Family Houseboat Vacation on Stunning Lake Powell

Whether you describe the experience as a floating party, a family cruise or a kid heaven, house boating on Lake Powell is the adventure of a lifetime.

Lake Powell, which straddles the border between Utah and Arizona and is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, is not really a lake at all. It’s a manmade reservoir — the second largest in the U.S., shaped by the flooding of the Colorado River during the final stages of the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. But name aside, make no mistake: Lake Powell’s beauty is breathtaking, and it offers endless opportunities for adventure.

Come for its brilliant blue waters, white beaches, hidden coves, slot canyons featuring fiery-orange rock cliffs and exquisite desolation. There’s so much shoreline, you won’t have to deal with many people even during the peak summer months.

One of the best ways to experience all that Lake Powell has to offer is a houseboat stay. The houseboat experience is especially rewarding, not to mention easier, if you rent the boat with another family or two. That way, there’ll be plenty of fun company and more hands to deal with boating matters, like scoping out places to anchor and anchoring itself.

The Houseboat Rental Process

House boats on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona.
House boats on Lake Powell near Page, Arizona.

The first thing to know is that you don’t need a captain’s license or prior experience in boating or house boating to operate a houseboat, which moves at a slow seven to ten miles per hour. You’ll learn anything you need to know at the departure marina during your orientation.

The Aramark company operates a number of marinas across the lake that rent houseboats as well as various water sporting equipment (ski tubes, wakeboards, jet skis, kayaks, paddleboards and kneeboards). Watering sporing equipment can make accessing and exploring the canyons much easier and also provide hours of fun. It’s best to book your houseboat online through Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas well in advance of the time you’ll need it. Houseboats may be booked up to a year in advance during busy season, which is June to August.

There are three categories of houseboat rentals, luxury, deluxe and economy, each representing different price levels, sizes ranging from 46-75 feet, and varying layouts (high-end models, for example, may sleep up to 14 people). Amenities also vary by type of houseboat with many including propane BBQs, a hot tub, water slide, sound system, satellite TV and kitchen appliances.

When planning, select the marina you want to leave from: Wahreap Marina, just outside of Page, Arizona or Bullfrog Marina, in Utah. Then select and reserve the houseboat you want and finally, plan your itinerary.

Page is about a four-hour drive from both Las Vegas and Phoenix. There are also some commercial flights from Las Vegas to Page on Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines. Bullfrog Marina is about a 5-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Despite the distance the trip is totally worth your time and energy!

Houseboat Prep

Once you board your houseboat, the staff at the marina will provide a full tour of the boat to acclimate you—and then go into detail about how to operate it.

For those who want to discover what houseboating is about before committing to a rental (a good idea for any houseboat beginner), there’s the $399 ‘Houseboating 101’ for two weekend trip option—you’ll get hands-on houseboating experience (including lodging and meals) with in-depth, professional instruction that’ll prepare you for your own longer-term houseboat rental.

If you do rent a houseboat, you can easily purchase any supplies you’ll need at the marina or in town. It’s best to plan out everything you’ll need for meals for your entire stay and then buy it all at once. Other options, if you’re leaving from the Wahreap Marina, is to sign up for the Grocery Delivery Program, which will deliver a wide range of products and produce to your houseboat on your departure day, or for Meals on Board, which provides and delivers ingredients for a set of specific meals on departure day.

Places to Explore During Your Houseboat Adventure

Padre Bay Rock in Lake Powell
Padre Bay Rock in Lake Powell/Glen Canyon, Utah.

The houseboat itself will offer up a fun and luxurious retreat for you and your companions, and you may be tempted to spend a lot of time aboard. But Lake Powell’s 1,900 miles of breathtaking coastline and 96 major side canyons offer up enticements that shouldn’t be ignored. Leave the houseboat’s comfy confines—by jet ski, kayak or powerboat—and explore the surrounding landscape. Below are a few don’t-miss spots.

North Lake Powell — access from Bullfrog Marina

  • Escalante River Arm (about three hours by houseboat from Bullfrog Marina). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic spot to explore by kayak. Navigate through a long, narrow canyon with roughly 15 offshoot canyons that offer vistas of sheer walls and amphitheater shapes. The Escalante River Arm is also an excellent place to fish.
  • LaGorce Arch in Davis Gulch (about six hours by houseboat from Bullfrog Marina). This 100-foot-tall natural stone arch is an easy hike from the Escalante River’s edge; when the water level is high you can get a small-sized houseboat right up to it. Camp here, cast a line, but whatever you do don’t miss it. Dawn and sunset are great times to go—that’s when striking shafts of light break through.
  • Moki Canyon (45 minutes by houseboat from Bullfrog Marina). This narrow, steep canyon that splits into three fingers at the end is another amazing kayaking destination. You’ll paddle between 400-foot-high stone walls and see caves and canyons that Native Americans resided in many centuries ago; Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs mark their early presence. And Lake Powell fishing spots don’t get better than the canyon’s mouth where striped bass flourish.

South Lake Powell — access from Wahweap

  • Padre Bay (about three hours by houseboat from Wahreap), seven miles across and nine miles long, is the biggest expanse of open water on Lake Powell (which makes it easy to powerboat and pull houseboat residents on water skis, wakeboards and tubes). This bay is also one of the most incredibly beautiful Lake Powell bays because of the spectacular views it provides of local monuments like Dominguez Butte, Tower Butte, Cookie Jar Butte and Boundary Butte. Padre Bay also provides access to captivating back shoots like Wash Canyon and sheltered beaches where you can anchor your houseboat.
  • Rainbow Bridge National Monument (about 2.5 hours by houseboat from Wahreap). It’s best to beach your houseboat in Padre Bay and then powerboat for about 45 minutes to the monument—the powerboat will save on time and fuel and be easier to maneuver. Once you get to the dock, hike about 1.25 miles to the bridge formation. Though the monument encompasses just 160 square acres, it features one of the largest natural bridges in the world. Sculpted by wind and water, the bridge extends 290 feet into the sky and 275 feet across Bridge Canyon. The monument comprises lands historically used and regarded as sacred by Ancestral Puebloans and other early indigenous peoples and, subsequently, by Navajo, Southern Paiute, San Juan, Ute, Kaibab Paiute, White Mesa Ute and Hopi peoples.
  • West Canyon (about 2.5 hours by houseboat from Wahreap). Explore the coves and colorful, sculpted rock walls of the canyon and its offshoots, especially Labyrinth Canyon, by kayak, powerboat or personal watercraft. Then beach your water toy and hike—you’ll be awed by the scenery of the slot canyons, which are among the most beautiful in the Colorado Plateau. 

Lake Powell.
Lake Powell.

Places to See Off the Lake

Don’t miss Horseshoe Bend Overlook, located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, about four miles south of Page on Highway 89. (Look for the small sign that reads “Horseshoe Bend Overlook and head to the parking lot where you’ll find the ADA accessible desert-sand trail that leads to the overlook, located about ¾ of a mile away.) The water-and-wind-eroded rocks you’ll encounter along the trail are beautiful, but nothing compares to the breathtaking landscape you’ll see once you reach the overlook, located at the top of a steep, orange-toned cliff. Several hundred feet below, the emerald-green Colorado River flows in a horseshoe-shaped path around a soaring sandstone rock formation as it rushes toward the Grand Canyon. Pictures cannot possibly do this majestic view justice.

While you’re visiting the Lake Powell area, also consider visiting the following spectacular attractions:

  • Within 30 miles of Page, Arizona: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Buckskin Gulch, a 15-mile slot canyon along the Utah/Arizona border.
  • Within 150 miles of Page, Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park.

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