This is Part 5 of a planned 10 part series covering our U.S. National Park adventure across Utah, Northern Arizona, and Western Colorado. We will spend one whirlwind week traversing 1500 miles, exploring the natural wonders of each park and the surrounding cities. Our travels will take us on a zigzagged route across the southwest from Las Vegas airport to Salt Lake City. In Part 5, we'll travel to Page, Arizona to visit the iconic Horseshoe Bend and explore the expansive Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, encircling the blue waters of Lake Powell. We'll also provide some tips for visiting the area's famed Antelope Canyon (which unfortunately, was closed during our visit).
We are back on the road to Page, Arizona this time. After several days exploring Utah at relatively high altitudes, we're excited for a respite down several thousand feet in elevation. At an elevation of "only" 4,300 feet, Page sits at less than half the height we have been traversing of late. We're also happy to be back in civilization for a bit after our adventures on the rugged Cottonwood Canyon Road. What we're not as excited for is the increase in temperature that comes with the lower elevation point. It is HOT today. The temperature is somewhere around 107 degrees Fahrenheit currently. It is a dry heat, but that just means it feels like an oven outside.
Page is probably most famous for the iconic--and often photographed--Horseshoe Bend. A close second, though, would be the vermillion, sunlit curved walls inside of narrow Antelope Canyon. Unfortunately, Antelope Canyon is closed due to Covid 19*. It is managed by the Navajo Nation, which has been tremendously impacted by the pandemic, and there is currently a blanket closure of all Navajo Tribal Park sites. It's a disappointment, but we understand. Luckily, we still have the opportunity to view Horseshoe Bend and explore the scenic Glen Canyon, dominated by the immense Lake Powell.
We stop at our hotel, Courtyard by Marriott Page at Lake Powell, on our way into Page to drop off our luggage. I do not want to leave anything in the car in this heat. After taking the luggage to our room, we reset for the afternoon. Given the extreme heat, we reapply our sunblock, ensure we have our hats, and refill our hydration packs**. Once that's all complete, we're off again, this time headed to Horseshoe Bend.
*Note: As of this writing, Antelope Canyon is back open for business. It is operating at a reduced capacity, and masks are required to be worn, but tours are once again running through both the Upper and Lower Canyon sites. See further down below for tips/details.
**Safety Tip: A hydration pack is key to hiking in the heat; we each brought a hydration backpack with a 2L water bladder. They were comfortable, adjustable, lightweight, and had just enough space in the compartments for what we needed throughout the day (snacks, headlamps, walking sticks, money, extra memory cards, etc.). The 2L size worked well for us, but keep in mind that you should calculate for roughly 1/2 of a liter of water per hour for normal hiking conditions. However, when hiking in extreme heat and/or high altitude, you should increase that amount to as much as double the recommendation. For more information on what to pack and safety gear, see the Part 1: Planning and Preparing "Preparing for Your Trip" section.
Photos: Horseshoe Bend Trail
Our hotel is centrally located for exploring the area; the parking lot for Horseshoe Bend is only 4.2 miles (8 minutes) down Highway 89. When we arrive, the attendant at the parking booth* warns us about the severity of the heat today. He says the entire hike is in the sun. There are two shade stations along the way, but they don't provide much relief in temperatures nearing 110 Fahrenheit. His warning is further reinforced by the sight of an ambulance parked at the trailhead just waiting for heatstroke victims. We are concerned, but we are well prepared, and there's really no chance of getting lost here delaying our return. The path is well trodden, and even in temperatures like these, plenty of people are out--so we decide to continue onto the trail.
*Note: While Horseshoe Bend is owned by the National Park Service, the parking lot at the trailhead is owned by the city of Page. The NPS does not charge for access to the site, but the city does charge $10 per car for parking. The lot is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, with the busiest times typically falling between 9am-11am and 4:30pm-6:30pm.
The hike to the overlook is fairly flat and only 0.75 miles (1.5 miles round trip). Even this short distance is difficult in the heat, though. We go slowly and continue to hydrate along the way. We pass someone clearly suffering from heat exhaustion getting some assistance. They do not appear to have brought adequate water or a hat. Heat like this is certainly no joke, and if you are going to attempt a hike--even a short one--you need to be prepared (and in good health).
The reason I want to attempt the hike in the midday heat rather than wait for sunrise or sunset is the lighting at the sight at this time of day*. The best time of day to view the landmark is open to debate (sunrise, sunset, mid-afternoon). Many photographers have different opinions. However, based on my research, mid-afternoon is the best time for a fully lit scene without major shadows or lens flares. That is my goal.
