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Castle Rock Cut To Be Deepened Again at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area


This map compares the route for boaters on Lake Powell with the Cut (across the narrow neck of land near the top of the photo) and without the Cut (open waterway near the bottom of the image.) A larger version is available in the document at this link. NPS image.

Castle Rock Cut is a popular short-cut route on Lake Powell that allows boaters at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to shorten the trip between the major Wahweap Marina and destinations uplake by a distance of 12 miles. Years of drought and falling water levels for the lake have made this shortcut unusable by boaters, so work is getting underway at to lower this channel by another twenty feet.

Located just over the Utah border between Wahweap Creek and Warm Creek Bays, the Castle Rock Cut area is about 3 miles due east of the Wahweap Developed Area. The Wahweap Marina is at the southern end of Lake Powell, near the town of Page, and is the major marina facility at Glen Canyon NRA.

Work to Deepen the Cut Dates Back to the 1970s

The Cut was first deepened in the 1970s, to an elevation of 3,622 feet above sea level, and the work has been repeated several times since then. In early 2013, a project lowered the bottom elevation of the cut to approximately 3600 feet, and the announcement of that work came with a bit of disclaimer: "If the lake drops further in subsequent years, excavation could continue to a maximum depth of 3580 feet."

Unfortunately for boaters and the park, "subsequent years" turned out to be less than a year away. With lake levels continuing to fall, the work for 2013 was largely in vain—the water never rose high enough during the summer tourist season for the deepened cut to be used by boaters.

Work scheduled to get underway on January 21 "will lower the bottom elevation of the cut to approximately 3580 feet, removing over 70,000 cubic yards of material." This year's project was envisioned when an environmental assessment was completed back in 2008. That document called for plans, if needed, to deepen the cut by 35 feet over a five-year period.

The Cut Saves Boaters Time and Money, But It's Not Cheap

Some, of course, will question the value of the work, with costs estimated by some sources in the neighborhood of $1 million, but boaters and business interests defend it. Depending upon the source used, travel through the cut saves approximately 10 to 12 miles of boating, and cuts an average of an hour or so off of the trip each way between the major marina at Wahweap and the majority of locations on the lake.

NPS Project Manager Carl Elleard says, "This not only saves time and gas for boaters, but it also provides for a safer boating experience." With key NPS infrastructure and staff located in the Wahweap area, travel through the Cut also reduces response time for uplake emergencies.

Previous articles on the Traveler about earlier work on the Cut has evoked some definite opinions about the pros and cons of the work. When the EA was completed by the NPS back in 2008, public comments ran about 90% in favor of the project.

Success of the Project Depends Largely on Mountain Snows

Will the latest efforts to keep the cut open for boaters be adequate for at least a few years? The answer depends on adequate moisture in the huge watershed for the Upper Colorado River, and it's certainly too soon to know the final picture for the current winter. Lake levels are typically lowest in the winter, and are normally expected to rise as the year progresses and snowmelt reaches the lake.

Lake levels can respond fairly quickly to a "good winter" in terms of runoff upstream. Compared to 2007, the maximum lake level was up 22 feet in 2008 and up 31 feet in 2009. The following video, shot by a kayak group that enjoys using the Cut, illustrates how water levels in the cut changed between May 11 and June 8 in 2008. Their trip in June 2008 marked the first time the Cut had been open to boaters since 2002.


The long-term drought trend for recent years continued during 2013, however, and the maximum lake level of 3609 feet was recorded on the first day of the year. The minimum level of 3584 feet was recorded at the end of December, and earlier this week, the lake level was 3580.75 feet. That's virtually the same as the new "bottom" of the cut once it's deepened by the current project.

Earlier this week, Lake Powell was reported to be 119.44 feet below Full Pool (elevation 3,700); by content, the lake is 41.06% of Full Pool. You'll find considerable current and historic data on lake levels at this link.

The short video below was shot on February 8, 2013, shortly before last year's work to deepen the Cut got underway. It shows the Cut high and dry at an elevation of 3604 feet.


The low water will make it easy to complete the work, but lake levels will need to rise about six feet this spring for the work to pay off for summer boaters. Scheduled completion for the project is late April, but Cut will not reopen to boaters until lake levels allow. The park will notify the public via the park website and media releases when this occurs.

Boaters, water managers and everyone else with interests in the water level in Lake Powell can all agree on a sentiment in terms of the weather in Utah and Colorado in the next three months: "Let it snow!"


We have traveled to Lake Powell for the last 4 years. 3 times to the Page area and two years ago to Bullfrog. Very long drive for us with our Jet Skis all the way from Tennessee and Ohio, Ill, and Georgia. This is the most Beautiful Lake I have every been on and well worth the 3 day travel time to come visit. Last year it was a bust for us with Castle Rock cut through "High and Dry". The 12 to 13 mile leg down to old river channel on a small watercraft fighting those waves bouncing off thte canyon walls were a killer as most of our group are in their 70's and one 92 year old from Phenoix. Like regulare shoreline the wave action does not desperse like it does on a regular shoreline, and having to fight sometimes waves taller then what we have experiance on the ocean it was pretty dangerous. We love to come and last year we had 26 in our group but with the Lake levels like they are I will not attempt it again as the long walk up to retreive the trailer at Antelope point just does work for a man with 5 by passes and bad knees after a long day on the Lake. Sure wish a shuttle service was available to transport the people who need to launch daily like our group has to do. Maybe some day the Lake will fill back up and we all will get another chance to come out and visit. BG.

Thanks, Ron. Your feelings sound as if they echo mine. It wasn't so much anything specific that had me wondering as much as a general tone of negativity that I can't really put a finger on.

As for my comments about lawmakers who are wholly owned subsidiaries of special interests, I'll stand by that even though, in case, it may not be fully applicable. After all, I do live in Utah where pay to play is very alive and well. To top it off, our legislative session just started and for the next 45 days we'll be watching the sand fly in the sanbox.

Lee, interesting issue On another note, obtained a copy of "Ranger Confidential" by Andrea Lankford yesterday. Read it last night, and have very mixed feelings about her effort here. Andrea Lankford is an educated and competent person, I did not get to know her during her tenure at Yosemite, but I do know, quite well in some cases, many of the persons mentioned in her book. I believe Andrea lives in the Sonora, California area, her husband, equally competent, was the lead investigator in the cause of the RIM fire, if my information is correct. The authors experiences are, as related in the book, a little over the top. As we all see things a little bit differently, I do not want to be critical here, but, for me, the book did not strike the right cord. I did like her summary of the issues at Cape Cod as far as the plovers were concerned, but, well enough said. I think she and her husband would be interesting people to meet.

A likely explanation would be that this project is funded by fee program revenue at the park. In addition to an entrance fee for vehicles, the park charges the following fees for boating:

• $30 - annual vessel permit valid from Jan 1- Dec 31 for each motorized vessel
• $16 - valid 1-7 days for first motorized vessel
• $8 - valid 1-7 days for each additional motorized vessel

ecbuck, very nice link to the news story. It was very helpful. Thanks!


I mainly made my "toll comment" in jest for those who are opposed to fees but if the cut is being paid for by boaters thats fine too.


I did read elsewhere that the cut was being paid for by the boaters. It didn't explain how and I don't know how authoritative the source was. It would be interesting to have those answers before anyone reaches any conclusions.

Maybe they need to charge a toll for passage until its paid for...LOL

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