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The Lees Ferry Road Trip Guide

The Lees Ferry Road Trip Guide

Water is an integral part of life. We drink it, bathe in it, cook with it, and recreate in it.  Campers and hikers seek out rivers, lakes, and ponds so they can listen for hours to babbling brooks, splash in the waves of crashing rivers, and gaze out at still waters for answers from the universe. 

Lees Ferry gives us access to all that and more.

Let’s dive in!

What Is Lees Ferry (and Its History)

Located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lees Ferry is a natural corridor between Utah and Arizona. Glen Canyon is the only place where you can drive directly to the Colorado River within the 700 miles of canyonlands in this region.

Here, you can enjoy many activities throughout the red rocks, canyons, and desert ridges. Backpacking, fishing, camping, river running, and hiking are all quite popular alongside the mighty Colorado River.

The history of Lees Ferry involves making connections as well as stirring up conflict. The corridor is named after John D. Lee, a prominent Mormon citizen at the time. It offered a much-needed link between settlements in Utah and Arizona in the late 1800s. 

Despite its benefits, Lees Ferry was also home to conflict. Tensions were high between the Mormons and the Navajo during this time, resulting in several conflicts. Lee played a substantial role in one of the biggest wars, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, resulting in his execution in 1877.

Before this, however, there were many buildings constructed to keep the much-needed ferry running. The main building originated as a defensive fort and transitioned several times into other uses as needed–uses such as a trading post and a schoolhouse.  It’s this historic building that still stands today, offering a small glimpse into what Lees Ferry used to be.

Lees Ferry is the only place within Glen Canyon where visitors can drive to the Colorado River.
Lees Ferry is the only place within Glen Canyon where visitors can drive to the Colorado River.

The Best Way to Get to Lees Ferry

Getting to Lees Ferry doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s 110 miles from Flagstaff and 42 miles from Page, Arizona, along Highway 80 south and scenic Highway 89A.  Only 85 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon makes for an easy starting point to visit Lees Ferry and then head south to the Grand Canyon on Highway 89A and 67.

The Lees Ferry park entrance is in Marble Canyon in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Turn right at the park entrance, and a paved road will lead you directly to Lees Ferry on the river once you get to Glen Canyon.

What is the relationship of Lees Ferry with the Grand Canyon?

Lees Ferry is not located in Grand Canyon National Park, although it does have a necessary relationship with this popular destination. Outfitters running river trips on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon need an accessible place to start, and Lees Ferry is the perfect point as it’s 85 miles north of the North Rim. 

Lees Ferry is considered the northern starting point of the Grand Canyon. Considering the Colorado River runs through the entire 277 miles of Grand Canyon National Park, it’s no wonder that people are attracted to this exciting activity and breathtaking destination.

If you’ve ever seen the Hollywood movie, Into the Wild, you may be familiar with Lees Ferry. Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, a lone adventurer done with the everyday social structures of life who runs away into the wild. Lees Ferry serves as the backdrop for one of the scenes in the movie.

If you don’t know the scene, this is where Hirsch pushes a shopping cart past the mushroom rock formations to act as transportation for his kayak. He then launches the kayak into raging rapids and barrels down the river.

The boat ramp here is the only spot for hundreds of miles where it’s easy to launch a boat or kayak into the Colorado River, which is precisely where this famous scene takes place.

While it looked somewhat manageable in the movie, you probably shouldn’t try it in real life! Plus, if you decide to put your kayak in the water here, you’ll need transportation back. If you go too far down, you’ll need to be with a river outfitter. 

Lass Ferry is a popular destination for backpacking, fishing, camping, river running, and hiking.
Lass Ferry is a popular destination for backpacking, fishing, camping, river running, and hiking.

Instead of diving into rapids, let’s try a few hiking trails instead. How about Spencer Trail or Dominguez Pass Loop? 

Spencer Trail

With over 1600 feet of elevation gain, this 3.8-mile out-and-back trail is not easy. However, it is quite popular amongst hikers, so be prepared for many people on the trail with you. While it’s rated as difficult and can be quite strenuous, it’s very well maintained.

You’ll be rewarded with majestic views of the Colorado River and Vermillion Cliffs along the way and at the lookout point.

Pro Tip: Don’t make these common hiking mistakes.

Dominguez Pass Loop

You’ll cross a great deal of rugged terrain on this Lees Ferry hike. Have GPS capabilities with you or a topographic map and knowledge of how to use it.

This trail starts at the Spencer Trail, and then you’ll go cross-country to Dominguez Pass. You can hike the entire loop, but then you’ll either have to have someone pick you up to get you back to the beginning or walk on the road. If that’s too much, you can avoid that problem and shave off three miles by ending it with the power line road.

Expect to spend about six hours on this 7.5-mile loop while gaining over 1800 feet of elevation.  You’ll need good route finding skills along with some expertise in hiking, as this trail isn’t for novice hikers.

The Best Campsites Near Lees Ferry

There’s ample camping near Lees Ferry, and each spot is stunningly beautiful. But two campgrounds stand out above the rest.

Lees Ferry Campground

Address: Lees Ferry Rd, Page, AZ

About the Campground: The campground at Lees Ferry has 51 sites with an RV dump station and grills provided at each.  While there are no hookups, there’s a modern bathroom on site, along with potable water. 

Marble Canyon is only five miles away, where you can find a store and other conveniences.  The red rocks’ beauty will surround you here, and the boat launch is only two miles away.

Price: $20 per night

Antelope Point RV Park

Address: 537 Marina Parkway Hwy N22 B, Page, AZ

About the Campground: Antelope Point RV Park is conveniently located at Lake Powell and near the Antelope Point Marina. You’ll have everything you need here. You’ll find 100 spots with pull-through and back-in sites, all with full hookups available. 

Enjoy the views of the surrounding sandstone cliffs and the sparkling water of Lake Powell. This is quite possibly the best home base for your adventures in Lees Ferry, the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and any other destination in the surrounding area.

Price: Pricing varies depending on dates, cabins, RV sites, park passes, park discounts, etc.

Looking for a unique National Park experience? Consider these Grand Canyon lodges instead of RV parks.

Lees Ferry: A Connection to Water and History

Lees Ferry is a place of history and beauty. Today, Lees Ferry is still gorgeous with the Colorado River, the surrounding red rocks, and the excitement of heading into the Grand Canyon via the water. 

Lees Ferry once created connections to cultures in the past and continues that connection today.

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