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The Grand Canyon may be pretty to look at, but for small kids, it's a big hole in the ground with scary "don't go beyond this point" signs.
Forget that. About 300 miles northeast awaits a "friendlier" sister canyon both adults and children can enjoy. Well, it was a canyon...once.
Today it's Lake Powell, the result of a dam built in 1962 across Glen Canyon. It took nearly 18 years to fill up this huge gorge straddling Arizona and Utah. But in 1980, a new playground was born.
Now the second largest man-made lake in the U.S. is a natural wonder without the compromise. Your kids can swim and water- ski while you soak in the scenery, sipping margaritas from the deck of a houseboat. Ah, what a life...
Boating is the best way to enjoy this dramatic southwest setting. And it's the only way to explore Lake Powell's 96 side canyons, where you can play Indiana Jones, fish, swim, or just nap.
Not surprisingly, houseboats are the lodging style of choice. Most families rent these "water RVs" for a week at a time. You can find them in every size, shape, and price tag -- from functional to luxurious. But they're popular, so make your reservations early.
You can also rent a powerboat for a day. Or tug one along with the houseboat, for water-skiing, tubing, or boat touring (they're faster and more fuel efficient than gas-guzzling houseboats). Kayaks are another great way to explore Lake Powell's endless coves -- without a motor.
Before heading out on the lake, stash an activity bag in the boat. Popular Lake Powell past times include beach volleyball (bring a net and ball), sand castle building, and boat decorating (flags and Christmas lights are year-round favorites).
Don't want to play skipper during your visit? Let someone else do the steering. Choose from one-hour paddlewheel excursions around Wahweap Bay, a 2.5-hour side canyon tour, or half- and full-day outings to famous Rainbow Bridge.
The 186-mile-long Lake Powell (and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area) is packed with attractions from Glen Canyon Dam, Arizona to the mouth of the Colorado River in Utah. Some of our favorites include:
Although water is the main attraction, you'll find some great hiking along red rock trails. Below are a couple of local picks, easily reached by boat:
Type of trip: Outdoor, watersports, hiking Best ages: 5 and up Ideal trip length: Long weekend Distance: Salt Lake City (299 miles), Phoenix (422 miles), Las Vegas (467 miles) Best time to go: Spring and fall; crowds are gone, prices drop, and temperatures have cooled (but it's still warm enough to swim). In spring, expect extended windy periods that kick up rough waters on the lake. Weather: 71/43 degrees in April, 82/53 in May, 74/47 in October. Summer highs can reach 110 degrees. Lodging: From $120-165/night (marina hotels) to $1,100-3,000 (for three days on a houseboat) in high season. Lodging, boat rental, and tour reservations: 800-528-6154 or the individual marina. Squirm Factor: None
Glen Canyon, Lake Powell Visitor Centers Note: Buy seven-day entrance permits here.
Marinas. Four marinas operate year-round on Lake Powell, all accessible by land. Arrange houseboat and powerboat rentals, boat tours, accommodations, fuel, fishing gear and water sports, groceries and dry boat storage. Rentals and rates: call 800-528-6154.
Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas Phone: 800-528-6154 Note: boat rentals, lodgings
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Phone: 928-608-6404
Utah Travel Council
If your kids think crawling through mazes at the local children's museum is cool, wait til they visit one of the magical slot canyons near Lake Powell. Skinny chasms carved by rushing water, they're called slots because you can touch each rock wall simply by stretching out your arms.
The most popular slot is Antelope Canyon, three miles east of Page, AZ on Navajo land. The Upper Antelope portion (also known as Corkscrew Canyon), is the best one for family explorations.
The canyon's short "trail" starts at the base of a red sandstone plateau and takes just a few minutes to traverse. Your kids will ooh and ahh as sunlight filters down into this narrow slit from high above, creating ever-changing patterns on the curvy rock.
One note of caution: Beware of summer rains in August and September. Eleven visitors to the deeper Lower Antelope Canyon drowned in August 1997 when they were caught unexpectedly in a flash flood.
To visit Upper Antelope Canyon, take Hwy 98 to Milepost 299. You'll pay a fee (somewhere between $10 and 17) and be escorted roundtrip by a Navajo guide across a two-mile sandy wash to the canyon entrance.
Favorite local spot: The fishing dock at Wahweap Marina, on Lake Powell's south shore, eight miles north of Page, AZ. Call 928-645-2433 for more information. A favorite haunt of local children, the dock is equipped with benches, highly coveted shade and places to rest your fishing poles as you wait for nibbles. Old Christmas trees are dropped in the water below the dock, which creates an ideal fish habitat.
Best souvenir: T-shirt with black and white drawings of a lizard, a fish and a frog that turns to color once exposed to the sun, from marina gift shops.
Annual events: Festival of Lights, Wahweap and Bullfrog Marinas, Thanksgiving weekend. Houseboats and powerboats decked out in holiday decorations dot the water.
Traffic alert: Some roads require 4-wheel-drive vehicles, particularly after a big rain; check road conditions at ranger stations.
Weather alert: Strong winds during summer thunderstorms can create high waves on Lake Powell; ride out the storm in a leeward cove. They usually pass within two hours.