Guide to camping at Lake Powell [Part 1]

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By Brian Edmiston, Glenwood Springs, CO

Camping at Lake Powell with kids is a special experience but requires preparation. The elements are intense! Here are some tips and tricks for making it a great experience.

Brian and his daughter camping at Lake Powell
My daughter and I love swimming, boating, fishing and exploring around Lake Powell. It’s our” special place ” and we always look forward to adventuring there.

Camping at Lake Powell with kids is not the same as it used be pre-family, but seriously … what is the same? I made my first trip to Lake Powell when I was in high school, and I was quickly hooked by its beauty – its starkness, colors and clear blue water.  Even when I was in college at CSU, we’d make the long trip from Fort Collins to fish and boat and do all the (really dumb) things that college kids do. It’s such a special place. When my daughter turned two I was ready to head back out and approach camping at Lake Powell from the family perspective. We’ve never rented a houseboat – car camping is great for a low-budget getaway, and a chance to experience the quieter side of Lake Powell. It takes a bit of adventuring to find “your” perfect spot to camp and swim. That’s part of the fun. 

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LAKE POWELL

Lake Powell is named for John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who led an expedition that explored and mapped the Colorado River in 1869. Lake Powell was created by damming the Colorado River and flooding Glen Canyon. It took 17 years from the completion of the Glen Canyon Dam to fill the 186-mile-long river basin. This man-made reservoir provides essential water storage and power for much of the Southwestern U.S., and it attracts millions of visitors each year.

Camping at Lake Powell with kids on a red rock alcove with crystal blue water.
The beautiful end to a fun day from camp.

DISCOVER SOMETHING NEW EVERY SEASON AT LAKE POWELL

Winter (Dec – Feb) While the winter is cold, Lake Powell is like Moab or other desert areas. You can find crisp sunny days even in the 40s – 50s. The fishing is great and there is absolutely no one there. 

Early Spring (March – April) It’s still too cold to swim, but you can find great hikes, quiet camping and nice boating. Spring fishing is fantastic, perhaps the best. 

Late Spring (May – June) By Memorial Day, it is warm enough to swim. 

Summer (July – August) By July, the temps can feel oppressive, better for families with teens rather than younger children. Adults and teenagers can cool off constantly in the water and manage their comfort better than small children. The water will be above 70 degrees and peak in August with water temps in low 80s. 

Autumn (September – November) Warm days, cool nights and fewer boats.

WIND & WEATHER

Watch out for springtime winds and be prepared to batten down your tent. If you use an Easy-Up or other similar sun shelter, anchor each corner with 15- 20 lb. weights strapped to the frame. Closely watch the weather forecasts from NOAA before heading out to Powell, and be prepared to change your plans if extreme weather is in the forecast.

FISHING

Striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappies, bluegill, sunfish, catfish, carp, walleye… it’s a great place to teach kids to fish. 

Bluefish can be found when fishing and camping at Lake Powell.
Bluefish can be found in Lake Powell.

GEAR + PACKING LIST

PFDs: Life jackets are a must for children any time you are camping at Lake Powell. Don’t let the tranquility fool you – if you are camping in a remote area, you need to take extra precautions, knowing that you may be hours away from emergency support. My daughter puts on her PFD when we get to camp and takes it off only when we go to bed. They’ll get used to it – don’t worry.

Closed-toe water shoes are a must: Be aware of tiny Quagga mussels in the water and on beaches that can slice your feet – as well as cactus or bits of broken glass. 

Sun and shade:
° A pop-up sun tent or awning attached to your car is also a must. Finding relief in the afternoon is essential for keeping everyone, kids and parents alike, from losing it by dinner time!

° Sun shirts, hats, sunglasses, rash guards and wide-brimmed hats with neck protection will keep your stress level down and take the pressure off of reapplying sunscreen every 20 minutes.

Potable Water
Do your research before leaving regarding where you might camp. Some campsites have access to potable water. Hall’s Crossing and Bullfrog Marina areas have potable water. Almost everywhere else you will need to bring your own water and/or a water filtration system. It is hot and you should be drinking a lot of water. A water filtration system is a smart idea in case you empty out whatever water you bring in containers.

Bring Firewood but not Fireworks
There are no trees at Lake Powell. Bring your own firewood! Fires are allowed below high water line but fireworks are unfortunately not allowed.

Portable Toilets Required
Within 1/4 of a mile of the lake you MUST have a toilet system. Waste may not be contained in plastic bags unless it is a NPS approved Waste Bag Containment System, which must be disposed of in the trash. Systems such as the Cleanwaste Portable Toilet System (find at REI and many other retailers) or the ReStop Portable Commode work. It’s not a fun chore, but the portable toilets systems have chemicals that break down waste and make the odor manageable.

Check out PART 2 of this series next. Mountain Parent created a “Trail Map” with recommendations for car camping locations and specific reviews of camping areas accessible by car and closer to the western slope of Colorado.

About Brian Edmiston

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