Car Camping Lake Powell

You don’t need a houseboat to enjoy a getaway to our closest beaches.

By Brian Edmiston

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. That’s part of the fun. 

Best Beach Camping

These areas have graduated shorelines and shallow waters, perfect for wading with small children.

1. Hall’s Crossing

A 25-minute ferry ride connecting southern and northern sides of Utah Hwy 276 at Hall’s Crossing Marina and Bullfrog Marina. The ferry accommodates cars, trucks, RVs and trailers and operates Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8:00 AM until 3:00 PM. At the marina, you’ll find a convenience store with a laundry and showers, boat slips and RV camping nearby.  NOTE: Hall’s Crossing Ferry will be closed until May 16, 2020.

2. Bullfrog Marina

A houseboat, power boat and water toy rental destination with a restaurant, gift shop and grocery store. The two campground areas are a mile from the water, but offer expansive views, tent camping and RV hook ups, charcoal grills and restrooms with showers.   

3. Stanton Creek Campground

A large and sprawling campground area managed by the National Park Service; cell phone service, easy access, vault toilets, but no running water. You’ll find “primitive camping” with no designated spots or fire pits, but many flat, sandy campsites ideal for setting up tents and tables. Cars can navigate most dirt roads in this area, though some roads require 4WD. Boat trailers can be left in a parking lot at the campsite entrance. Though it is near Lake Powell’s main channel (ie: heavy motor traffic during busy seasons), the area has small coves and inlets perfect for SUPs and kayaks. 

4. Hite 

The BLM Ranger Station here is your outpost for nearby backcountry camping, with emergency services, public restrooms and visitor info about the region’s 4WD trails, backpacking, canyoneering, and mountain biking. To gain perspective on the impact of drought in the West, check out the concrete boat ramps here that no longer lead to water. Note: this station is NOT manned daily. 

5. White Canyon   6. Farley Canyon   7. Blue Notch

These areas are easy to find near Hite off of Utah Hwy 95 – but getting there requires a high clearance vehicle, though not necessarily 4WD. This is backcountry camping without cell service or amenities, so pack accordingly and consider the ramifications of being miles from emergency help. There are no toilets or running water. So you will need to pack out your waste (BYO camp toilet). And bring more drinking water than you think you will need.

Roughing it has its advantages – these NFS managed areas offer dispersed tent sites around the lake and peaceful, quiet beaches. Explore the canyons and inlets by SUP or Kayak. Or fish and take in the views of surrounding rock formations.

History

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.

Something to discover in every season  

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 will 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. 

Gear

PFDs: Life jackets are a must for children any time you are camping near water. 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.

Closed-toe water shoes: 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 protection: There are no trees, zero – so you have to create (i.e. bring) shade in the form of tarps or shade structures. Sunglasses are essential, along with wide-brimmed hats and SPF clothing.

Multiple good quality coolers: Bring enough ice to keep perishables cold for your length of stay. A cooler dedicated to ice, only opened when replenishing food coolers, will extend your ability to keep food cold. A dedicated beverage cooler isn’t a bad idea for grown-up and kid-friendly refreshments, as well.

Water Toys: Bring anything that helps get you out in the water – canoes, inflatable kayaks (a.k.a. duckies), SUPs, water guns, tubes. Anything! 

Field Support

Due to Covid-19 Closures, the Hall’s Crossing Ferry is closed until further notice, as are the Hall’s Crossing and Bullfrog campgrounds. More information about National Park Service Coronavirus precautions.

Hall’s Crossing National Park https://www.nps.gov/media/webcam/view.htm?id=81B46791-1DD8-B71B-0B76A0821FFD678EService (NPS): (435) 684-7460

Bullfrog Marina NPS Office: (435) 684-7400

Hite NPS Ranger Station: (435) 684-2457

Brian Edmiston

While most of us could never, ever, keep up with Brian skiing or biking, it’s refreshing to know that one of his favorite outdoor pursuits actually involves very little speed. For over 25 years he’s been exploring Lake Powell, without a houseboat or a powerboat. His favorite springtime adventure involves splashing around the warm waters of Powell with his 6-year old daughter, maybe passing along some life-lessons on those sunny shores. In town, you can find Brian working with his patients as the practice manager for the Glenwood Medical Associates Physical Therapy team.