*Photography Tip: Horseshoe Bend Overlook faces due West. Pre-sunrise and post-sunset views tend to have strong shadows. Mid-afternoon is ideal if you're looking to avoid shadows in your photos. The sun is also still high enough in the sky to avoid lens flares then.
When we arrive at the viewing platform, we find a safety railing that provides a perfect view over the bend in the Colorado River below. There are other places around the platform on the surrounding rock that offer interesting viewpoints, but there are some fairly steep drop-offs outside of the railed area. Given how good the view is from the spots directly around the overlook, I'd prefer to stay safely behind a railing or well back from any ledges. We do venture a bit left and right to take the site in from a few slightly adjusted angles, though.
We don't spend too long taking in the gorgeous views of Horseshoe Bend since we don't want to be outside for much longer. So, after a few minutes, we do an about-face back down the trail. When we get to the car, the air conditioning is definitely a welcome relief. After a VERY long (and rewarding) day that started with sunrise at Bryce Canyon followed by a canyon hike, a hike through Kodachrome State Park in the afternoon heat, and a bumpy dirt road adventure from Utah to Arizona, this is definitely the icing on the cake. It is time to relax!
Arriving back at the hotel, I look longingly at the inviting outdoor pool. It's actually one of the reasons I selected this hotel. However, we have decided to take a break from the sun for a bit. So, I settle for a cool shower instead. After, I decide to figure out our options for dinner--I'm hungry!
It's a Sunday, and I find that several of the local options I come across online are closed. After a bit of research, though, we select a nearby Mexican restaurant with solid reviews. Fiesta Mexicana features Southwest decor and the typical large menu of selections you find at many Mexican restaurants. There's definitely something for everyone. We are seated in a comfortable booth and each order a Corona to start, in honor of the theme. We are quite hungry, so we make no delay in ordering our dinner. My husband orders a chicken dish the server recommends, and I select one of the restaurant's many burritos. When our plates come, they're both enormous, and we dig in to a well deserved meal.
After dinner, we decide to go back to the hotel and call it an early night. It's been a very long day, and we're more than ready to veg out a bit. We will certainly sleep well tonight!
In the morning, we decide to sleep in, given that we can't explore Antelope Canyon as planned. Our original itinerary had us visiting Lower Antelope Canyon in the morning and Upper Antelope Canyon in the early afternoon to hopefully get a glimpse of the Upper Canyon's famous light beams. I guess missing the sight just means we will have to make another trip back to Page, though! [I have laid out all my research for visiting Antelope Canyon below to help in planning a visit.]
Antelope Canyon Details and Tips:
Antelope Canyon is divided into two sections that must be accessed separately--Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. The only way to visit either site is with a tour company approved by the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park. Different Tour companies operate the Upper and Lower Canyon Tours. There are 5 approved operators in Upper Antelope Canyon and 2 in Lower Antelope Canyon (none operate in both locations). You can find the operators and links to their booking details/FAQs here. There doesn't tend to be a huge differences between the operators, but review the vendors and select the one you feel most comfortable using. Some offer tours combining Antelope Canyon with other local attractions, as well. Remember, in high season, Antelope Canyon can book up well in advance--reserve early!
Lower Antelope Canyon vs. Upper Antelope Canyon:
Photography Lighting: Upper Antelope Canyon is the more famous of the two, often depicted with its iconic beams of light shining onto the canyon floor through narrow rock crevices. These are not visible November - March. They begin to be visible around the beginning of April and stop in October each year. If seeing the photogenic beams is on you bucket list, June through August, 11am-1:30pm, will give you the best chance. You will not encounter these light beams in Lower Antelope Canyon, but don’t let that deter you, the site still has some great photography lighting.
Crowds and Ease of Accessibility: Upper Antelope Canyon tends to be more crowded as a result of its famous light beams, as well as its ease of accessibility. Upper Antelope Canyon is definitely a better choice for those who have issues with mobility. The Lower Antelope Canyon tour requires climbing ladders and stairs and traverses about 1800 meters. The Upper Canyon tour walks a total of 1200 meters, and there are no stairs or ladders involved. However, the walk in both sections is in soft sand, so neither site is considered handicapped accessible.
Cost/Availability: The Upper Antelope Canyon tour is more expensive (about twice the price) and sells out faster; so, if you can't find tour availability in Upper Antelope Canyon, there's still a chance you may be able to get a slot on a Lower Antelope Canyon Tour (both do sell out in high season, though).
