Popular Lake Powell ferry service returns after low waters kept it docked for 3 years

The Charles Hall Ferry pictured in 2016. The ferry connecting Halls Crossing and Bullfrog within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will return to service beginning on Thursday after low Lake Powell levels made it inoperable for three years.

The Charles Hall Ferry pictured in 2016. The ferry connecting Halls Crossing and Bullfrog within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will return to service beginning on Thursday after low Lake Powell levels made it inoperable for three years. (National Park Service)


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HALLS CROSSING, San Juan County — A popular ferry that significantly reduces the travel time between two major Lake Powell destination areas is set to make its long-awaited return just in time for the Fourth of July.

The Charles Hall Ferry will once again make trips between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area beginning on Thursday, according to National Park Service and Utah Department of Transportation officials.

UDOT Region 4 spokesman Kevin Kitchen told KSL.com on Wednesday that the ferry will make four round trips every Thursday and Friday over the next few weeks just to make sure everything is running smoothly. The plan is to then extend service to Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer. A "limited" schedule is possible beyond that based on water conditions and customer demand.

"After a three-year pause, Lake Powell's water levels again accommodate the ferry's loading ramps. We are very pleased to join with our partners in offering the ferry service to our many visitors again," said Glen Canyon National Recreation Area superintendent Michelle Kerns, in a statement Tuesday.

The ferry was introduced in the 1980s as a way to significantly reduce the travel time between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog after Lake Powell started to fill up in the 1960s. While the two areas are only a little more than 25 miles apart geographically, motorists have to travel around the massive reservoir to go from one place to the other.

The trip typically takes about two hours to complete, while the ferry completed the trip in about 25 to 30 minutes. Kitchen explained that it became a popular service, drawing in not just motorists but cyclists and pedestrians who liked to travel from one part of Lake Powell to the other. Even some freight services utilized the ferry to cut down travel times.

However, that all ended in July 2021 as Lake Powell's water levels had fallen so dramatically amid drought and overconsumption that the ferry had become inoperable. Kitchen explained that UDOT had tracked the reservoir's decline and extended or changed ramps in the years leading up to the closure, but it couldn't keep up with the dropping water levels.

"With a big vessel like that, there's problems you run into if you're not careful," he said. "For safety reasons, and to make sure that the vessel didn't have issues, we had to cease operations. ... The water level had dropped so much further than we had anticipated."

UDOT spent the past three years working on ways to improve the ferry system, including renovating and retrofitting the ferry to handle the conditions. But its return to operation had everything to do with more water flowing into Lake Powell.

The reservoir had fallen below 3,522 feet elevation by February 2023, which was its lowest point since it had filled up to a "full pool" level in 1980. It's now back up to a little over 3,586 feet elevation after back-to-back productive snowpack collection seasons within the Colorado River Basin.

In addition, Utah and other Colorado River Basin states agreed on a temporary plan to reduce consumption from the Colorado River system and are working on a long-term plan to recharge both Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

"The water has been the primary component of this," Kitchen said. "This last year's storm system was just incredible."

He added that he expects that the ferry's return will be well-received. UDOT received plenty of emails and calls asking about the ferry since service was halted. Many of these came from people outside of Utah, and outside the U.S., wondering if it would be available by the time they visited the region.

Per UDOT's website, the ferry — operated by Aramark - Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas — will first depart Halls Crossing at 10 a.m. on days when it's in service. It'll make trips between Halls Crossing and Bullfrog every hour after that before its last trip departs Bullfrog after 5 p.m.

It costs $10 for pedestrians and bicyclists, $15 for motorcycles and $25 for most vehicles. There's an additional fee of $1.50 per foot for the entire length of the vehicle for every vehicle longer than 20 feet in size. All payments must be made in cash.

Its schedule beyond this summer will ultimately be decided by water levels and travel demand. The ferry won't operate if water levels fall below 3,575 feet elevation, about 11 feet from the current level.

"This is a fantastic thing," Kitchen said. "Our hope is that we'll be able to run it (Thursdays through Sundays), assuming that our water levels sustain — and then we'll extend it to more days of the week."

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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