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House boating from Bullfrog in April

Idaho Falls, Idaho
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House boating from Bullfrog in April

To celebrate that landmark age at which one can retire, my husband rented a 46 ft houseboat out of Bullfrog Marina for the 1st week of April, which is the only time my adult daughters and I could get time off together. (We actually prefer cool weather and are not into swimming or crowds.) We aren't experienced boaters, so we're reluctant to also take on a powerboat - boater safety class here we come.

Would be grateful for any advice on an itinerary for a 5 day 4 night trip. Beaching at two different locations is a possibility if it provides a better overall experience, but with limited time and manpower beaching once might be the better option. If beaching once, an ideal site would be photogenic, provide access to hiking (the girls can do challenging hikes, I prefer easier), perhaps a little fishing, and would consider trying kayaking if there's a place to do so close to the houseboat. After looking through the forum I still can't decide if heading toward the Escalante area or going north would be better.

Any safety advice welcome, especially considering the time of year we're going (weather, water level, lack of people around to help). Concerned about beaching site selection without a power boat to scout. Since we'll have to use binoculars, any recommendations on ones best suited for this task?

So grateful to those experienced people who are willing to help us newbies plan a safe and fun trip! My thanks!

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11 replies to this topic
Salt Lake City, Utah
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for Salt Lake City, Lake Powell
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1. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

I have a bit of a concern that you might not understand what you will be getting yourself in to. We’ve had a houseboat on Lake Powell (At Wahweap near Page AZ) for 30+ years. We never go down there in April. The weather is just too changeable and fickle. Average daytime temps are in the 60s which means it can be much colder. Average overnight temps are 36 degrees. But since you don’t mind cool temps that probably won’t matter to you. But there can be rain and high winds that will keep you inside the boat. If the houseboat isn’t moored properly on the beach, you run the risk of lines coming loose and the houseboat being blown all over the place. The water will be too cold for kayaking. Without a smaller boat to go hunt for the fish, fishing will be limited to what may be around where you are beached. You won’t have to worry about crowds because you will have the lake to yourselves. Except for the occasional Park Ranger who may be out patrolling the lake.

Because Bullfrog is so remote with little in the way of grocery stores within more than 100 miles, you will need to shop for all your food, etc. in either Spanish Fork or Price Utah and have enough coolers to keep your refrigerated items cold for more than 4 hours. There may be a small convenience type store at Bullfrog. However, it may not be open in early April.

With just 4 nights and 5 days and because of the work involved in the beaching process and your inexperience, I think you should find a place to beach and stay put. I also think that you shouldn’t get too far off the main channel so that you can be somewhat visible to rangers or any other boat traffic that may happen by. If you are up Escalante, you will be truly alone and may not have cell service to contact anyone should you have a problem.

To scout for beaches without a power boat, you will have to take the houseboat to scout. Using just binoculars will not do the job.You’ll need to look for submerged rocks, how broad the beach is (it should be twice as wide as the houseboat is long so you can run the lines at the proper angle.), check how sharply the beach drops off ( You want a gradual slope, but with deep enough water for the engines at the back of the boat to not be in sand.)

I’m not real familiar with the Bullfrog end. Hopefully, JFR will be along with some ideas of where you should beach at that end of the lake. That would give you acces to some hiking.

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Idaho Falls, Idaho
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2. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

Thank you for your input Connie. Some of your concerns are exactly my concerns. I am hoping to get some guidance on the safest places to beach a boat that might have some wind protection and at a water level/appropriate slope for this time of year. While we do like privacy, we are very aware that too much solitude is not necessarily a good thing in this situation, so we will certainly nix the idea of heading toward Escalante.

We would be perfectly content to find one place and park. It would be nice if that place had access to some hiking. However, if the weather is miserable, we have all done a lot of camping/backpacking and have enjoyed ourselves spending days in a tent with a good book and a deck of cards in below freezing weather. The food and the temperatures I'm comfortable with, but the wind and the rocks are concerning.

The houseboat we are renting does have a communication radio, however, if advisable we could also rent a satellite phone. We're all working on our bowlines. Believe me, I'm open to any and all suggestions.

Thank you again, I really do appreciate your help.

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Salt Lake City, Utah
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3. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

As I said, I'm not real familiar with that end of the lake. I really can't make recommendations. Hopefully, the other Lake Powell DE will be along. I know he's familiar with the Bullfrog end of the lake.

Atascadero...
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4. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

Well I think a lot of the concerns that Connie described are legitimate. That said, I’m more of the mind that with the right mind frame, a houseboat trip in early April can be fun and interesting, but you’ve got to be ready for a few things.

