Aerial view of cliffs rising out of blue-green waters of Lake Powell.

Gunsight Butte on Lake Powell


Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) preserves and protects 1.2 million acres of the Colorado Plateau, a vast landscape of colorful buttes, mesas, canyons, and cliffs. Arid to semi-arid, the region supports a complex and often fragile ecosystem. Plants and wildlife have developed unique adaptations to the hot, arid conditions of their environment and contribute to the rich diversity of life in the area. Typical of the Colorado Plateau, the highly diverse vegetation of Glen Canyon NRA forms different communities that create important habitat for a diverse range of animals including amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates.

Wildlife in Glen Canyon NRA is a reflection of the Colorado Plateau, changes in land use, and environmental factors. The completion of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963 radically changed the surrounding environment by creating Lake Powell, which spans 13% of Glen Canyon NRA and is the second largest reservoir in the United States. Over 300 species of birds have been documented in the area, a diversity of species that was unknown prior to construction of the dam that can be attributed to the colonization of Lake Powell by aquatic birds and migratory birds. In addition to playing vital roles in the desert ecosystem and animal communities, wildlife also provides outstanding recreational opportunities including sport fishing and bird watching.
Aerial view of Glen Canyon Dam and bridge. Vehicles are parked on top of the dam.

Glen Canyon Dam


Glen Canyon Dam and other dams provide energy and water which support agriculture and growing populations. The creation of Lake Powell also created new recreational opportunities and increased visitation to the area, causing a greater human impact on the often fragile resources of the region. The human imprint on this environment has increased through time due to the cumulative impacts of grazing, fire suppression, water development, and the introduction of nonnative species. Some nonnative species are successful at spreading and invading an area, disrupting its ecology by outcompeting native species, disrupting food chains, and changing nutrient cycles. Currently about 11% of the plants in Glen Canyon NRA are nonnative and can pose threats to sensitive habitats including hanging gardens and other native plant communities.

Large cliffs rise above the bushes lining the banks of the Colorado River.

Colorado River

NPS/Mark Anderson

Native species are an integral part of the Colorado Plateau ecosystem. Several rare and federally listed plant and animal species are found Glen Canyon NRA: Jones cycladenia, alcove primrose, southwestern willow flycatchers, the northern leopard frog, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, and razorback sucker. The continued protection and preservation of these unique resources will contribute to the changing diversity of the ecosystem and biological communities of the Colorado Plateau and Glen Canyon NRA. Scientific study and observation of these resources will add to our understanding of this unique environment.

For more in depth information on the natural resources of Glen Canyon NRA, explore this Nature & Science section or follow the links on this page.

A park ranger stands in front of a bunch of brown trees. He is smiling.

New! Why are the tamarisks turning brown?

Munch munch munch! Here comes the Tamarisk Leaf Beetle!

Did You Know?