Logistics of Doing Both: To do both tours, you will need to book with two separate tour vendors (one Upper Antelope Canyon vendor and one Lower Antelope Canyon vendor). The canyon entrances are not at the same location; they are separated by several miles. If booking both tours, be sure to allow for plenty of time to get from one location to the other. Lower Antelope Canyon has parking directly at the site. Upper Antelope Canyon requires that you meet your tour guide company at an appointed location to be shuttled into and out of the site. Many of the tour operators also require that you arrive 30 minutes prior to your tour start time or risk losing your spot; so factor that into your planning, as well.
Time Difference Tip: Most tour schedules operate on Arizona Standard Time. The difference between this and MST is that Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. The Navajo Nation, though, does observe Daylight Savings Time; so, during daylight savings, the time zone will move one hour ahead on devices, etc. when you cross onto reservation lands in Arizona. Since Antelope Canyon resides on reservation lands, double check with your tour company what specific time zone is being observed for your tour start time if you have any questions.
Weather Safety Tip: Flash flooding can be a very real danger in a slot canyon. Always check the weather before your tour and follow tour operator directions in the event of an emergency. It doesn't have to be raining where you are to experience a flash flood event--water can travel many miles during a catastrophic weather event. Always exercise precaution when entering a slot canyon.
Once we're up and out of the hotel, we decide to head to the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. When open, the Visitor Center houses exhibits on recreation and historic water use. It is unfortunately closed due to Covid*, as are tours of the dam, but the viewing area surrounding the Visitor Center affords some of the best up-close views of the dam and the arched Glen Canyon Dam Bridge. So, we get out to explore.
*Note: As of this writing, tours of the dam are closed, but the Visitor Center is now open. The Center is usually open daily, but hours and closures are currently varying. Up-to-date hours can be found here.
Photos: Glen Canyon Dam
The arched Glen Canyon Dam Bridge, spans a chasm of 1,300 feet. The impressive metal structure was completed in 1959 to support the Glen Canyon Dam building project. The bridge's construction was an important first step to develpoint the infrastructure we see here today. Without it, the dam could not have been completed.
The Glen Canyon Dam was designed as a part of the U.S. government's plan to provide a steady water supply to support the growing population in the American Southwest in the mid-twentieth century. It was an engineering marvel of its time, but it came at a heavy cost. Eighteen lives were lost during its construction. The magnitude of a project like this is not lost on me, and we stand just taking it all in for a few minutes.
After we've taken in all of the views around the Visitor Center, we decide to head to the nearby Wahweap Recreation Area next. It's less than a mile to the manned National Park booth entrance. When we arrive at the booth, we hand over our Annual U.S. National Park Pass*, which saves us the $30 Glen Canyon National Recreation Area entrance fee, and we are soon traversing the scenic Lake Shore Drive.
*Tip: You can find more information about purchasing the Annual Pass (which will save you money if you plan to visit several parks) in the Part 1: Planning and Preparing "U.S. National Park Pass" section.
We definitely want to explore the Wahweap Marina while we are in this area of the canyon, but the marina is still another 4.5 miles from the entrance gate. Along the way, there are several viewpoints over Lake Powell along Lake Shore Drive that we want to visit. We encounter the Navajo Mountain Viewpoint first, followed by the Wahweap Viewpoint. Both are equally as scenic.
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is immense, covering some 1.25 million acres. Lake Powell is situated inside of it, a result of the Glen Canyon Dam. To the dismay of many who appreciated the beauty of Glen Canyon, the U.S. Government made the decision to flood it (with the help of the Glen Canyon Dam) as a part of its efforts to create a southwest water storage project in the 1950s.
After the 710 foot tall dam completed construction, it took 16 additional years for the canyon to fill. Over the past 20 years or so, however, persistent droughts have significantly decreased the surface area of the lake from its former footprint. As of May 2022, Lake Powell is at only 24% capacity; the lowest since it was filled. Glen Canyon is slowly reclaiming its land back from the Dam. Water levels are significantly impacting the ability to utilize boat launch ramps* and what sections of the canyon can be safely navigated in a watercraft.
*Note: Multiple Lake Powell boat launch ramps are currently closed due to unprecedented low water levels. Additionally, marina access and Rainbow Bridge access are affected. Click here for all of the latest status updates from the National Park Service.
