Plan Like a Park Ranger: Top 10 Tips for Visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Hiker along winding rock trail
Hiker treks the winding Rim Trail near Wahweap.


1) Welcome to the Desert

The most popular time to visit the park is during the summer months when the heat of the day can reach up to 116°F (46.6°C). Planning ahead and understanding your limits can be the difference between a fun trip and a heat exhaustion emergency.

Despite the giant lake all around you, this is always a desert. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, at least 1 gallon (4 L) of drinking water per person per day. Remember to eat salty snacks to help replace the electrolytes you lose through sweat. Wear sun protection, hats, light loose clothing, sunscreen. Know the signs of heat and cold illnesses. NEVER leave children or pets in parked, unattended vehicles. Checking local weather conditions can help you plan for avoiding the hottest times of day.

Images carved into stone wall
Petroglyphs are ancient imagery carved into stone.


2) Visit With Respect

Cultural sites are fragile and irreplaceable. There are more than 2,600 known sites that have strong connections to tribes and bands of the Hopi, Paiute, Navajo, Ute, and Zuni, as well as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), cattle ranchers, miners, and others. With only 3% of the park surveyed, everyday more clues are unearthed filling in the puzzle pieces of the past. There are only 4 cultural sites open to the public: Lonely Dell at Lees Ferry, Descending Sheep Petroglyph Panel, Hole in the Rock, and Defiance House.

Visit with respect. Leave what you find and do not disturbed or destroy artifacts, structures, rock art and carvings. Do your part to preserve the intricate tapestry of stories of those who lived along the river.

3) Where am I?

Glen Canyon is a big park, 1.25 million acres big! Most of our visitors are either here for Horseshoe Bend or Lake Powell, but access to those places are by very specific roads. If you are currently at Bullfrog Marina, you are not going to be able to visit Horseshoe Bend today. Make sure you have taken the correct route to your intended destination.

Not looking for lake thrills or iconic eccentric river curves?

  • If a rugged land-based experience is what you are after, consider the Escalante district.

  • More rugged and bumpier driving your style? The Orange Cliffs region might be your thing.

  • History buff? Learn more about LDS pioneers and early river runners at Lees Ferry.

  • Rainbow Bridge National Monument, while its own unit of the National Park Service, is reachable through Glen Canyon. No roads to Rainbow Bridge exist. You can drive your own boat or take a tour boat to the trailhead.

Ranger wearing a life jacket
Life jackets are an essential safety and fashion statement for any serious boater.

NPS\ Brent&Dawn Davis

4) Busy Desert Oasis

Lake Powell found within the park only makes up a small section of Glen Canyon but a big part of summer visits. Save time in the entrance line and get your park and boating passes early before heading out the lake. Plan ahead as changing lake levels impact launching sites. Help ease traffic jams on launch ramps by prepping your boat in a nearby parking lot rather than on the ramp.

5) Boater Safety Never Goes Out of Style

Life jackets saves lives. Simple as that. Since Lake Powell was created, almost 150 people not wearing life jackets have drowned. Boaters are required to carry a life jacket of proper size for every passenger in the boat. Children 12 years of age and younger must wear a Type I, II, or III U. S. Coast Guard approved life jacket when the boat is underway.
Learn other ways to keep safe in Glen Canyon.

A few people lean against a overlook railing at the top of a canyon
"Wow! It's so amazing and beautiful! I am so glad the ranger recommended it." - Visitor, probably.


6) The Iconic Bend in the River

The passage of time and the wandering Colorado River are responsible for Horseshoe Bend, the most visited and photographed location at the park. A gentle flat, hardpack rock-lined trail leads to an ABA compliant railed overlook area along the exposed rim. There you can look down 1000 feet to the 270 degree bend in the river. It is a must see on any travelers list. This location is very busy during summer, has limited shade, and recommends a full water bottle to hike. Learn more about Horseshoe Bend and the non-NPS fee required for parking.

7) Pack Out All Your Trash

Nothing worse then hiking or boating and seeing floating trash in the canyon or alongside the trail. Or worse… HUMAN WASTE. YUCK! Respect the natural area and the wildlife who live there by removing and packing out all trash and human waste. No one wants to see that.

large dog exploring the park near the river
Bones the dog loves to explore on days where his paws won't get hot on the rocks!


8) Bring Your Best Furry Friend

Pets are allowed in most places at the park and must be leashed while exploring with you. Check local weather forecast so both you and your pet can have an enjoyable time. If you wouldn’t walk on the trail with your bare feet, your pet wouldn’t want to either. Remember to pack enough water for your pet too!

sky filled with stars
Look at all those stars!

NPS/ Brent&Dawn Davis

9) Look Up!

Glen Canyon is home to some of the darkest skies in the country. Set your gaze to the stars and take in the awe of the Milky Way’s silvery rainbow glittering against inky black. The magnificence of the cosmos has inspired humans for hundreds of years, and now it can inspire you! Rainbow Bridge National Monument has been named a Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark-Sky Association.

10) There’s an App for That!

Have more questions while planning your trip to see us? Want to know hours of operations of visitor centers, opportunities for self-guided hikes, places for scenic drives and more?! Check out Glen Canyon and Rainbow Bridge on the NPS App! We hope to see you soon.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Last updated: March 22, 2024