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How to raft the grand canyon

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Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of North America’s greatest adventures. The wet ‘n’ wild ride is an expensive thrill, however, so be sure to choose wisely when hiring a rafting outfitter. Here’s what you need to know.

Plan the trip at least a year in advance. Most of the rafting trips through the Grand Canyon book quickly–National Park regulations allow a limited number of boats through the canyon each season–and require a down payment. If you can’t plan that far in advance, go standby and ask the rafting outfitters to call you if there’s an opening. The Colorado’s water releases are controlled, so the best rafting conditions are typically in the spring (April) and fall (September and October).

Review your budget–you may be draining more than your raft every day. Costs run a minimum of $250 per person per river day. (All food and nonalcoholic beverages are included.) Add more for travel to and from, gratuities, hotels and alcohol.

Choose from four types of watercraft: oar rafts (the guide does all the work), paddle rafts (you paddle and the guide steers), motorized rafts (long raftlike boats with a specialized outboard motor), and traditional dories (charming 17-foot/5.2-m wood boats that carry three passengers and a guide). Hybrid trips, where you paddle one day and rest the next, are also available.

Scrutinize potential outfitters. Visit the Web sites of commercial rafting companies licensed to run the Grand Canyon, then call the toll-free numbers, ask for brochures and grill the staff. Where possible, try contacting previous clients via e-mail or phone numbers provided by rafting companies.

Expect to spend six to 16 days: six to seven days for Upper Canyon trips, nine days for Lower Canyon trips, and 13 to 16 days for full-canyon trips. Rapids range from class I to V; however, Grand Canyon water levels are based on the water being released from Lake Powell through the Glen Canyon Dam.

You don’t need to know how to swim to take a rafting trip, but you do need to let your guide know if you can’t swim. Include in your budget tips for you guides. They’re doing the work because they love it, certainly not for the pay. Ten percent is standard; 15 percent will reward superior service.

If you get tossed from the raft, never attempt to stand up: If your foot gets wedged between rocks, you could drown.

Travel Tips

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Obtaining a permit to raft in the Grand Canyon is not easy. (Photo: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images )

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Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is an adventure like no other. The icy water winds through the canyon at a swift pace. Throughout the Grand Canyon are places where water has washed rocks into the river, causing rough rapids that make for an exciting ride. If you want to raft the Grand Canyon, you can choose to take a trip that lasts as short as a single day or as long as 21 days. You may also choose to hire a commercial company to guide you down the river or to raft with a private group.

Step 1

Decide on the length of your trip, and what part of the Colorado River along the Grand Canyon you want to see. Some parts of the river, such as the upper river between the Glen Canyon Dam and Lee’s Ferry, are very smooth. A trip along this stretch may be completed in a half or full day. The stretch of the river between Diamond Creek and Lake Mead is filled with whitewater and may be completed between two and five days. Longer trips may stretch up to 21 days and may travel any or all sections of the river from the Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead.

Step 2

Determine if you want to hire an experienced rafting outfit company to raft through the Grand Canyon or if you want to take a noncommercial trip with a private group. Commercial rafting companies typically pilot motor-driven or oar-driven rubber rafts, while groups participating in noncommercial trips have the option of paddling a rubber raft instead.

Step 3

Set a budget for your trip. If you are traveling with a commercial rafting company, all fees for permits will be included in the cost of the trip. If you are traveling with a noncommercial group, you will have to pay for backcountry passes that allow you to spend the night below the rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as any fees that cover the cost of traveling through the Hualapai Reservation.

Step 4

Contact a commercial rafting company to book a date for your trip and leave a deposit. Many commercial companies offer rafting dates up to two years in advance, and require one-third of their fee as a deposit. Scheduled rafting dates fill up quickly. The National Park Service maintains a list of commercial rafting companies.

Step 5

Request a noncommercial river permit from the National Park Service. Permits for two- to five-day noncommercial trips are granted on a first-come first-serve basis and are available starting a year prior to the date of the trip. You can download the application by going to the National Park Service’s website (nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm). Permits for longer trips are given away through a lottery system. To enter the lottery, fill out the information at the Grand Canyon Weighted Lottery website (nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/weightedlottery.htm), and pay a $25 fee. Choose the primary and alternate dates that you wish to win for the lottery carefully. If you win a pass for a specific date, you will not be able to change it.

Step 6

Coordinate with your group so that you know what to pack for your trip. If you are traveling with a commercial guide, you may only need to pack the clothing, toiletries and hiking gear. If you are traveling with a noncommercial group, you may need to pack oars, your boat, life jackets, wet suits or dry suits, and any food you will need. Your group may hire an outfitter to supply you for your trip, but the company cannot guide you. The National Parks Service maintains a list of outfitters who can supply you for your trip.

Step 7

Make arrangements to get out of the Grand Canyon once your trip has ended. If you hire an outfitter, you can arrange for the company to shuttle you back to your car. You can also hire an independent shuttle service. The National Parks Service maintains a listing of shuttle service vendors on its website.

Disclosure

Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

4/25/2017 — By The Budget Travel Editors

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly majestic when viewed from the National Park’s popular South Rim or the more off-the-beaten path North Rim. But to truly enjoy its natural splendor, you’ll want to head straight down into its beating heart—the thrilling (and chilling) whitewater rapids of the Colorado River.

WHEN SHOULD I GO?

Thanks to its desert location and dramatic changes in elevation, Grand Canyon National Park is a veritable climate roller coaster, with recorded temperatures spanning from winter lows of -22ºF to summer highs of 120ºF. Amazingly, these shifts have no impact on water temperature: Because the Colorado River is dam-released from the bottom of the country’s second-largest man-made reservoir, Lake Powell, waters remain at or near a brisk 46ºF, even during the blazing summers. While you’re welcome to raft year-round, keep in mind that each season offers a markedly different experience. May through September is the most crowded, when the summer sun offers a welcome respite from the chilling rapids. But consider the less crowded months of April and October, when you’ll practically have the river (and the limited campsites) all to yourself. Plus, spring and fall come with their own natural perks. April is peak wildflower season in the canyon, while October brings about the so-called “yellow” season, when golden plants all seem to miraculously blossom at the same time.

You might say rafting the Colorado River is like Choose Your Own Adventure: It’s an infinitely customizable trip that you can cater to your skill level, stamina, and schedule. The easiest option is a half-day, “smooth water” raft trip with Colorado River Discovery (raftthecanyon.com, from $87 plus $6 river-use fee). You’ll start at the base of the 700-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam, near the town of Page, Ariz., and encounter no rapids along the way. The most hardcore trips, which require expertise and months to years of planning, are the 12- to 25-day self-guided journeys, which take rafters from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek—a whopping 225 miles.

HOW EARLY SHOULD I START PLANNING?

Your planning schedule will all depend on the length of your trip and whether or not it’s professionally guided. For quick day tours, you can book online, often at the last minute. But most other options require months to years of planning. For overnight self-guided trips, you’ll need a permit from the National Park Service. Only two raft groups can disembark each day, so you should have a date in mind and pounce on the

slot when it becomes available a year in advance. Longer guided trips can be booked with one of the park’s approved tour outfitters, and many fill up two years early. Finally, if you’re hoping to set out on a large-scale, self-guided river trip (12 to 25 days), it’s all about luck: To receive a permit, you’ll need to enter a weighted lottery system (nps.gov/grca). Names are drawn and launch dates are assigned each February, but keep in mind that it can take years to have your name selected, so be open to other types of trips as a backup plan.

WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER A PROFESSIONAL OUTFITTER?

Unless you have experience with whitewater rafting, you’ll definitely want to use one of the National Park Service’s approved tour vendors. While the river may look peaceful from up above, it can actually be rather treacherous for amateurs. The most intense rapids—labeled either Class V on a standard river scale or size 10 on the Grand Canyon’s unique ranking system—can include enormous waves, steep drops, waterfalls, and extremely narrow passageways between dangerous cliffs. But it’s notjust safety that makes outfitters so great:

They also, quite simply, make planning infinitely easier. Most tour companies will provide rafts and oars (as well as auxiliary watercraft, such as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards), helmets and life jackets, sleeping accommodations (such as sleeping bags, mattress pads, or tents), food, and, perhaps most importantly, bathroom accommodations. In addition, tour operators will shuttle guests down to the river, which can often be an adventure in its own right for travelers going it alone.

WHAT ELSE WILL I DO ON THE TRIP?

The river may be the focus of your rafting adventure, but it’s also a fantastic delivery device, connecting the canyon’s many diverse activities. During layover days and meal breaks, you might find yourself rock climbing, bird watching, swimming along the banks, cliff jumping, searching for hidden waterfalls and grottoes, or touring ancient Anasazi granaries and dwellings. Rafting offers a serious upper-body workout, so consider a hike to get your legs moving. By heading into one of the many narrow limestone slot canyons and going up in elevation, you’ll find a totally different view of the river—an outstanding perspective on how far you’ve traveled and how much river is still left to conquer.

WHAT WILL I SEE ON THE JOURNEY?

  • Bald eagles spend winters along the Colorado River, stocking up on trout.
  • Bighorn sheep can be seen negotiating the steep cliffs leading down to the water.
  • Eight species of bats live in the desert uplands, but feed on bugs right along the river.
  • Arizona’s state mammal, the raccoon-like ringtail, is a nocturnal hunter, frequently seen scavenging around campsites.
  • The rare California condor can often be glimpsed circling on thermal wind currents high overhead.

WHAT SHOULD I PACK?

  • L.L. Bean Neoprene Paddling Gloves: The Colorado River remains at or near a chilly 46°F, even in the summer. Neoprene gloves are a lifesaver, and these come with a Sharkskin grip so you won’t drop your paddle (llbean.com).
  • Pelican iPhone Case: Professional photographers swear by Pelican’s heavy-duty camera cases, but you’ll love its water-resistant, crush-proof iPhone covers, which are O-ring sealed and include an attached carabiner (cabelas.com).
  • Outdoor Research Bug Bivy: River banks can be notoriously buggy, so campers swear by this affordable sleeping sack that comes complete with a protective layer of mosquito netting (rei.com).

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

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In late January, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the return of its coveted permits to raft the Colorado River, right through Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a bucket-list journey, no doubt, however, getting one of those permits is a lot harder than you may expect.

In total, NPS will release just 461 permits for 12- to 25-day river trips in 2021. For reference, in 2019 NPS received more than 7,800 applications and awarded just 463 spots.

The permits are awarded on what is known as a weighted lottery system. As NPS explained, “we adjust each individual’s odds of winning, so that those who have been on a recreational trip on the Colorado River less recently (or never) have a greater chance of winning a launch date than those who have been on a river trip more recently.”

Beyond this main lottery, which is held every February, the NPS hosts follow-up lotteries to either reassign canceled trips or assign leftovers.

To get in on the lottery, those applying for a permit must be over the age of 18 and must be comfortable going on a self-guided tour. However, NPS does expect at least someone on your trip to have experience down rapids.

“The Colorado River through Grand Canyon is a highly technical river, not something for the inexperienced to try,” NPS wrote in its FAQs. “At least one member of each trip must have the experience and skills required by the National Park Service.”

Prior to applying for the permit make sure you and everyone in your party is certain of the dates you want to travel as awarded dates may not be changed or traded.

Not quite sure you’re ready to forge the river alone? As KOLD13 News explained, those interested in professionally guided river trips need to request space on a commercial trip. A list of commercial companies offering tours throughout the year can be found here.

As for everyone else, gather your crew and create your application now as they are only being accepted online through noon Tuesday, Feb. 25. And if you don’t win the lottery, you can still plan an epic trip to see one of America’s most beautiful national parks anytime you want.

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How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Everybody should experience Grand Canyon rafting at least once in their life. If you could create a river rafting trip on your own, it would be hard to do it any better than it already is. Listen to the podcast episode above to hear the full experience of rafting the Grand Canyon.

What is Rafting the Grand Canyon Like?

When people see rafters from the rim, they want to do it and it surpasses their expectations.

You start at the level of the rim, and it rises as you keep going. It rises at a level of 1000 feet for every 10 miles, until it is towering above you.

How to Raft the Grand CanyonPhoto by Andrew Dicus

The level of color you will see from trace minerals is incredible: greens, oranges, tan and reddish hues.

If you do a trip the summer monsoons (late July, early August) the water is cold, and it may be raining; waterfalls sprout all over the canyon. Some are the color of tomato juice, clear or chocolate milk color. If you’re lucky enough to see that, it’s worth every moment of being cold. Be prepared to be very hot and very cold.

You can come into a rafting trip in many different ways: via hike, helicopter or at Lee’s Canyon if you opt of the upper canyon or the entire trip.

2 Different Options for Grand Canyon Rafting: Human-Powered or Engine-Powered

You can go human-powered or engine-powered. The motorized trip would take about 6 days, as opposed to a human-powered trip which could take up to 30 days as the trip is 226 miles.

The motorized trip can take up to 15 people and the boats are huge. They include two guides who set up food and camp and captain the boat.

Western River Expeditions is the company that Andy works for and is highly recommended for a motorized trip.

Hikes in the Grand Canyon

Some days are better for hiking, and some are better for rapids. On a motor trip you’re on the rapids for 3-4 hours a day. A rowing trip would be about the same. The side hikes are a worthy diversion from being on the boats.

Havasupai Falls is available to rafters (check out the previous episode!); there are quite a few trails that are only accessible from the river.

Must see hike: Matkatamiba

How Do you Bathe or Shower While Rafting the Grand Canyon?

There are no soaps allowed in side-channel to protect fish, you can use soap in the main body of water in order to shower (not within 100 feet of a channel).

Upper vs LOwer Grand Canyon

If you are going to raft any part, it’s recommended to raft the upper and lower. If you have to pick, raft the upper Grand Canyon and use Whitmore Wash for a helicopter exchange.

What Class of Rapids are on the Grand Canyon?

The rapids are class 3 and 4 with occasional class 5.

What’s the Deal with the Lottery Permit System?

If you’re going to do a commercial trip, you don’t need to enter a lottery. You can sign up and pay, you just need to book in advance by at least six months to a year. To do a private trip, you need to enter a lottery; you have a good as chance of anyone. You’ll need someone who has done the Grand Canyon before or has comparable experience.

How much Does it cost to raft the Grand CAnyon?

The minimum cost for a commercial group would be $1400 up to $3000 (for both engine and human-powered trips). For Andy’s company, this includes a helicopter ride, food, accommodations, etc.

How can you Raft the Grand Canyon on the Cheap?

Answer: find a rafting guide who can take you down and get a permit from the lottery!

No fees are allowed to be exchanged on a private trip; so you need to have a good friend with experience come along if you aren’t the experienced person.

