Paddleboarding the Colorado River
SUP adventure through this spectacular canyon is like no other
I’m not going to lie, paddleboarding wasn’t something that I was overly familiar with until my last visit to the US. I remember seeing people paddleboarding on the canal in Dublin city centre from time to time, and that was the height of my experience with paddleboarding.
My first experience with paddleboarding was in Lake Powell, Utah, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, my paddleboarding game was well below par.
Standing up on the board was a problem and when I did manage to stand up, I fell back into the water immediately. People with good balance will call it stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) while the rest can just call it paddleboarding.
Lake Powell was my sole experience of paddleboarding up until the Health and Yoga retreat I attended with Santo Tomas Retreats in Page, Arizona. I feel that divulging my background experience with paddleboarding is an appropriate start, as one of the main activities on the retreat was a morning paddleboarding excursion on the Colorado River.
I remember looking at the itinerary of activities for the weekend and the paddleboarding excursion was sticking out as a potential highlight.
Boat Ride From Lees Ferry to Glen Canyon Dam
On the morning of the excursion, we got up early to have breakfast and prepare for the busy morning ahead. Prior to leaving, we grabbed our packed lunches.
Out in the wilderness, you definitely need to come prepared with food and water. We took a 1-hour bus ride to meet our tour guide at Lees Ferry (the beginning of the Grand Canyon). The bus drive was pleasant, I got to know the other guests a little more. We had spent a couple of hours together Friday evening having dinner.
Besides chatting, I got to marvel at incredible views of the Grand Canyon before arriving to Lees Ferry. We met our tour guide and boarded the boat promptly. Our boat was small, with enough space for 8 people. In terms of the outward excursion, the boat ride was 15 miles up the Colorado River to Glen Canyon Dam.
Glen Canyon Dam is enormous, standing at over 700 feet tall. Making it slightly smaller than the more famous Hoover Dam.
The tour guide stopped the boat near the dam so that we could take some pictures. Seeing this huge dam from the bottom was one of the highlights of the day. We stayed here for about ten minutes, then our guide turned the boat around in the direction of Lees Ferry.
The plan was to take us a couple miles back towards Horseshoe Bend and pull up by the bank of the river so that we could get out and paddleboard to the bend.
Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped incised meander of the Colorado River and is about five miles from Glen Canyon Dam. Horseshoe Bend is a top tourist attraction in Arizona. The majority of tourists view the bend from a cliff above. There are some truly breathtaking views from above. For some context, here is a picture from above looking down at the bend.
Time to SUP
We pulled up to the side of the river about three miles from Horseshoe Bend. Got out, took our paddleboards and life jackets, and began our SUP adventure on the Colorado River. I was feeling apprehensive at the start. As mentioned above, my paddleboarding experience was limited.
The river looked deep in the middle and the water temperature was around 30 degrees, but I was determined to stand up on the board this time and give it another go.
I was on my knees on the board for the first 10 minutes building up the courage to stand up, and then I went for it. I’m happy to report, I stayed up on the board this time and didn’t fall in! Although, I did have a few close calls.
We stopped and got off the boards about 15 minutes into our SUP adventure to look at a petroglyph panel on the side of the canyon wall.
Archaeologists believe the petrogylph panel is between 3,000 and 6,000 years old.
The panel where we took photos is known as the Descending Sheep Petroglyph, and it was fantastic to see, considering how old it is. We got back on our paddleboards and continued our journey to Horseshoe Bend.
We passed a couple of camping sites on our way. Super cool places to camp if you are looking for a remote location. However, it didn’t look like the camping sites were too big. It took us about 40 minutes to get down to the bend, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the magnificence and grandeur of Glen Canyon.
The weather was perfect that morning, it wasn’t windy, and the river was relatively calm, ideal weather for paddleboarding. The temperature reached the mid-80s around midday and the other people on the tour thought the weather was perfect, but I still found it somewhat warm for a pasty Irish guy!
Arrival to Horseshoe Bend
Once we got to the Bend, we pulled up our paddleboards onto the bank of the river. This was also the meeting point with our tour guide, and he was waiting for us. We loaded up our paddleboards onto the boat. Our tour guide informed us that the wind was about to pick up in the afternoon.
High winds have a huge impact on the paddleboarding experience. They make SUP conditions difficult and somewhat dangerous, we were blessed that we did the morning SUP adventure. Afternoon tours were not possible due to the winds.
After this chat with the tour guide, we got ready for our yoga class on the bend! What an incredible and unique place for a yoga class, the class lasted about 30 minutes. It was great to stretch the muscles after the paddleboarding.
Yoga Class on the Bend
Some thoughts crossed my mind during the class, what did our class look like from the top of the canyon, and were any of the tourists wondering what the hell was going on down at the bottom? I guess there haven’t been many yoga classes on the bend. Erin, our yoga instructor, did a great job with the class.
Afterwards, we ate our packed lunches. The lunch was delicious and much needed after all the activity. Refuelled, we jumped back on the boat to return to our starting point at Lees Ferry. On the way back, it was nice to relax and take in the views.
Close to the starting point, we saw wild horses neck high in the Colorado River eating grass growing on the river. It was incredible to see. Moreover, it hit home to me how much nature we were surrounded by down in the bottom of the Canyon.
Wrapping up the SUP Day
The boat pulled up to the docking bay, we got off and thanked the tour guide for transporting us for the morning. The Directors of STR (Erin & Hanna) did a great job organizing this amazing SUP adventure on the Colorado River for us. Everything was perfect, the weather, yoga, paddleboarding, packed lunch, good company, breathtaking views.
We were all still buzzing on the way back to the retreat house on the bus, talking about the SUP adventure and looking at all the stunning pictures. For me, it was the highlight of the 3-day retreat. I will even say a SUPer adventure!