First, the advantages: no crowds, and relatively long days. Consider that a day in early April is just as long as one in early September....

So you don’t have to go far from Bullfrog, which is remote anyway, to lose the crowds. You could even go as close as Moqui Canyon or Forgotten Canyon, both just to the north, and be almost crowd free, which would never be true in summer, Both are with 15 miles of the marina (and even closer to Halls Crossing marina across the lake) if you need supplies... but there are many other really good options nearby... Lake Canyon to the south, for example. The Escalante is about 30 miles south, great area...personally I think if your goal is to see great scenery, and the weather forecast is good, you would do well to go south and sightsee from the houseboat before docking near Rincon...

But the advantage of a place like being in a Canyon like Moqui is that kayaking is nicer.

I disagree with Connie that it’s too cold for kayaking, just need to be prepared. If it’s a sunny day, it can be nice even though the water is cold. Just need the right gear to be warm...especially when wet...but do some research there...

Your 46-foot houseboat is another advantage, small enough to be maneuverable and has only two anchor lines, so easier to anchor. I think you’ll see plenty of open spots to anchor because of lack of crowds, but will need to keep your eyes open. Yes, a skiboat will be useful to explore in general, and would strongly consider one.

Your lack of boating experience Is a consideration for sure, but wouldn’t let it stop you... just need to prepare a bit and employ common sense at all times, which mostly means go slow whenever you are in shallow or narrow areas, and make sure your onboard radio works...obviously more to it than that, but I wouldn’t let that stop you—many people go out with no experience, and that highlights another problem—making sure to avoid boat accidents with others...again with few boats out there, another relative advantage of April...

Obviously Connie and I have slightly different perspectives, both good, and you’ll have to gauge your own comfort level as you move forward here... sounds like an awesome trip to me!

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Idaho Falls, Idaho
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5. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

Thanks JFR, I really appreciate your advice. Kayaking is something we're considering, but not set on. We do, however, want to do some hiking. Of the areas you referenced, which would provide the best hiking opportunities? As I mentioned earlier, the girls and husband can handle the steeper trails, but with a bad knee I tend to take it a little easier. (I can also stay behind with a good book and enjoy the solitude.)

I'm so glad you jumped in here. We've ordered Stan's maps, but after reading through the forum, we're wondering if you'd be willing to share your maps with us also? We'd be so appreciative.

In original post I mentioned reluctance about a powerboat My husband's family had a ski boat when he was in his late teens. So, he has had some experience, but that lake had docks. The mechanics/logistics of dealing with a second boat, in addition to beaching it with a totally inexperienced driver, makes me wince. Would really welcome your perspective.

Historically, from your experience, what should we expect with regards to water level fluctuation during our stay?

So appreciative of the destination experts on this forum. Your honest opinions and extensive knowledge are absolutely invaluable. Thank you so much!!!.

Atascadero...
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6. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

Hi Betty--

Hiking without a ski boat can be a challenge, because many of the best hikes are at the end of canyons that can only be accessed with a small boat. But there are exceptions. One big one would be in the area called the Rincon, about 25 miles south of Bullfrog (mile marker 77). You could anchor a houseboat there, and it's a great hike to go around a huge butte along a drainage that used to be the path of the Colorado River in ancient times. The more adventurous can even climb up this butte. There'a another great hike essentially right across the lake from there, where one can walk up the sloping geology of the Waterpocket Fold right to the top of the canyon wall. It's a bit of a challenge, but not dangerous, just a lot of uphill...

It's always possible to take short hikes away from the houseboat where it's anchored, assuming the terrain at that location is relatively mild. But these are more like informal walks, and sometimes easy, sometimes difficult.

Several side canyons have good hikes at their ends, including Moqui Canyon and Lake Canyon, plus any number of them in the Escalante drainage (if you go there), including Davis, Willow, and Fifty-Mile.

At Forgotten Canyon, you have Defiance House Ruins, the best-preserved archaeological site on the lake, and it's accessible with a short hike, which may or may not be possible to begin from a houseboat anchorage, depending on lake levels...

..speaking of which, the lake is almost always at its lowest on an annual basis each April...that's because the spring runoff has not quite kicked in, but when it does, the lake rises until mid-July, then slowly tails off.

You should not be concerned about the lake level. It will be plenty high when you are there. It is currently at 3617 feet above sea, which is 83 feet below full. Sounds low, but in the context of the past 12 years of relative drought, I'd say this is about average. It's dropping by about a foot a week, so by the time you get there, it will be about 3611. This lake level will not affect any decision you make. It will make the side canyons a little shorter in terms of navigation, but then that opens up more for hiking...a trade-off that those who loved the pre-lake Glen Canyon will gladly take. I would count myself among them...