You can hire a company to rent you a boat, send you off with meals, and take care of your human waste after the trip is over, that will run you around $60 a day. Now that’s a cheap adventure vacation you can afford!

How Old do you have to be to raft the grand canyon?

For the upper Grand Canyon, you need to be at least 12 years old. You need to be 7 years old to raft the lower Grand Canyon.

What if you have limited mobility?

For those with limited mobility, choose your company carefully as some require hikes or donkey riding. There are several companies to check out: Wilderness River Adventures, Hatch and Arizona River Adventures.

Top Things you should bring when rafting the grand canyon

  • Care for your feet (they will be wet and dry over and over)
  • Plenty of sunscreen and sun-clothing with SPF ratings
  • Rain gear
  • Warm clothes
  • Quality splash gear.

Top tips for those who want to come raft the Grand Canyon

Find your boat friends and see if you have enough people to pilot a boat and jump on the lottery (rent all the gear for about $60 bucks a day), if you don’t have that community around you, take a commercial trip and decide what your constraints are: kids, time, motor vs. non-motor, just go do it!

Travel Tips

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

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If you’re looking to add legendary rapids like the Grand Canyon’s Lava Falls and Crystal Rapids to your list of adventures, keep two things in mind: Book early, as tours fill up a year or more in advance, and schedule your vacation during the rafting tour season of April through October. Fine-tune your timing during the season to include the very best timing for seeing the Grand Canyon from the river’s perspective.

First, Avoid the Worst Timing

Summer temperatures along the Colorado River on the canyon’s floor can be brutal, with average daily temperatures well over 100 degrees F from June through August. July is the hottest month, with daily temperatures averaging 106 degrees and highs reaching up to 115. Strong and dangerous currents in the Colorado River preclude getting in to cool off, and side streams are often raging from runoff from summer storms during the monsoon season that runs from July through August. These are also the busiest months, when tours are packed, and other rafting trips are frequently encountered. A tour from early April through mid-June or mid-September through the end of October delivers weather in the 80s and 90s and relief from crowds.

See April Flowers

April’s cooler temperatures bring the opportunity to spend time hiking side canyons to see vibrant desert flowers in full bloom. Fewer trips run during this month, and group sizes are limited to 16 to 20 passengers, so this is the best time to experience the awe-inspiring quietness of the canyon floor. Days average in the low 80s, but bring plenty of quick-drying layers when rafting in April as late winter storms can make for a bone-chilling experience.

Take the Best River Pictures

The danger of late winter storms passes by mid-May, leaving the skies sunny and the river water free of mud. Book your trip from mid-May through mid-June to experience floating on the emerald green waters of the Colorado River and discover sparkling turquoise blue waters on hikes in side canyons. Rafting groups grow in size to 24 to 28 passengers per boat during this idyllic time on the water.

Enjoy the Silence

September 15 is the last day of the season for motorized river trips, so book from September 16 through the end of October to relish the natural sounds of the canyon broken only by the dip of oars or paddles in the water and the voices of fellow raft-mates. Weather during autumn is usually dry with warm days averaging in the mid-90s in September and the mid-80s in October. Nights range from 58 to 68 degrees on the canyon floor.

Disclosure

Leaf Group is a USA TODAY content partner providing general travel information. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

Rafting through the Grand Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience where you will enjoy views of soaring canyon walls, historic Indian ruins, wildlife, astonishing side canyon hikes and the world’s most famous white water. It is the iconic American Adventure and should top out on any adventurers bucket list.

If rafting the Grand Canyon is not towards the top of your bucket list, make room. There are only so many experiences that are so incredible and grand that they can humble, amaze, and awe you day after day during, as well as for the years that follow. This adventure has the ability to strip a person to their bare bones, allowing the wilderness to work its magic on the soul. Cheesy as it sounds, this is one of those life-changing events.

There are only 2 ways to raft through the Grand Canyon: A professionally guided (commercial) tour or win the weighted lottery and run it as a private trip. This trip log will just be giving an overview of a trip that took place from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek totaling 225 river miles over 22 days. The internet is loaded with different companies offering assorted length and styled trips as well as tips to better your chances of winning the lottery.

The Grand Canyon uses a unique river rating scale. The rapids in the Canyon are technically rated (1 – 10) to accommodate such a wide variety of rapids and river variances. You will run the full lot on your trip, from fun mini ripple wave rides to check-your-wetsuit, gut-wrenching whitewater chaos. Depending on the time of year, the temperatures can range between the low 40s and into the triple digits. On our trip in late April, we had both through the course of the canyon.

Your days will vary between long, calm water floats and pulling over at scouting points to try to decipher the best line down one of 42 major rapids rated above a 5 on the GC scale. There are loads of scenic pullouts, waterfalls, historical markers and canyons to explore each day – each one more majestic than the last. The canyon walls grow taller as you slip further down the river, the features grow more magnificent and the beauty shows no signs of letting up.

Words fall short as to the beauty and wander that the river and the canyon will amply give to you and yours in abundance.

Aside from the natural sounds of the wild and the river, there is a silence that overtakes the canyon when sunset moves in. Oars are laid easy, backs and arms take rest, and jaws hurt from silly childish grinning among all in attendance. The light dances on the river as it scales its way up the walls, creating deep hues of reds, purples and oranges overtaking the canyon.

By night, expect the most pristine and beautiful campsites tucked away on sandy beaches surrounded by canyon trails and falls. It’s highly recommended to ditch the tent and sleep under the star: cot and sleeping bag only. If you are on a guided trip, expect amazing food to be prepared for you as you are making memories around the campfire. On a private trip, invite a chef and keep them happy as they prep your night’s cuisine – there’s no need to skimp on food and supplies while running the river – some of my best meals were had on that river.

In summary, rafting the Colorado through the canyon was the most terrifying and rewarding experience I have ever had in my life. It challenged me in ways I could never have been prepared for and by the support of new life-long friends, I persevered and came out a stronger person on the other end. Each person that shared the river with me on that trip has spoke of similar experiences and growth. The river provides.

(Check out the Beginner’s Guide for more basic rafting information)

Some companies offer day-trips on the Colorado River. The guides will take you rafting for 1 day (Or a “half-day”), and provide round-trip transportation from places like the South Rim.

Only one of these tours is actually in the Grand Canyon. The rest are still awesome, popular trips that offer a “Grand Canyon” experience. Of course a longer trip through the heart of the Canyon is ideal, but maybe you just don’t have the time or budget… (Right? This stuff is expensive!).

Maybe you just don’t like the sound of the words “white water” and “rapid.” Then you’re in the right place, because the smooth water float is just for you – family friendly and smooth as butter.

The Smooth Water Day Trip at Glen Canyon

How to Raft the Grand Canyon
motorized rafts at the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam

The 1-day float trip starts at the Glen Canyon Dam and ends at Lees Ferry (River mile zero). It’s a motor trip offered by Colorado River Discovery. They bill this as a half day trip, but with the added transportation options from the South Rim, it’s often more like a full day activity.

These trips operate from March through November, based out of Page, Arizona. Some of the highlights include stopping to view ancient rock art petroglyphs, and floating through the scene of the famous Horseshoe Bend.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon
Horseshoe Bend, as seen of from the popular overlook near Page, AZ

Rafting in a day from the South Rim

Page can be an out-of-the-way destination from the South Rim. As a result, the following guides offer an air tour, rafting trip, and in some cases a hiking/jeep tour… all wrapped into one amazing, full day!

Such great awesomeness is available through Grand Canyon Airlines or Papillon Helicopters.

