Photograph by James Kay, Stock Connection/Aurora Photos

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A kayaker paddles the drastically lowered waters of Lake Powell in Cathedral in the Desert.

Photograph by James Kay, Stock Connection/Aurora Photos

AdventureBest American Adventures

Paddle Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah

See trip details for paddling Lake Powell straddling the border of Utah and Arizona, one of 100 best American adventure trips from National Geographic.

The huge upside of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, nexus of an environmental battle lost a generation ago, is the emergence of its progeny, Lake Powell, as a supreme freshwater kayaking destination. The lake’s green-water tentacles extend from the main 185-mile (300-kilometer) watercourse into 96 side canyons, where kayakers can paddle free of tides, waves, currents, and motorboats. A reverential hush inevitably descends upon a group of kayakers when they proceed into slots of Navajo sandstone towering 500 feet (150 meters) overhead that constrict to barely the length of a paddle.

The size and complexity of the lake convey both challenge and mystery to the experience. Kayakers wanting to go the DIY route might need two full days to get to the best kayaking—and even then they can find themselves paddling into inviting slots that turn out to be blank walls. Outfitters provide a motor assist and the local beta for five-day trips that get you into canyons like Cascade, Driftwood, and Rainbow, beneath the numinous presence of Navajo Mountain (10,388 feet, or 3,166 meters) and the Kaiparowits Plateau. Rainbow Canyon is the gateway to the massive natural arch of Rainbow Bridge.

The typical routine is to paddle eight to ten miles (13 to 16 kilometers) a day, venture into a slot, cross the channel, paddle another, proceed afoot when the canyon closes in entirely, and paddle back out to camp on the main channel where sunset, stars, and sunrise are players in the drama.

Spring and fall are the best times to paddle free of the swarms of speedboats and personal watercraft that plague the lake in summer. Warm water lingers right into fall.

Need to Know: No fees or permits are required to enjoy Lake Powell. Get general info at Outfitters and rentals: Kayak Powell ( provides shuttles, tours, and rentals. A five-day tour starts at $895.