If you are going to take a river rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, chances are your starting point will be from Lees Ferry. If you plan to fish the Colorado, head for Lees Ferry, too, because it’s well known as one of the best trout fishing spots in the West. This also used to be the site of the only bridge across the Grand Canyon for hundreds and hundreds of miles in either direction.
The History of Lees Ferry
This part of the American West was first explored by Europeans during the late 1700s. At that time, crossing the Colorado river was a massive undertaking involving lots of planning hundreds of miles of travel to get to a crossing point where you didn’t have to travel long distances to get to the other side of a canyon. There were very few places to cross the giant river, with access from both sides of the river, and Lees Ferry was one of them.
Nobody had lived in the area later called Lees Ferry since the time of the Anasazi Indians. The first Europeans to visit the spot were from Spain, and they arrived in 1776. They were two priests, Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Fray Silvewtre Velez de Escalante. They were trying to cross the Colorado River but never actually did. Almost one hundred years later, the famous explorer John Wesley Powell explored Lees Ferry with some Mormons.
That was around the time John Doyle Lee arrived and set up a ferry business. Mormon church leaders had sent him there for that purpose, so as to help Mormons spread out and settle the northern part of Arizona. He had 17 wives and a criminal past, and was eventually arrested and executed by the government for his crimes. However, this did not occur until he had firmly established Lees Ferry as a true village outpost in the Grand Canyon area.
Lees Ferry served the Mormon populationin Arizona for many years. Young Mormon couples who got married in civil ceremonies in Arizona and who wanted their marriages sanctioned by the Mormon church used Lees Ferry to get there. There was a Latter-Day Saints temple in St. George, and Lees Ferry got them there. The ferry crossing was part of what they called The Honeymoon Trail. A little later, Lees Ferry served Miners who needed to get to mines, and who needed to transport supplies.
Today, Lees Ferry is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s where most of the river tours start, and all distances on the river are measured in miles, with mile zero at Lees Ferry.
Lees Ferry is located on the Colorado River between the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon Dam. It’s much closer to Glen Canyon than Grand Canyon, and in fact Marble Canyon lies just south of Lees Ferry, separating Lees Ferry from the Grand Canyon. If you are driving from south of the Grand Canyon, route 89 leads to Cameron Trading Post, which is southeast of the Grand Canyon. Continue north on route 89 for almost 90 miles and you are in Lees Ferry. Just after Bitter Springs, take 89A towards the village of Marble Canyon. In the town of Marble Canyon, look for Marble Canyon Lodge. There will be a turnoff at the Lodge, which you should take. Just three miles down that turnoff road and you will be in Lees Ferry.
Tips for Visiting Lees Ferry
Lees Ferry is located at the intersection of two beautiful ranges of cliffs: Vermilion Cliffs and Echo Cliffs. Vermilion Cliffs are over 3,000 feet high in some spots. Look for reintroduced condors here.
The Lees Ferry Lodge is perfect for the visitors who come for the trout fishing. You can get gear and guides here, and when you get back from fishing all day with your catch, they’ll freeze your fish for you as well. The building was built in 1929, and like many of the area’s early buildings, has a grand, rustic style, made from stones and large pine beams. Dining is good at their Vermilion Cliffs Bar & Grill, which has a western style decor.
Mack Perreti is an adventure traveler and enjoys fishing, boating scuba diving and rock climbing. You can read more of this articles on his snorkeling site