They fly you over the Grand Canyon from the South Rim to Page. After landing, the first stop is the exquisitely beautiful Antelope Canyon. It’s one of the most-photographed places in Northern Arizona. Next they’ll set you off on the river trip, and finally return you to the South Rim via bus through Arizona’s Painted Desert.

I think this is the most dynamic, amazing day tour available at the South Rim. The age limit of 4 years old makes it a great option for a family vacation.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon
Antelope Canyon

The Hualapai River Runners offer the only one-day, whitewater rafting trip that’s legitimately in the Grand Canyon. They provide round-trip transportation for the day, beginning and ending in Peach Springs, Arizona. Peach Springs is located roughly halfway between the South Rim and Las Vegas, on historic Route 66.

This is a motor ride that’s available from March through October. The put-in is at Diamond Creek, and they take out with a six-minute helicopter flight that lands you in Grand Canyon West.

You run a few notable whitewater rapids (Like the Killer Fang!), stop at a waterfall, and take in some history at Separation Canyon.

Personally I don’t like to promote the Hualapai Tribe’s operations. They exploit the Canyon and strictly forbid hikers from “trespassing” on their slice of the wilderness… but people really seem to have a lot of fun on this trip.

The cost for their rafting trip in 2013 was $382 per person.

The Black Canyon below Hoover Dam (Las Vegas)

A few of the Grand Canyon tour guides use Black Canyon Adventures as a day trip option, so it’s worth a mention here. This is much more of a “Vegas” river adventure, since the float trip begins below Hoover Dam… far beyond the end of Grand Canyon at Lake Mead.

This is a smooth water motor trip.

Some of the air companies bill it as a “Grand Canyon” tour from Vegas. They fly you to the airport in Boulder (Nevada), turn you over to the river trip, and return you to Vegas. Some may wrap up the package with an air tour that’s genuinely over a part of the Grand Canyon.

Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters
$534 per person, but pricing booked online usually drops to around $420.

Grand Canyon Helicopters
$554 and includes a champagne toast!

5 Day Paddle Only Raft Trip

Upper Grand Canyon
Rafting Trips

5 Day Paddle Only Raft Trip

    Upper Canyon – Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch Season: July-August River Distance: 88 Miles Minimum Age: 14-16 Years Depending on Size and Experience Capacity: 16 Passengers
    All participants must be able to paddle full time in 6-8 person paddle rafts. A motorized support raft carries all of the gear and supplies. Previous paddling experience recommended.
    Reasons to Go:

World Heritage Site, World Famous Geology, Thrilling Rapids, Great Hiking, Turquoise Pools, Beautiful Waterfalls, Ancient Ruins and Native American Mythology, Bighorn Sheep, California Condors, One of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World

Why Choose CRATE?

    Under Original Ownership Since 1971 5 Star Rated Rafting Trips We Provide Everything You Need For a Great Rafting Trip

(800) 253-7328

Home » 5 Day Paddle Only Raft Trip

The price includes transportation from Las Vegas to Lees Ferry to begin the river trip. When the river trip ends at Phantom Ranch, participants hike 9 miles from the river up to the South Rim. End-of-trip transportation is not included, but we provide you with information about various options. Please contact us for more information.

Create new memories, experience the excitement, and explore the hidden wonders of the Grand Canyon with Colorado River & Trail Expeditions. We recommend our river rafting expeditions for anyone who wants to see the Grand Canyon. No previous whitewater rafting or camping experience is necessary. However, the hike from Phantom Ranch up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is strenuous. It gains nearly a mile in elevation and temperatures can swell over 100 degrees. Call us now at 1-800-253-7328 to reserve your space or get answers to any questions you may have.

Plenty of people have anxiety about going to the restroom while on their river trip but here is the good news: it’s not that hard or different than you’re used to. There’s nothing to be shy about — everybody goes to the bathroom — and it’s the last thing you should allow to impede your trip of a lifetime. Let’s break it down:

HOW TO PEE AND POOP ON A RIVER TRIP

#1 (pee): In Grand Canyon, all urine MUST make it into the river. This means you can’t sneak behind a bush while we’re in camp; again, all urine must make it into the river. Some 20,000+ people raft every year in Grand Canyon and you could imagine how bad that place would smell if everyone were peeing on rocks and bushes in our dry, desert environment. There will be stops during the day so you will have opportunities to go pee. If you have to go between stops, tell the guide before it’s an emergency so they have time to find a good place for a pit stop. There are many other people on the trip with you so there is a good chance, if you have to pee, probably someone else does too. It’s not a big deal.

At most pit stops women head upstream to find a spot and men head downstream. For women, wearing two-piece swimsuits or a sports bra and quick-drying underwear under your clothes makes peeing into the river easier. Using a female urination device that allows you to pee standing up has been an increasingly popular option. Another method at pit stops is to wade into the water near the boat, hold on to straps on the side of the boat. The water is cold, so it may take some time to get things flowing! Or simply head a little way away from the boat, drop your pants or pull your swimsuit to the side and squat. You can try and find a rock near the water to squat behind but remember that ALL liquid, pee included, MUST go into the river. Many beaches do not have much cover. DO NOT go on a 3-mile hike to find a rock by the river; when I say head upstream a bit I mean maybe 20 feet. The most important thing is to remember that nobody is looking. If someone is watching you pee, they have the problem, not you!

#2 (poop): Savvy river rats know the guides set up a toilet, affectionately called The Groover, as soon as we get to camp in the afternoon and it’s the last thing they take down in the morning. If you do have to go poop during the day, tell the guides and they’ll give you the toilet-to-go system (personal waste bag). This system is a user-friendly way to contain and neutralize human waste and includes toilet paper and an antiseptic towelette. As you’d imagine, it is best to try to do your business when you get into camp, where things are much more comfortable. The camp toilet is a metal vault with a toilet seat on it. The guides put the toilet in a discreet location with a pretty good view of the Canyon! Toilet paper, disinfectant spray, a feminine hygiene disposal and hand sanitizer will be waiting for you at the toilet. The most important part is the toilet key! We’ll set up a hand wash station and near that lives the toilet “key”. Be sure to take the key with you to the toilet so everyone else who comes along knows it’s occupied. You never want to go to the toilet and forget the key — otherwise, someone else will bring you the key! Please be sure to wash your hands thoroughly at the toilet hand wash after using the groover.

FEMININE HYGIENE

If you happen to be on your period while on your river trip, don’t fear. If you will be using tampons, bring a ‘Go With Your Flow Pack’ or several little Ziploc bags and plenty of baby wipes. Make sure you keep these supplies handy during the day, in your provided day dry bag. That way, when you change during the day, you can wrap the trash in a baby wipe, put that in a Ziploc and dispose of it easily, discreetly, and sanitarily in the boat trash system or into the hygiene disposal at the camp toilet. (Typically, each boat has a trash on it — you’ll just tuck your trash deep down into the boat trash.) As you will get wet A LOT on your river trip, using pads for menstruation is not the best option.

A handy device used among women river guides is the Diva Cup. It is a reusable menstrual cup that collects menstrual flow rather than absorbs. It is great because it offers up to 12 hours of leak-free protection. Using and cleaning the Diva Cup can take some getting used to so check it out before your river trip to see if it works for you. One recommendation is to use your water bottle to rinse the Diva Cup over the river.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

The Groover with a beautiful view of the Canyon.