From the second overlook, we can just spot the Wahweap Marina down below. It's easy to identify based on all of the immense boats we can see parked along the docks streaming out from the shore. How long it will remain that way, given the declining water levels, remains to be seen.
The Wahweap Marina is operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas. They manage houseboat rentals in the area, as well. A popular vacation spot for boaters, houseboat rentals are a common way to explore the lake up-close for a few days. You can rent a houseboat* with or without a captain, and there are various sizes available. The marina also rents out speed boats, pontoon boats, and jet skis.** Many people who rent a houseboat also rent a speed boat or small personal watercraft to tow along so that they can explore areas of the canyon that are tighter to navigate during their vacation, operating the house boat as more of a home base out on the water. My husband comments that he'd love to come back and rent a houseboat someday with our kids--if the lake hasn't disappeared by then.
*Tip: Anyone age 18 or over with a driver’s license can pilot a houseboat. The marina provides detailed instruction before departure and offers complimentary captain services to get rentals in and out of the marina (the trickiest part of driving a boat). You can find everything you need to know about Wahweap houseboat rentals--and book one--here. The Houseboating FAQs section is particularly helpful.
**Tip: You can find more information about speed boat, pontoon boat, and jet ski rentals here.
When we arrive at the marina, we decide to drive around a little before checking out the docks. The boat ramp to drop a boat into Lake Powell reflects the dramatic decline in water levels. It is a steep, rather long incline just to get down to the water. Towing a boat on an incline of this magnitude looks like quite a challenge.
Photo: Part of the Wahweap Marina Boat Launch Ramp
Another way to explore the lake without bringing a boat is to book a boat tour. I have debated reserving a boat tour to experience the lake from the water, but in the heat, I am not certain I want to be out in the sun for that amount of time. The Wahweap Marina does offer boat tours* of varying lengths to several destinations, though. It definitely looks like an interesting option--maybe next time!
I've also researched several dining options** the Marina offers in the vicinity, but it's still much too early for lunch. Maybe we'll get something later at Antelope Point Marina--another area we are going to explore this afternoon. We decide to just tour the Wahweap Marina dock a bit and take in the lively scenery for now.
*Tip: You can read more about Wahweap Marina's various boat tour offerings--and book one--here.
**Tip: You can read about the various dining options around the Wahweap Marina here.
Photos: Wahweap Marina
After we've finished touring the dock area, we decide to take in the view from Wahweap Overlook* next. So, we travel away from the water up toward Highway 89. The Wahweap Overlook is situated directly above and between Navajo Mountain Viewpoint and Wahweap Viewpoint. I find that the lower overlooks are a bit more scenic due to their closer proximity to the lake, but we can get a broader look at the surrounding landscape from here.
*Tip: Wahweap Overlook's address is 1000 US-89 Page, AZ 86040.
Photos: Wahweap Overlook
Once we've had our fill of the views from here, we decide to go and check out the short and scenic Dam Overlook Trail to take in the scenery there before it gets too hot. The short trail provides overlooks of the Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River. Its starting point* is back toward town, actually very close to our hotel (about 5.5 mile from Wahweap Overlook), so we backtrack.
*Note: The Glen Canyon Dam Overlook Parking Lot is situated at the end of Overlook Drive in Page.
The hike to the Dam Overlook is only about a tenth of a mile each way, but much of it is along uneven rock steps cut into the desert stone and areas of slippery rock. It is a slight challenge to navigate, but I would rate the overall hike as an easy--if a bit steep--trek. There are a few elevation drop-offs along the way, but metal safety railings have been installed for balance which makes navigating relatively easy and safe. Even at this hour, though, the railing is already extremely warm to the touch. I certainly cannot hold onto it for long periods of time.
At the bottom of the trail, the view along the Colorado River is quite scenic. The view of the dam is really unique, though. We get a head-on perspective of the immense concrete structure. At 710 feet tall, it is second tallest dam in the United States (second only to the Hoover Dam which is 16 feet taller). The walls contain 4.9 million cubic yards of concrete and 29 million pounds of reinforced steel. It is truly a marvel of modern engineering. [Source: US Bureau of Land Reclamation]
After we've taken in the sights, we hike back up and out of the dam so that we can head to Antelope Point Marina. Antelope Point Marina is located near Antelope Canyon, so it would be a good sight to combine with a visit there if Antelope Canyon were open. It is about 11 miles from our current location, so a bit farther than Wahweap was situated but still an easy drive. Once there, we decide to make the trek out to the floating docks to explore.
