Lees Ferry

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 0.25 - 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 3142 - 3167 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 45 mins.
Trailhead: Lee's Ferry
Fee: $20/vehicle
Attractions: Historic fort and river crossing




Lees Ferry is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Marble Canyon, Arizona. The site gets its name from a Mormon pioneer named John D. Lee who was sent by his church to build and operate a ferryboat here. The crossing was the only spot along a 500 mile stretch of the Colorado River where the canyon walls weren't so deep as to prevent a crossing. The ferry operated for 55 years from 1873 to 1928 when it was replaced by the Navajo Bridge in 1929. Today Lees Ferry is the put in spot for rafters going through the Grand Canyon and the take out location for those coming down the Glen Canyon from Page, Arizona. It is also popular with anglers that fish the upstream waters.


To get to Lee's Ferry drive about 42 miles southwest of Page or 123 miles north from Flagstaff on Highway 89A to the town of Marble Canyon. Just after crossing the Colorado River turn right on the Lees Ferry Road and drive about 7 miles to the day use parking area.


An interpretive trail leads around the various remaining buildings and artifacts at Lees Ferry. A wooden post with a small plaque identifies each of the objects.


One of the more interesting buildings is the old fort which has walls that are several feet thick and narrow slots for windows along the backside of the building. The front side probably also had narrow windows that were later replaced when the threat of being attacked by the Navajoes subsided.


A man named Charles H. Spencer had a mining operation going here at Lees Ferry where he was trying to extract flour gold from clay along the river. One of his steam engines still remains at the site.


Two of his boilers can also be seen. Note the date on the small plaque is 1910.


Also of interest is the sunken remains of Spencer's paddlewheel steamboat in the shallow waters of the Colorado River. The sunken boat has its own separate listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


The homemade steamboat looks a little shaky to be on the Colorado River. (photo courtesy of NAU Cline Library, Emery Kolb Collection.)


The scenic trail along the river can be followed past the sunken steamboat for about another quarter mile.


At that point there is what remains of Spencer's rock house.


John Doyle Lee was sent by Brigham Young of the Mormon church to build and operate the ferry. This wasn't the first time that Lee had been ordered about by the church. In 1857 he took part in the brutal murder of 120 men, women and children that were Arkansas emigrants enroute to California in what is known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah. The brutal deed ranks as one of the largest mass killings of civilians in the United States (Douglas Linder (2006) Mountain Meadow Massacre Trials.) Lee confessed that he operated under orders from church leaders and was subsequently executed by firing squad at the massacre site after being the only person ever tried and convicted for the act.


Lees Ferry is also the end of the trail for backpackers that hike the Paria Canyon. Day hikers can begin here and hike into the lower Paria Canyon area but a permit is required for overnight stays in the canyon. There is also a campground at Lees Ferry that is located on a hill above the river about a half mile or so from the boat launch. Whether hiking, fishing, rafting or sightseeing Lees Ferry is worth the visit if passing through this part of the Arizona Strip. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.