PEE BUCKETS

Let’s talk pee buckets! Pee buckets are handy to use in camp when it is difficult (rocky, steep or dark) to get to the water to urinate. Pee buckets will be set near the camp toilet hand wash station. Make sure to grab one for use in camp, essentially like a chamber pot. Please use your pee bucket outside of your tent and dump it directly into the river after use or in the morning. Give your pee bucket a good river rinse and the guides will describe the method to sanitize the pee bucket before packing it up for the day.

How to Raft the Grand CanyonRafting the Grand Canyon offers a phenomenal variety of vistas, camps, waterfalls, rapids, side canyons, archaeological ruins, and other attraction sites to enjoy and explore. Allowing time to visit these places is the essence of every Outdoors Unlimited Grand Canyon Rafting trip. Our paddle and oar powered whitewater trips take a minimum of 13 days to traverse all 240 miles of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park down to Lake Mead. Recognizing that you may not have time to do a Full Canyon Trip we offer the opportunity to do either the Upper Canyon or Lower Canyon. We also offer Paddle Trip options as well as Extended Spring & Fall trips.

The distance each trip option covers is constant, the time we take is the variable. We believe longer is better but offer you the option of 5, 6, or 7 days on the upper trip; 8 or 9 days on the lower trip; and 13, 14, or 15 days on the full trip.

Since our schedule for rafting the Grand Canyon spans a six month period of time, we are also able to offer some seasonal choices. A trip in April can find the bottom of the canyon alive with color during the annual spring blooming of desert flowers. Both April and September offer cooler temperatures and a more leisurely pace with slightly longer trips. September often features the best weather of the year and is probably the best for hiking. Mid season dates are available for those with summer vacation time. We can also offer a way to accommodate the style of boating that you prefer and your level of adventure with our paddle or oar options.

How to Raft the Grand CanyonOur crew will guide you through the booming rapids, lead explorations into hidden canyons and explain about the lives of the “ancient ones” who made the Grand Canyon their home. As we contemplate the remains of their ancient dwellings we can imagine the struggle these pre-historic Americans endured. For a thousand years they roamed the Canyon, carving farm plots from rocky niches, hunting game on the rims above, building simple shelters from the elements.

The outside world knew virtually nothing of this place until 1869, when John Wesley Powell led the first exploration of this uncharted marvel, surveying the last remaining blank on the map of the United States. Now it is an experience that is available to all. Where hardships were first endured, we can now enjoy the Canyon in safety and comfort that is afforded by modern equipment and years of experience.

Trip Facts

Start Planning Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

To start planning your Grand Canyon whitewater rafting adventure vacation, please visit the Grand Canyon Trip Options page. If you already know which Grand Canyon trip you wish to join, then you can begin the reservation process by visiting Dates & Rates.

One Trip Per Year Rule

Due to limited availability, the National Park Service has limited use in the popular Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek section of the Colorado River to one recreational river trip per individual each calendar year. Because of this regulation, Outdoors Unlimited cannot accept a reservation from any individual who has or will participate in any other full or partial canyon commercial or non-commercial river trip within the same calendar year. If you have already completed or have plans to participate in any other Grand Canyon river trip this year and would like to go again, please respect your fellow boaters by waiting until next year or sometime thereafter to book your next trip. Grand Canyon National Park’s one-trip-per-year rule is strictly enforced.

In late January, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the return of its coveted permits to raft the Colorado River, right through Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a bucket-list journey, no doubt, however, getting one of those permits is a lot harder than you may expect.

© Silas Dunham

In total, NPS will release just 461 permits for 12- to 25-day river trips in 2021. For reference, in 2019 NPS received more than 7,800 applications and awarded just 463 spots.

© Silas Dunham Silas Dunham

The permits are awarded on what is known as a weighted lottery system. As NPS explained, “we adjust each individual’s odds of winning, so that those who have been on a recreational trip on the Colorado River less recently (or never) have a greater chance of winning a launch date than those who have been on a river trip more recently.”

Beyond this main lottery, which is held every February, the NPS hosts follow-up lotteries to either reassign canceled trips or assign leftovers.

To get in on the lottery, those applying for a permit must be over the age of 18 and must be comfortable going on a self-guided tour. However, NPS does expect at least someone on your trip to have experience down rapids.

Lower Grand Canyon
Rafting Trips

7 Day Rowing River Rafting Expedition

    Lower Canyon – Phantom Ranch to Whitmore Wash Season: August – September River Distance: 100 Miles Minimum Age: 14-16 Years
    Depending on Size and Experience Capacity: 16 Passengers
    An oar trip in 18-foot rafts rowed by guides. Totally non-motorized. Paddle raft is available on a rotation basis.
    Reasons to Go:

World Heritage Site, World Famous Geology, Thrilling Rapids, Great Hiking, Turquoise Pools, Beautiful Waterfalls, Ancient Ruins and Native American Mythology, Bighorn Sheep, California Condors, One of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World

Why Choose CRATE?

    Under Original Ownership Since 1971 5 Star Rated Rafting Trips We Provide Everything You Need For a Great Rafting Trip

(800) 253-7328

Home » 7 Day Rowing River Rafting Expedition

The “Lower” Grand Canyon Rowing Trip covers approximately 100 miles on the Colorado River between Bright Angel Creek (Phantom Ranch area) and Whitmore Wash. You’ll have the opportunity to hike in many beautiful side canyons with cascading waterfalls, natural swimming pools, and lush vegetation. We will visit interesting historical sites, study unique geological features, and marvel at the ever-changing vistas and panoramas that are revealed at each twist and turn of the river. In addition to the amazing scenery and educational aspects of the trip, there is plenty of whitewater excitement, beginning on day one when we run the rapids of the famous Inner Gorge. Later in the trip, you’ll run through Lava Falls, the Colorado’s biggest rapid. We’ll also enjoy periods of profound peace as the rafts drift quietly through narrow corridors of polished granite.

Create new memories, experience the excitement, and explore the hidden wonders of the Grand Canyon with Colorado River & Trail Expeditions. We recommend our river rafting expeditions for anyone who wants to see the Grand Canyon. No previous whitewater rafting or camping experience is necessary. However, the required 9 mile hike from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch is strenuous and steep. Temperatures during the hike can swell to over 100 degrees. Call us now at 1-800-253-7328 to reserve your space or get answers to any questions you may have.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Every year, thousands of thrill-seekers descend deep inside the Grand Canyon to raft the white waters of the Colorado River. If you’re one of these lucky intrepid adventurers, the last thing you want is to be caught unprepared!

Multi-day rafting excursions take a lot of advanced planning and preparation – the National Park Service permits a very limited number of non-commercial rafting expeditions each year, awarded by lottery up to a year in advance. If you don’t want to wait a year or more to ride the rapids or if you aren’t quite ready to rough it inside the Canyon for multiple nights, single-day rafting trips offer more flexibility and are often ideal for first-time rafters and fledgling adventure-seekers.

No matter what type of rafting adventure you have planned, preparing for your trip can be challenging – especially if you don’t know what to expect. To make sure your Grand Canyon rafting experience goes off without a hitch, we’ve compiled a guide to what you can expect when you hit the river.

1. An early morning

If you’re starting your adventure in Las Vegas, make sure you get to bed early! Don’t plan on hitting the clubs the night before – most single-day rafting tours depart from the Strip around 5:00 AM. If you’re driving yourself, plan for at least a three hour drive from the Strip to your tour’s starting point.

PRO TIP: Our rafting tours depart from Peach Springs, AZ. Flying by helicopter is the quickest way to get there, but if you want to save a little money, book our self-drive rafting tour.