Towing a second boat can be logistically tricky, but not overwhelming. It's basically a rope tied to the back cleat of the houseboat. When you're underway, you don;t notice it's there. But when it comes time to anchor the houseboat, what you need to do is put someone in the ski boat and launch it before anchoring the houseboat. Keep the boats separate during the anchoring, so the houseboat can adjust and maneuver as needed. Then pull the ski boat to shore (slowly) and pull the bow right up on a beach, tying it off on a tree or boulder (raise the motor too). Then the person who pulled the ski boat in gets out and helps set the anchors of the houseboat.

Reverse that process when you leave.

As for map questions, see my response in my email to you...

You'll have a great time!

Edited: 26 February 2018, 07:01
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Idaho Falls, Idaho
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7. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

JFR, thank you so much for the suggestions you've provided. That area is HUGE and, with your help, we now have it narrowed down to some manageable choices.

Betty

Big Sky, MT
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8. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

We have been out of Bullfrog in mid to late April several times. We always come during spring break, which is generally the week after the ski area up here closes. We’ve been pretty lucky with weather, though I have been snowed on while camping in that vicinity in April as well.

Definitely pays to spend some quality time setting anchors, as wind can kick up, and chasing anchors at 2:00 in the morning while trying to re-beach a 46 foot barge in the dark is not fun. Only happened once, but could have been easily prevented :)

Crowds are pretty thin, which is a great thing. Lake levels have never really been a problem one way or the other. We have always kayaked, but swimming is pretty chilly.

We are heading out again in the middle of April this year. We have always gone south and spent most of our time up or near the Escalante, but are considering heading north for the whole week this time.

Maps and guides are indispensable, but details like specific camp sites are always changing with lake levels, so don’t get your heart set on a location and be ready to do some campground shopping. Lake levels are constantly exposing sites while obscuring others. A good pair of binoculars is also essential for scouting beaches and canyon entrances.

The main lake is pretty much always windy, but that’s really more like the highway that gets you to the canyons of your choice. Wind dies considerably once you get into the side canyons, especially the higher ones. There it’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade, and nights are crisp. We generally sleep outside on the top deck and find it pretty pleasant, but we like to camp. We have never found it cold enough to kick on the heat in the cabin.

If you are hoping for hours lounging in the sun baking a tan, it might be a little cool for that, but for the most part it’s plenty warm (well, until it isn’t, but hey...). Usually we are in shorts and T-shirts all day, and fleece jackets and pants come out as soon as the sun goes down.

I have never been there in July or August, but I think I would choose April’s weather uncertainties over the crowds ten times out of ten.

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Idaho Falls, Idaho
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9. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

Appreciate your perspective. Sounds like we have some similar values when it comes to outdoor experiences (and ski areas). Backpacked in our youth and now camp in remote, undeveloped areas as we do enjoy our privacy. I do my happy dance when the temps are below 80 so what you describe, right down to sleeping on the top deck, sounds perfect! We, and our gear, can handle the snow but we're hoping for a break from that.

Still can't decide between going north or south from Bullfrog. May just have to flip a coin. How far up the Escalante do you typically go on your excursions? Are there quite a few good beaching sites? Aside from going up the Escalante, would there be any other bays down south you'd recommend to a campsite shopper and beaching novice?

Thank you for the encouraging words.

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Atascadero...
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10. Re: House boating from Bullfrog in April

In the Escalante, at current lake levels you really can't quite get to Explorer Canyon before you have to turn around. Typically, I'll get to about Willow Gulch and call it good...that's a nice canyon to explore, including its main tributary Bishop Canyon (first canyon on the right as you head in)...

That said, there are surprisingly few good campsites in the Escalante, since the main stem has generally sheer walls, but you might find a couple here and there if not already taken. The side canyons hold a few more, including Davis, Fifty-Mile and Willow, as well as a couple of the smaller offshoots of the main channel of the Escalante...

Other places to the south of Bullfrog that are nice camp areas include the mouth of the Rincon (mile 77), the mouth of Ribbon Canyon (mile 67), the area across from Hole-in-the-Rock (mile 66), near the mouth of the San Juan (mile 58), an area near mile marker 53 on the west side of the lake, and then Oak Bay (mile 51)... But then there's aways nice ones elsewhere if you look hard enough... good luck!

Edited: 31 March 2018, 07:16
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Bishop
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