Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry: a day on the Colorado River

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Lluis Enric Mayans

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We are in the vast natural area of Glen Canyon in Arizona, in a region that you know quite well: more precisely, we are on the banks of the Colorado River, at the mouth of the Paria Canyon and in the shadow of the monumental giants of the Vermilion Cliffs, about 45 minutes from Page, where the rushing flow of the river has carved out natural wonders such as Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell.

Today we want to talk to you about Marble Canyon, and in particular of the pier of Read Ferry (also known as Lee's Ferry), a corner rich in history and secrets that almost all on the road itineraries ignore, in favor of the most famous attractions in the nearby area. You will ask: what will be so striking? What if we told you we're going to tell you all about the clearing from where Colorado started digging what we know as Grand Canyon?

We are in fact in the middle of Marble canyon (a minor section of Glen Canyon), near the Navajo Bridge, above which passes the 89A (a variant of the much better known and beaten Highway 89) which starts from Fredonia and surrounds the entire wall of the Vermilion Cliffs on the outside. Read Ferry it can be reached via a detour from the main road that goes into the heart of the canyon: but what awaits us?

Let's find out together.


  • Lees Ferry, where the Colorado River “begins” the Grand Canyon
  • How to get to Marble Canyon
  • What to do in Marble Canyon?
    • Lees Ferry: discovering the Colorado River 
    • An adventure in the Cathedral Wash slot canyon
    • Three itineraries in the footsteps of gold diggers
  • Where to sleep near Marble Canyon

Lees Ferry, where the Colorado River “begins” the Grand Canyon

Enough mysteries: let's explain what Lees Ferry is, before telling you how to reach it in detail. The area of Marble canyonRead Ferry It is in the southern slope of Glen Canyon, which, we recall, begins at Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, in Utah, and ends right here, before becoming the Grand Canyon. The peculiarity of Marble Canyon is that we are talking about the only stretch of the entire Glen Canyon where the Colorado is easily accessible by the public and navigable: it is impossible to do it elsewhere, along the previous 700 miles where the river flows riotous between the vertiginous walls of the crack ripping in two Arizona and Utah.

Cruise on Lake Powell The exception is Lake Powell, whose narrow canals can be explored on a cruise. We talked about it in our article dedicated to Lake Powell.

This fortunate geographical position has been exploited over the centuries: from 1872 to 1920 numerous gold miners, Navajo Indians and pioneers have sailed and crossed the river at this point, and still today, since small pier of Lees Ferry on the river bank - which gives the place its name -, boats full of tourists and fishermen leave, eager to enter the narrow gorge of the Marble canyon.

But this is only one of the merits of this fortunate natural area: around the pier there are some interesting itineraries of historical and natural taste, which are worth mentioning briefly. But first, let's understand how to get to Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry.

How to get to Marble Canyon

As already mentioned, you get to Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry by deviating from the Highway 89A, a scenic route of great impact that we want to describe briefly, imagining that you want to reach the Colorado River after visiting, for example, the Bryce Canyon, and having the area of Page.

At the height of Kanab, a landmark city for those who have visited Bryce, Highway 89 forks: if on the one hand the road continues north of Vermilion Cliffs and reaches Lake Powell and Page, on the other it stretches to the south and, at the height of Fredonia, runs east, coming to Page from the opposite side, from Bitter Springs (For the record: the stretch of Highway 89 from Bitter Springs to Page until recently was closed for construction, but recent news is the reopening of the road which, among other things, runs along the horseshoe-shaped bend by Horseshoe Bend).

89A, the old highway that starts from Fredonia, it is an exceptional panoramic road because it allows you to taste the spectacle of the Vermilion Cliffs wall from afar, which is a notoriously difficult park to visit. In fact, after Jakob Lake, the House Rock Road, a dirt road that, after a long bumpy ride, leads to the heart of Vermilion: but it is not a type of excursion that should be taken lightly. After about an hour from Fredonia, you will arrive at Cliff Dwellers Lodge, where there are some native settlements. Wandering around the area a little, you can come across curious fungiform rocks typical of the canyon.

The road continues towards Page: near a gas station and the Marble Canyon airstrip, turn off towards Lee’s Ferry Road, and here we are.

What to do in Marble Canyon?

You can have a really nice day in the Marble canyon, at the pier of Read Ferry and not only. Here are which activities you can choose:

Lees Ferry: discovering the Colorado River 

Lees Ferry's main business is river navigation, so it is perhaps for this reason that you have come here. After parking your car, go to the pier and let yourself be guided by the boatmen, who will take you among the silent breathtaking walls of the Marble canyon, navigating the waters of the river.

Near the boat ramp, where the river bed widens, there are also some bathing spots. Be very careful, though: only dive in the recommended areas, otherwise the rapids of the Paria River - which flows right here into the Colorado - will drag you to the Grand Canyon!

Finally, if you love the fishery, this is the right place: there are many enthusiasts who reach the banks of the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. Apparently, the stretch is very fishy.

An adventure in the Cathedral Wash slot canyon

Along the Lees Ferry Road, before the campsite and the pier, continuing by car, you will find strange rock shapes (including a well-known balanced rock) and, after 1.3 miles, the start of a trail inside a small slot canyon that branches off from the Colorado River. The excursion within Cathedral Wash it lasts 3 hours in total. Gear up well and expect a wild walk (watch out for snakes!) Among the looming rock walls of a narrow and severe natural corridor.

Three itineraries in the footsteps of gold diggers

  • Take a short walk up to Lonely Dell Ranch, the residence of the Mormon family who ran the pier, located at the very beginning of the other canyon in the area, shaped by the action of the Paria River. As we said in the article dedicated to Vermilion Cliffs, in fact, two very long itineraries within the Paria Canyon also start from here: White House Trailhead e Buckskin Gulch Trailhead, but these are very long and tiring excursions, suitable for those who have a lot of time and technical tools to explore the area and sleep in the open for several nights;
  • at the pier, you can take it Spencer Trail, a 2,2-mile itinerary that climbs up a slope of the canyon and offers a splendid view of the river. The trail is dedicated to the memory of Charles H. Spencer, the most famous gold prospector in the area, who in 1910 tried his luck in this stretch of Colorado;
  • from the pier also starts a walk at a time of Read Fort, a historic monument commemorating the late XNUMXth century clashes between Mormons and Navajo Indians in the area.

Where to sleep near Marble Canyon

If you don't feel like sleeping at the Lees Ferry campsite, the closest and most equipped town is Page. Find the best accommodations at this link:

All accommodations available in Page

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