2. Cold water

The Colorado River is cold, with temperatures ranging between 45-60 degrees, though it typically stays below 50 (that’s about 10 Celsius). It’s so cold that if you fall in, you’ll only have about 5-10 minutes of muscle activity – that’s why personal flotation devices like life jackets are so important. Rain gear like a light waterproof jacket can help protect you from the cold spray.

3. Hot sun

The water may feel frigid, but the sun will feel anything but. Temperatures inside the Canyon can be significantly higher than they are on the Rim, and while the cold water may keep you from feeling like you’re overheating, it’s still very easy to dehydrate, especially when you’re active.

Make sure you drink lots of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Remember: Colorado River water is not safe to drink, and neither is the water from side streams or springs, so bring as much with you as you can.

4. Pack what your tour provider recommends

Your rafting outfitter knows best when it comes to what to bring with you. If you’ve booked your rafting adventure with Canyon Tours, you’ll need:

    Light t-shirt and shorts with swimsuit underneath Tennis shoes or water shoes Extra change of clothes and a towel for the end of the tour Light, fast-drying jacket or rain poncho, especially in the spring and fall Small backpack or fanny pack Hat or visor Sunblock and sunglasses Camera and waterproof bag

5. If you have to pee, you’ll pee in the river

The National Park Service asks visitors to pee directly into the river and not on the beaches. The Colorado River is cold and fast enough that peeing in the river won’t cause any health or hygiene issues, but the beaches don’t have enough organic material to process urine, which can lead to a nasty green algae and disrupt the natural ecosystem of the area.

6. Hiking

Most single-day rafting trips give you an opportunity to explore beyond the riverbed by hiking into side canyons such as Quartermaster Canyon or Travertine Canyon. Make sure you bring along a good pair of walking shoes so you can take advantage of these opportunities.

7. You might see wildlife

There’s a good chance you’ll encounter local wildlife like snakes and scorpions while you explore the river beaches and side canyons. If you do spot any Canyon creatures, keep your distance and don’t provoke them.

PRO TIP: Shake out anything you’ve left on the ground before you head out again, just in case any critters have found their way into your gear.

Keep your eyes peeled for these cool creatures!

8. Cell phones won’t work

There’s no cell service inside the Canyon, so don’t expect to respond to any emails or messages or share any #canyonselfies – save them for later when you get back to the Rim.

9. You won’t be riding the rapids the whole time

The Colorado River isn’t wall-to-wall rapids. Your rafting trip will take you through areas that are calm and pristine, as well as Class 3 and 4 rapids. Rafting through the rapids doesn’t usually last more than a minute at a time.

10. There are no trash cans inside the Grand Canyon

Whatever you bring in, you bring out, and that includes trash. Bring a resealable plastic bag to collect any trash from snacks.

Raft Right

If a sightseeing trip to the Rim doesn’t get your heart pounding, take a journey deep into the Canyon, throw on a wetsuit, and experience the Grand Canyon from cold, clear waters of the Colorado River! Our tips can help you prepare for your rafting adventure.

We are proud to offer the only one-day Grand Canyon white water rafting adventure tour from Las Vegas.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

If you really want to experience the Grand Canyon, a mere hour-long stop on a road trip just won’t suffice. To truly get up close and personal with the canyon, you need to hit the Colorado River on a multi-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

Many people are surprised at how accessible rafting trips can be. Guided tours take care of planning the logistics and teaching you how to maneuver the craft – previous paddling skills are typically not necessary. As long as you are reasonably fit and ready for an adventure, then you’re well suited for the trip.

This is a bucket list item that’s definitely worth saving for. Here are the saving goals you need to set in order to budget for the trip of a lifetime down the Grand Canyon.

Airfare to Las Vegas

Most trip operators will take care of transporting you from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, but you’ll need to figure out how to get yourself to Sin City in the first place.

Flights to Vegas tend to be cheapest in August and October, which is perfect for rafting—any time between May and September is a great time to do this trip. August falls within the Grand Canyon’s “monsoon season”, and October tends to be one of the cooler times to make the trip.

Of course, the exact cost of flying to Las Vegas will depend where you’re flying from, so check flights from your local airport to set a more precise savings Goal.

Outfitter fees

The cost of the trip itself will depend on several factors. There are many different licensed companies offering rafting trips through the Grand Canyon—some offer budget-friendly, low-frills options, while others come complete with an overnight stay at a ranch and a helicopter drop into the canyon. Regardless of which outfitter you choose, your rafting gear, camping gear, and meals are included in the fare.

The type of trip you pick—motorized or paddling or rowing—will affect costs, with motor trips tending to cost less than the human-propelled options.

The length of the trip you choose will also affect how much dough you need to set aside for this getaway. For example, a five-day trip will cost you somewhere in the $1,800 – $2,000 range per person, whereas a full 15-day trip will set you back at least $4,000.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Rain gear

No matter what month your trip falls in, high quality rain gear—both a rain jacket and rain pants—is an absolute must. Not only will you get wet on the river itself on even the sunniest of days, but relentless downpours are not unusual in the Grand Canyon. Come prepared.

Hiking boots

A sturdy pair of hiking boots is a must for a Grand Canyon rafting adventure. Some outfitters start with a serious hike into the canyon, or conclude the trip with a steep, uphill trek. Most tours will also present the opportunity for side hikes throughout the canyon, which many claim are the highlights of the trip. You don’t want to miss these epic trails, so pack a pair of reliable, broken-in hiking boots that can handle steeps, rocks, and uneven surfaces.

Sun protection gear

You’ll find that there is very little shade as your raft your way down the canyon, so good sun protection is essential. To beat the heat (and the burn), be sure to take plenty of sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, a good sun hat with a chinstrap, sunglasses with a safety strap, a bandana or a buff to keep the sun off your neck, and a water bottle.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Water shoes

A pair of quick-drying water sandals will become your most prized possession over the course of the trip. You’ll be in and out of the raft more times than you can count, maneuvering your way through slippery rocks and uneven surfaces, often while carrying gear on your back. Invest in a pair of sturdy water shoes. This is not the time for flip-flops.

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How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

Almost everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon. It’s high on most people’s list of things to see before they die, and millions of visitors flock to the canyon rims each year to peer over the edge at the river far below. But to really experience the Grand Canyon, you need to get to the bottom of it, and there is no better way to do that than to float down the Colorado River. For this writer, the river trip I took through the Grand Canyon in 1993 is one of my most memorable lifetime adventures.

The rapid I recall most vividly from that trip was Crystal. Crystal isn’t the biggest rapid, nor is it the most difficult on the river, but it was our boatman’s nemesis. He’d been kicked around by it in the past so he ran it with respect even now after more than 200 trips down the river. We picked up on his energy and boarded the raft that morning with our bellies churning– that strange mix of fear and excitement that makes whitewater rafting so exhilarating.

I can picture the sequence. We moved across the pool above the rapid, clinging tightly to the raft and eyeing the boiling waves ahead nervously. Our boatman eased us out onto a glassy tongue of water that led like the Yellowbrick Road into the turmoil below. Here time seemed to stop and we hung suspended between the quiet smoothness of the pool and the roar of the raging water ahead. Then we were in it, buckling, tossing, plowing our way through the crashing waves and deafening sound of the rapid.

