Realize one of Arizona’s great bucket list vacations by houseboating on Lake Powell.
The sun veils itself behind a squat sandstone mountain known as Castle Rock, and the phrase “bucket list” immediately comes to mind. I look around. The same notion seems to have captivated my shipmates, assembled on the deck for a sunset aperitif, our mutual silence confirming the specialness of the moment.
Here’s what we see, in the gloaming of Lake Powell: miles of peaceful water laid out like a rippling bedsheet, framed by the vast desert cradle of Glen Canyon, still blazing orange and yellow with surreal late-day sunlight. Darkness and light together. Water and rock. Glorious contradiction.
It’s the kind of brain-rewiring beauty for which this sinuous, 161,000-acre waterway is famous, but the thing that makes this weekend especially bucket list-y? The 55-foot houseboat we sailed – or drove, more accurately – from Antelope Point Marina near the Arizona town of Page and moored on this solitary beach. After all, a houseboat is the ultimate Lake Powell splurge – in culinary terms, sort of like ordering a lobe of foie gras with your beef filet.
Powell’s charms are well-known to Arizonans. Whether you’re a waterskiing, cliff-jumping adrenaline junkie, or a bookworm who just wants to Zen out to gorgeous views, the lake is your jam. Adding a houseboat to the mix, instead of camping or RVing, creates two additional layers: luxury and solitude. Because no hiking backpack on Earth will let you transport a hot tub to your campsite, let alone a king mattress, and you can’t drive a lumbering fifth-wheel to a private cove when the nearest unpaved road is 20 miles away.
At least once in your life, Powell fans, get the foie.
House Boat Prep
First up: selecting your houseboat and where to rent it. We get ours at Antelope Point Marina (928-645-5900, antelopepointlakepowell.com), the more ideally positioned of the two Arizona-side commercial marinas on Powell. (It’s about 15 minutes closer by car to the Valley than Wahweap Marina, and more easterly, which means a shorter boat trip to the meatier Utah side of the lake, where all the best landmarks and mooring beaches are located.)
Picking a houseboat is chiefly a function of “how many?” – which is to say, how many people you have in your group. Antelope Point, which was opened by Valley trucking magnate and former Arizona Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes in 2002, offers eight different models, from the two-bedroom, 50-foot Forever craft ($2,665/three-day rental), to the 75-foot XTreme, which has six bedrooms, sleeps 15 comfortably, and comes equipped with its own upper-deck Jacuzzi ($7,600/three-day rental).
We get the slightly more modest, four-bedroom Titanium ($5,580/three-day rental), but truth be known: It would sleep 15 just fine, too, given how pleasant it is to lay out some cushions on the boat’s top deck and slumber under the stars.
The catch: Coast Guard regulations stipulate that no more than 12 people can be on board while a houseboat is underway. Antelope Point offers an elegant solution. Rent a power boat ($595/daily) or pontoon ($660/daily) and ferry your extra passengers to your mooring spot. To maximize your Lake Powell experience, you’ll want a faster, taxi-type boat during your stay, anyway, to visit Rainbow Bridge and other landmarks (see sidebar), and to explore all the intriguing slot canyons that branch off the lake’s main artery like capillaries, each one narrowing excitingly to a towering fold of canyon rock.
After deciding on your boat, you need to provision it (i.e. stock it with food to cook in your full-service kitchen). You can always fill your truck or tailgate with groceries purchased in the Valley, but local outfitter Captains and Crews Boat Service (lakepowellgroceries.com) offers a shop ’n’ drop amenity in which customers order groceries online and pick them up at the marina. (They will also stock the food for an extra fee.)
Best Time to Visit?
Our vote: the shoulder months of October and April. Plenty warm, so you can enjoy the water, but without the Memorial Day-Labor Day peak crowds.
Picking Your Spots
Picking a piece of Lake Powell to anchor your boat can feel daunting initially. After all, the lake has more than 2,000 miles of shoreline, which is more than the combined length of the U.S. Pacific Coast. So it’s good to have a plan of attack before getting underway – i.e. know how far you want to sail, what areas of the lake you most want to see and the activities you most want to do. Here are five options, in ascending order of time and cost.
