Located in the Lake Powell and Cataract Canyon areas of Utah and Arizona, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a recreation area established by the National Park Service encompassing over 1.25 million acres of desert and cliff terrain of the southwestern United States.
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The Glen Canyon area has been inhabited by humans since approximately 11,500 B.C., when nomadic Paleoindians hunted big game with Clovis and Folsom projectile point spears. Later primitive cultures thrived in the area from 8,050 B.C. through 500 A.D. during the Archaic and Preformative periods, which saw the expansion of hunter-gatherer lifestyles and early corn and squash cultivation. Until the arrival of Europeans in North America, the Fremont, Anasazi, and Paiute indigenous people expanded throughout the area, notable for their agricultural and pottery production. From the 18th century forward, Spanish Friars, Mormon settlers, and gold miners occupied the area, along with pioneer homesteaders, uranium miners, and river runners.
In 1963, the Lake Powell reservoir was filled in as a result of the Glen Canyon Dam’s construction, flooding the Glen Canyon area. The dam’s existence has been a source of controversy for environmentalists, with several organizations campaigning throughout the late 20th century to drain the lake and return the area to its natural state. In 1972, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was established as a space for public use and enjoyment, serving as a multipurpose recreation and preservation area.
Today, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area stretches more than 1.2 million acres across the states of Utah and Arizona, encompassing Lake Powell and Cataract Canyon, and serves more than one million annual visitors. The area is neighbored by several other national parks and monuments, including Canyonlands National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and meets the Navajo Indian Reservation at its southeasternmost border. As a joint recreation and preservation area, development within the area is permitted, and as such, several marinas, camping grounds, private airports, and houseboat rental facilities are available for use by campers and explorers. In addition, Lake Powell provides close to 2,000 miles of fishing shoreline and serves as a popular spot for catching largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass.
A number of natural sites are highlights within the park for hikers and campers. Most notable is Rainbow Bridge National Monument, one of the largest natural rock bridge structures in the world. Two hiking trails to the monument begin near the Navajo Indian Reservation, recommended for advanced hikers and requiring backpacking permits from the Navajo Nation. Horseshoe Bend, a circular incised meander of the Colorado River, is located five miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam and is viewable from overlook plateaus that may be reached either by hiking trail or access road. Dramatic scenic views are offered at Orange Cliffs, which borders Canyonlands National Park. The Escalante Subdistrict offers hiking and camping opportunities with modern amenities in nearby Escalante, while the Hite Ranger District provides a number of backcountry recreational activities, including mountain biking, waterskiing, kayaking, and river rafting opportunities.
Three visitor centers serve as gateways to the recreation area, offering educational exhibits, visitor information, and guided tour opportunities. The Bullfrog Visitor Center, located off Highway 276 near Bullfrog Marina, showcases exhibits related to the natural and cultural history of the Glen Canyon area, including exhibits on the Anasazi people and displays of pioneer artifacts. The Carl Hayden Visitor Center, located on the west end of Glen Canyon Dam, features several exhibits and video presentations, including a relief map detailing the Glen Canyon area. Self-guided tours of the historic Navajo Bridge, a dual steel arch bridge that ranks among the highest bridges in the United States, may be embarked upon from the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center.
Several historic sites are contained within the recreation area, including the Lees Ferry Historic District, which commemorates the 19th-century ferry service that operated on the Colorado River, providing travel access for early pioneer exploration and settlement. Included within the Historic District are the original Lees Fort military outpost site and the Lonely Dell Ranch Historic Site, home of the ferry’s operators, which may be explored on foot via self-guided booklet. Other historic sites include the Defiance House ancestral Pueblo site and the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a canyon route used by Latter Day Saints communities arriving in the Great Salt Lake Valley in the mid 1800s.
Guided tours of the Glen Canyon Dam are presented by the Glen Canyon Natural History Association, embarking from the Carl Hayden Visitor Center. Boat tours of Lake Powell are offered by several boating companies, including Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas. A Junior Ranger program, offering a badge and certificate for completion of a scavenger hunt booklet, is offered for young visitors, and a Bridging the Gap program offers field trip opportunities to Rainbow Bridge National Monument for elementary school students.
4304 Bullfrog, Lake Powell, UT 84533, Phone: 928-608-6200