Our raft was big– a 31-foot motorized rubber greyhound bus loaded with people, bags, and equipment. It took the waves firmly, pushing its way through the maelstrom like a huge beast gentling the pounding, pressing, crashing world around us with its sheer size and momentum. Waves washed over us, leaving us breathless from the cold and blinking furiously to clear our eyes so we could see what was coming next. Not that I could decipher much of anything in teeming white and brown water. But it helped me to know what to brace for.

Suddenly the roaring diminished and we floated out into a calm pool below the rapid. We wiped our faces, pulled off our helmets, and smiled broadly. The exhilaration was palatable, even for those of us who’d done little more to ensure our success than to hang on for dear life. We’d made it through unscathed. It was a wild ride, a beautiful place, and we were miles from nowhere with nothing to do but be there in the moment. The only way to describe the feeling was one of pure joy.

Michael Wehrle, a veteran of 33 trips through the Grand Canyon, calls this euphoria “canyon glow.” He says the anticipation of the sensation gets him through the month before a Grand Canyon trip and carries him through several weeks after he returns. He’s a different person when under its influence: immune to stress, unfazed by mini-disasters at work, and patient with even the most ridiculous requests. That feeling keeps him coming back year after year after year.

Wehrle first ran the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1987 in a rubber duckie– also known as an inflatable kayak– he says probably shouldn’t have been allowed in a swimming pool. But he’d swum his whole life and said that he’s as comfortable out of the boat as in, so he was unfazed by the potential of going over.

“I had the time of my life. I felt like a blind dog in a meat shop for the two weeks I was on the river,” Michael recalls. “The minute the trip was over, I ran to a phone to sign up for a trip the next year only to be told they were booked for the season.”

Werhle put his name on a waitlist and a year later, got a call saying space had opened for him on a trip leaving in two weeks. He dropped everything to join the expedition and since then, he has made at least one trip down the canyon each year. A few times, he managed to get in two trips, but the National Park Service has now implemented regulations limiting individuals to a trip a year in order to accommodate demand.
The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s preeminent backcountry experiences. More than 20,000 people float through the canyon every year and more would if they could.

“When I put my name on the list for a permit to do a private trip down the canyon, they estimated the wait was 10 years,” says Allen O’Bannon. O’Bannon finally secured his permit in 2007 after 14 years on the waitlist.

Both Werhle and O’Bannon concur that there is much more to the river experience than the whitewater. The pace of life slows; the days are full but languid and soaked in beauty and color. Light plays with canyon walls transforming them from pale cream to deep red and pink. Side hikes take visitors up past waterfalls and lush green gardens of maidenhair fern and monkey flower. Calcite colors the water of some of the Colorado’s tributaries a deep turquoise blue, and the mineral builds up into curving travertine dams that create stepped pools in the narrow canyons that feed into the main stream of the river.

The river transports travelers through millions of years of geologic history as it plunges deeper and deeper into the gorge descending through time until you reach the Precambrian rock of the Vishnu Schist in the inner canyon that is estimated to be two billion years old. Each layer has its own personality, from the vertical pink cliffs of the Red Wall formation to the layered steps of the Supai Group. In addition to the geology, rafters see desert bighorn sheep and bald eagles, and the remains of past human civilizations in the form of rock granaries, ruined stone shelters and petroglyphs and pictographs.

The campsites are located on large sweeping beaches, and most river trips revolve around good food and comfortable living. People bring along chairs and tables, frisbies and hula-hoops, guitars, games, sun shades, books and more. O’Bannon says on his trip, they had a formal cocktail hour every second night where everyone dressed up in thrift-store finery for the evening.

“The rapids are great, don’t get me wrong,” O’Bannon says. “But what really makes a canyon trip so memorable is the whole package: the side hikes, the camaraderie, the escape from civilization, the beauty of the scenery. It’s like taking a vacation from life.”

Visitors can have two options if they want to take a river trip through the Grand Canyon. They can travel with a commercial guiding company or, if they have adequate boating experience, they can secure a permit through the National Park Service to run their own private trip down the river.

Many trips for 2018 are sold out, and slots for 2019 are going fast. Here is how to increase your chances of getting on the river.

By Jessica Colley Clarke

    Dec. 19, 2017

Travelers interested in rafting the Grand Canyon may need to begin planning their trip sooner than ever before. Outfitters say they are experiencing an unprecedented demand for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, including a lengthy wait list for popular departure dates in June and July.

For the first time in over 50 years of business, Western River Expeditions reports that the 2018 calendar sold out quickly and that there has been a surge in requests for 2019 trips. Hopeful travelers interested in a 2018 rafting trip are currently being added to a wait list (cancellations do occur). When reservations for the 2019 season opened on Nov. 15, Western River Expeditions already had 1,000 names on the wait list for popular dates.

“The 2018 season is booked solid,” said Brandon Lake, the chief marketing officer of Western River Expeditions. “2018 booked earlier and faster than any year before.”

The National Park Service restricts the number of departures, leaving rafting outfitters with high demand for limited inventory. “We operate in a controlled environment,” Mr. Lake said. “The N.P.S. approves all pricing and departure dates.” Regulation extends to travelers as well; individuals are limited to one trip per season.

Outfitters attribute several reasons for the increase in demand. “The National Park Service centennial in 2016 may play a role in the recent surge of popularity in outdoor recreation,” said Steve Markle, vice president of sales and marketing at the rafting outfitter OARS. Mr. Markle reports a wait list of 650 people for 2019 Grand Canyon rafting trips and recommends travelers get in touch 18 months in advance if they want to secure a specific date.

The increase in demand may also reflect a larger trend involving personal priorities. “People are spending more on experiences and less on things,” Mr. Lake said. “We’re seeing an increase in multi-generational trips with families traveling together.” (The minimum age can vary depending on the section of the canyon that will be traveled. For upper canyon trips, Western River Expeditions requires rafters to be 12 years old; for lower canyon trips, the minimum age is nine.)

A lack of availability gives prime dates a feeling of exclusivity and travelers are reacting by planning far in advance. Customers who contacted Western River Expeditions for the 2018 sold-out June and July departure dates often made immediate requests for similar dates in 2019. These travelers are added to the wait list and will be contacted first for reservations before 2019 dates open to the general public.

How to increase your chances of rafting the Grand Canyon in 2018? Flexibility is key. “There are always last-minute cancellations,” said Sarah Owen of Grand Canyon Whitewater. “If folks are flexible with their dates, can go relatively last minute and their group isn’t too large, it’s reasonable to expect to be able to raft in the Grand Canyon the same season you book you trip,” she said. In addition to adding your name to a wait list or e-mail list, outfitters also recommend picking up the phone and speaking directly with them. “Call us, chat with us, we probably have a few options for you,” Ms. Owen said. “We want to get you down there on the river.”

Choose from motorized or oar-powered expeditions ranging from four days to two weeks for a new perspective.

At the bottom of a breathtaking canyon that’s saturated in reds, golds, oranges, and purples and undulates between narrow and wide, lies the Colorado River—the creator of Arizona’s best-known natural wonder—the Grand Canyon. One of the best ways to experience this geologic wonder is first-hand from a raft.

Most raft trips start at Lees Ferry, near the city of Page, Arizona located in the North Central part of the state about 144 miles northeast of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, but you can choose from several options for types and lengths of raft trips. Whatever you choose, book early – waiting lists can be lengthy for these popular voyages.

Full-canyon trips

Both motorized and oar-powered rafting trips are available. Motorized trips are faster and usually take six to eight days, while oar-powered trips are typically 10 to 14 days. Longer excursions are also available.