Warm Creek Bay
It’s the nearest of the popular Lake Powell boating spots to Antelope Point, which keeps your fuel costs low and simplifies the issue of fuel management in general. You’ll have roughly a 280-gallon gas tank in your houseboat, and you’ll expend about 35 gallons of that getting to Warm Creek Bay (see map below) during a three-hour journey. Pluses: Lots of sandy, sheltered coves; quick access to wide open, glassy flats for waterskiing; and nice views of Castle Rock. Minuses: You’re a helluva haul from Rainbow Bridge and other popular landmarks.
Instead of taking the straight shot to Warm Creek Bay, make a hard right at the Sand Hills formation and cruise roughly 3 miles to this large inlet to the starboard side (or “right side,” to those of you not schooled in sophisticated nautical-speak). Curl around the edge of the canyon, and you’ll find lots of broad, sandy beaches under a swell of hike-able mesas. Pluses: Low-hassle mooring, and great kayaking. Minuses: Kind of exposed and not terribly private-feeling.
Point the boat across the water from Labyrinth Canyon, and you’ll find this bonanza of rocky peninsulas and sheltered inlets. On the way, you’ll pass the Crossing of the Fathers, a jagged family of islands in the middle of the lake. Pluses: Great for exploring and hiking. Minuses: Five-hour sailing commitment.
Last Chance Bay
Curl around Kane Point and you’ll find this deep, 20-mile subartery of the lake, which looks a little like a cypress tree on the map, with tons of channels branching off the main trunk. It might take a little time to explore those channels and find a beach you like, but the reward will be glassy, undisturbed water perfect for waterskiing. Pluses: Close proximity to Rainbow Ridge and Hole-in-the-Rock. Minuses: Bit of a gas-guzzler.
Well, you’re obviously the aspirational type. Passing Rock Creek Bay (another popular boat-steading spot for people who don’t mind a long commute), you’ll refuel at Dangling Rope Marina (cost: about $5.19/gallon) and then curl back into the main channel for a 3-mile putter to this inlet just west of Rainbow Bridge, which sports the area’s few sandy beaches. Try to get here early – they go quick. Pluses: Glamour spot; easy access to the lake’s most iconic landmarks. Minuses: You’ll spend about $500 in gas to get there.
You found your spot? Splendid. Now get ready for a workout. Antelope Point provides a detailed primer on how to safely moor and anchor your boat. Afterward, pop open a cold beverage of some sort and mull this gobsmacking fact: Even if you motor all the way to Rainbow Bridge, there’s still roughly 70 percent of the lake to explore – a whole constellation of slot canyons, watery switchbacks and vast flats that extends deep into Utah. And there’s also your hot tub. You decide.
If You Go
Not confident in your captaining skills? Antelope Point Marina pilots the houseboat in and out of dock free of charge, and also offers piloting and mooring services on a per-charge basis. antelopepointlakepowell.com
The 30,000-Foot View
The Toilet Bowl
Don’t be put off by the name. This little-known swimming hole – located on the tip of the Padre Bay peninsula – is a compact tide pool formed by retreating water levels. This year’s water-level surge means you can drive a Sea-Doo into it.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Dock your pontoon or speedboat, followed by a pleasant 20-minute hike to this iconic natural bridge. Instagram vigorously.
The Double Arch
Located at Rock Creek Bay, this rare geological formation is another treasure revealed by the lake’s dangerously low water levels – essentially a watery cavern with a sunroof. Bottoms up.
Want to get your slot canyon hiking fix? Located about 15 miles north of Rainbow Bridge, the trailhead extends from the water into the cliffs above, with a payoff of sweet lake views.
A Word on Water Levels
Lake Powell’s historically low levels present a threat to water supply in the Southwest, but 2019, at least, has seen a reversal of the trend: The lake is up 20 feet over the same time a year ago.