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Colorado River - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Weekend Trip Report
Trip Dates: July 2005
Nearest City: Page, AZ
Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
Submitted by: zuma

Description:

Lake Powell becomes the Colorado River again as its waters flow out of Glen Canyon Dam (not far from Page, Arizona). Fifteen miles downriver lies Lee's Ferry, the only part of the Grand Canyon accessible by automobile. This fifteen mile stretch of river is incredible for at least two reasons.

One, the water is deep and clear and inhabited by rainbow and German brown trout that swim in schools alongside your kayak. And secondly, there are red to pink sandstone canyon walls rising to what seems to be 1000 feet or more straight up on both sides of the river throughout the trip.

There are several ways to plan this trip. The easiest, though most expensive way, is to hire one of the large pontoon boats from Glen Canyon Dam to meet you and your party at Lee's Ferry, and haul you up the 15 miles to the dam (takes about an hour) and then drop you off there to ride the 6 mph river back down to Lee's Ferry. A boat took us that way last summer at the tune of $50 per person and kayak, and departing from the dam around 1 pm, we made it back to Lee's Ferry just before sundown, without rushing at all.

Another way to do it is to take off from Lee's Ferry in the morning (early or late) and paddle upriver to the camping area, which can take anywhere from a half day to longer. Pack your own food, sleeping bag, pup tent (optional), and most importantly, water. Spend the night in the canyon, then come back the next morning. Or go on upriver the next morning. Anticipate that coming from the dam to Lee's Ferry ramp will take around half a day, if you go about it in a leisurely fashion. It is hot (in summer), but the river is almost too cold for swimming, but we did it often.

We have 5 Wilderness Systems Cape Hatterases (15 footers, enclosed cockpits). The only drawback to this trip is going against the current (6 mph) because on some of the wider bends, the river tends to pull your kayak out into the middle, and without fast and furious paddling, once in the middle, it turns you around and tries to send you back home. We learned that by staying in the inside of the bends and pointing our kayaks toward the left-hand shore, we could fight the current. These upriver trials only occur five or six times in the first 6 miles, and can be managed, though I have seen others struggle with kayaks of lesser length. Remember, on this river, point to your left when the current tries to take you.

Is it safe? Yes, indeed. There is no whitewater, though there are unpredictable, but manageable currents throughout. And there are motorized boats from time to time. The company that runs the "sight-seeing" service (big blue pontooners with Honda engines) are extremely friendly and supportive of kayakers. The first time we did this trip, a "pontooner" pulled over and chatted with us and left a 6 pack of cola.

I imagine that I will make this trip every summer for the rest of my life. The beauty of the canyon is beyond words, no, beyond belief. It must be a secret, and I feel guilty that I know about this, and it seems that few others do. We usually see less than half a dozen kayakers doing this each time we go, and that doesn't include our five.

If you want more information concerning this, please feel free to email me. Yes, there is fishing, bird watching, and I didn't even mention the ancient Indian paintings on some of the walls.(petgroglyphs? hieroglyphs? aeroglyphs?) And there are also numerous sandy beaches. I encourage you to look into this; again, I have felt a little guilty about keeping it to myself for four years. Would it be worth driving from the east or west coast just to spend two or three days in Glen Canyon? Of course it would. It may as well be the Grand Canyon. Remember, pack it in and pack it out.

Accommodations:

Restrooms at Lee's Ferry put in. One campground a few miles upriver from there. Nice restrooms along the way.

Fees:

A $10 overnight fee; don't park overnight in the ramp parking lot like I did (you'll get a warning ticket)(park employees are very nice)...park up the road at the other parking lot.

Directions:

Go to Marble Canyon, Arizona; found on the northern border with Utah; largest nearby city being Page, Arizona. This trip is the 15 mile stretch of Colorado River between Glen Canyon Dam and Lee's Ferry, which is where the Grand Canyon river trips begin. (from the ramp at Lee's Ferry go upriver, or to the left; if you go to the right, you'll be in the Grand Canyon, which is not legal without a permit, which takes about 10 years to obtain)

Resources:

There is a fascinating history concerning John Lee, for whom Lee's Ferry is named. (Internet) No special maps are necessary. If you come from the southeast, I'd advise going through Winslow and Flagstaff. From the northeast, Tuba City might work, but we found a roadblock just outside of town due to an oil spill, were advised to take a "cross country" dirt road to a parallel highway.....tried it, drove along the edge of a canyon that we couldn't see the bottom of, wound up driving across a plowed field (at night)(I apologize, Mr. Farmer, sir...it was dark), finally gave up, went back to the highway and drove 250 miles or so to approach Lee's Ferry from the south (we had been 40 miles or so from our destination at Tuba City). Did I mention that we dragged the tail light connection off in the farmer's plowed field and had to bungee chord a $1.67 flashlight to the lense, and then there was light? A wonderfully eventful trip even before we hit the water.

Spent that night at a roadside park and that morning found ourselves "standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona..."


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