Photos: Antelope Point Marina
I say trek because when we decide to check out the dock area, we have a long, steep downhill hike to get to there. The walk is along a huge metal floating dock which is most certainly not floating at the moment. In the heat, the thought of hiking back up this hill to return to our car is daunting. Luckily, the marina operates golf cart shuttles to and from the dock. There is an installed phone on the dock from which we can request a pickup when we are done.
There are many people out enjoying recreational water sports here, as well. The marina has a variety of houseboats* and other watercraft* parked along the docks. It is fairly busy on the docks despite the lower water levels. We find the significant loss of water is quite visibly apparent down here, as well. We can see the water marks along the canyon walls around us showing where the water level used to sit at various points in time.
*Note: You can rent houseboats and other watercraft from Antelope Point Marina, as well. You can find more information about houseboat rentals here and power boats pontoon boat, jet ski, and kayak rentals here. You can also charter boats with an experienced captain out of the marina--more information can be found here. Guided boat tours are offered from Antelope Point Marina, as well. More information can be found here. Guided kayaking tours of Antelope Canyon have become more popular as the lake levels have receded. You can find more information about some of those options here. And if you wish to stay on dry land, Antelope Point now has an RV Park.
We decide to stop for a drink and snack at the bar and restaurant out on the dock* to make our hike downhill worthwhile. While our server is getting our drinks, we get into a friendly conversation with her about boating. She tells us that Lake Powell has become a bit more of a navigational hazard of late as a result of the receding water levels. Areas that used to be safe to traverse now have rocky boulders hidden just beneath the surface. Boaters must exercise significantly more caution than in years past, and boating traffic is worsening as less of the lake becomes navigable. She worries what further decrements to the dwindling water levels will mean for their livelihoods here. Looking out at what still seems like quite a bit of water, it's hard to imagine what the lake looked like over two-thirds fuller than it is today. It must have been quite impressive!
Now that we're settled, we ask our new acquaintance for an appetizer recommendation, and she suggests the calamari strips. It seems like an odd choice in an area so far from the ocean, and I've never heard of calamari strips since most restaurants tend to serve them in rings, but we decide to trust her suggestion. It hits the spot--a good, salty snack on a very hot day.
*Note: You can find more information about dining at Antelope Point Marina here.
Our appetizer and drinks complete, we head to the dock's pager phone to call for a ride back up the steep slope to our car. Soon, we are picked up in a golf car and whisked back up the hill. After tipping our driver in thanks--there was no way I wanted to do any more hot weather hiking after yesterday--we decide to go back to the hotel to collect our belongings and then grab some lunch for the road before heading to our next destination.
Once our luggage is stowed on the car, we drive to a nearby barbecue place we passed earlier. We're not very hungry at the moment, since we ate calamari only a short time ago, but we know we will be in an hour or two. The road to Monument Valley--where we are headed next--is not exactly populated. We definitely need to bring something with us for the ride if we are going to want lunch.*
*Tip: When traveling between populous areas, bringing something with you to eat on the road is always a good idea. You can go quite a distance without coming across another meal option. Just ensure that if the item is something that can spoil, you bring some ice with you to keep it cool. Before departing the hotel, we collect a small bag of ice from the ice machine to keep parts of our meal (like the coleslaw) safely cool as we travel.
We stop at Big John's Texas Barbeque to pick up our lunch. The tempting aromas wafting off of their outdoor smokers tell us that we have made the right choice. On our way into the restaurant, I catch a glimpse of the thermometer on the wall outside. Not even the hottest part of the day, and already the mercury is reading 106 degrees Fahrenheit. I can see why the lake is receding at such a rapid rate! We will certainly not be eating our meal at the outdoor picnic tables today.
After quickly reviewing the menu, I decide on a pulled pork sandwich with a side of coleslaw and cornbread. My husband selects the chopped brisket sandwich with sides of beans and potato salad. It all looks delicious. It may not last an hour or two on the road after all.
Photos: Big John's Texas Barbeque
As we head out of town, on to our next adventure with our lunch in tow, I'm happy that we have had the opportunity to visit Page. I wish we could have toured Antelope Canyon, but I'm glad we got the chance to spend extra time exploring (the slowly disappearing) Lake Powell, and Glen Canyon is such a unique pace. Horseshoe Bend was also a trip highlight for me--even with the heat. It's been a great adventure, and there's still plenty more to come. Up next, Monument Valley!
Credit for Some of the Featured Photos: Kyle Perkins