimes feel like they belong - like they're part of a greater whole.

Lake Powell can do that to you.


InformationFavorite primitive camping spots

Prime spots usually fill up on summer weekends, so arrive early if you can. The list below is entirely subjective, based on my own personal experience.


Close to facilities

Hite beaches - Both sides of the boat ramp. You can camp next to the water or up against the rocks. Kids enjoy climbing on the rocks. A restroom with flush toilets is nearby, along with two stores offering food and supplies.


Close to great fishing

  • Hite beaches
  • Hwy. 95 - Coves across from Hite
  • Good Hope Bay - Coves and beaches
  • Middle San Juan arm - Canyons and coves
  • Iceberg Canyon - Coves and beaches
  • Antelope Island - Beaches near the dam

Play spots for kids

  • Sand Mountain - At the back of Moki Canyon
  • Wahweap Bay coves - East side between Wahweap Window and Castle Rock
  • Wilson Creek Canyon - Where there is a natural slickrock waterslide
  • Last Chance Bay - Great beaches and one of the best bays for water toys

Most scenic areas

  • Padre Bay - Excellent campsites in its side canyons.
  • Rock Creek Bay - Good campsites in each of its arms
  • West Canyon - Good camping near its mouth and about midcanyon
  • Escalante Arm - Great camping in many side canyons