Half-canyon trips

For a shorter trip, usually four to nine days, a rafting trip through half the canyon may be your best bet. These split trips switch out midway through the canyon, at Phantom Ranch, so you’ll need to plan on either hiking up Bright Angel Trail out of the canyon at the end of your trip, or into the canyon to Phantom Ranch at the beginning.

One-day and two-day trips

Half-day and all-day smooth-water trips on the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry begin at Page, Arizona, about 140 miles north of the South Rim.

One- and two-day white-water rafting trips are also available at Grand Canyon West on Hualapai Tribal Lands. Trips start in Peach Springs, Arizona (located on historic Route 66 in the North West part of the state) and give rafters an intimate glimpse of the western side of the Grand Canyon. For more information or to plan your adventure, visit Hualapai River Runners.

See below for more adventure tours near the Grand Canyon:

In late January, the National Park Service (NPS) announced the return of its coveted permits to raft the Colorado River, right through Grand Canyon National Park. It’s a bucket-list journey, no doubt, however, getting one of those permits is a lot harder than you may expect.

In total, NPS will release just 461 permits for 12- to 25-day river trips in 2021. For reference, in 2019 NPS received more than 7,800 applications and awarded just 463 spots.

The permits are awarded on what is known as a weighted lottery system. As NPS explained, “we adjust each individual’s odds of winning, so that those who have been on a recreational trip on the Colorado River less recently (or never) have a greater chance of winning a launch date than those who have been on a river trip more recently.”

Beyond this main lottery, which is held every February, the NPS hosts follow-up lotteries to either reassign canceled trips or assign leftovers.

To get in on the lottery, those applying for a permit must be over the age of 18 and must be comfortable going on a self-guided tour. However, NPS does expect at least someone on your trip to have experience down rapids.

“The Colorado River through Grand Canyon is a highly technical river, not something for the inexperienced to try,” NPS wrote in its FAQs. “At least one member of each trip must have the experience and skills required by the National Park Service.”

Prior to applying for the permit make sure you and everyone in your party is certain of the dates you want to travel as awarded dates may not be changed or traded.

Not quite sure you’re ready to forge the river alone? As KOLD13 News explained, those interested in professionally guided river trips need to request space on a commercial trip. A list of commercial companies offering tours throughout the year can be found here.

The Grand Canyon has never been on my trip wish list, mostly because I’m confused by it. Several aspects oppose each other. How can it be a wilderness experience if 30,000 people float through annually? How can it be the “Trip of a Lifetime,” when all of my friends get several invitations each year (granted, always in the winter). But mostly, I wasn’t very interested in traveling through wilderness with a ton of gear. I’ve been working to pull stuff out of my pack, not load more in. I’ve never done a big raft trip, but I’ve honestly heard more about partying in the Grand than about the amazing terrain. So, when Sarah Tingey sent an invite for a Grand Canyon trip, my first question was about raft support (“Nope”) and the second was about the party scene: “Hah! I think most of us were in bed by 8:15 each night last year!”

Like everyone else that has done it, I finished the trip totally impressed and looking forward to doing it again.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

After complicated logistics for nearly everyone, we convened at the put-in: Sarah and Thor Tingey, of Alpacka Raft, Mike Curiak on hist 5th decent, Brian Blair with friend Josh Jacquot, Casey Orion, and the Alaskan crew, Tony Perelli, Becky King, and Shasta Hood. Our start date corresponded with the brief ‘government shutdown,’ but the State of Arizona funded rangers so that people could still raft the canyon. The ranger spent at least an hour going through our gear and explaining the regulations. The check-in process helped me understand how park management keeps the river and camps as clean as they do.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

The canyon was immediately impressive, and stayed that way. My rusty geology brain tried to fire back to life, with limited success. Our pace prevented us from doing much hiking, but what we did do was wonderful, and I can appreciate the trips that take the time to do more hiking.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

The water was clean, green, which was an unexpected treat. The rapids became more difficult as we progressed down the river, giving us an opportunity to learn how the new boats (Gnarwals) handled, and to remember how to run big-water rapids. Somewhere in the “Roaring 20s” I concluded that the most important skill was being able to hold on to all your gear during a swim, and we were good at that. The options are brace, roll, or swim, and if your brace and roll suck (which mine did), then you are going to swim a lot. But the water is deep (won’t hit rocks during a swim), the holes aren’t sticky, and each rapid ends in a huge recovery pool. We were able to run the meat of every rapid, which was a wonderful surprise.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Shasta Hood was the MVP of the trip. Shasta started college as a voice major, and continued with voice training after changing career paths. I take Shasta’s baritone for granted– an appreciated guest in bear country. So it was wonderful to watch everyone else get accustomed to Shasta’s booming melodies. The acoustics in the canyon were amazing, and it was exhilarating to hear Shasta behind me as a paddled into a rapid.

Shasta’s MVP status was locked in during his run of Lava, the most intimidating rapid on the river. After barely staying upright through two hard hits (the pourover and v-wave), Shasta completely stalled out on the crest of ‘Big Kahuna,’ slid back down into the trough and high-braced his way through an impossible 360-degree turn for a lateral escape. I had given him

20 yards of space, and nearly forgot to paddle as I watched in shock as he stalled and nearly slid back into me. Check it out in the video.

It was a wonderful group. We slept under the stars and a waxing moon. The quality of the rapids blew my mind. As promised, I got to go to bed at 8 each night and finished two books (1, 2). I was frustrated to miss so many roll attempts after feeling quite confident in the pool, but Thor, Mike, and Casey were nearly 100% with their rolls, which is really inspirational. I’m looking forward to putting more time into my technique, and I can’t wait for paddling season (four months away!).

Thanks to Sarah for the invite, Alpacka Raft for the amazing boats, Tom Wetherell (Suspicious Devices) for the firepan, and Ceiba for the shuttle.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon
While Google Earth may be perfect for finding out which of your neighbors’ hot wives sunbathes in the nude, it falls short when you want to do something more exploratory; like if you want to see the Grand Canyon for example…

Grand Canyon is one of those iconic American landmarks that most people want to see, but few actually make the trip until later on in their lives. And for obvious reasons; G.C. is boring. Even giving it this fancy acronym didn’t help. Other than just looking at it, there isn’t all that much to do. Or is there?

Well in 2007, the Grand Canyon Skywalk opened to the public, giving visitors an opportunity to see the canyon while on a glass bridge, 70 feet out from the edge, and 4000 feet above the nadir. And while it’s a really cool way to see the canyon, where you really want to be, is in a raft on the river below.

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River stretches for 277 miles between Lake Powell and Lake Mead, and somewhere during your trip down the river you may get the feeling that you’re on a drunk date. Things turn pretty intimate, pretty fast, as the Grand Canyon exposes its most breathtaking landscapes to you and just a handful of your companions. You’ll see parts of the canyon that there’s no way of seeing other than by raft.

But I feel I have to warn you, that since this is an outdoor adventure, the finer things in life you’re probably used to, like a toilet seat, or facebook, will be unavailable. With that in mind you can plan how long you’d like to go for. The better rafting trips are usually over 3 days long, but you can find trips anywhere from 1 to 18 days in length to suit your budget and free time. The shorter trips however don’t involve hikes, and don’t pass through the wildest parts of the river.

How to Raft the Grand CanyonCurrency along the Colorado River

The upper part of the canyon is narrower and perhaps more visually interesting. Trips here usually take 3.5 days by motorized boat, and 5.5 days by oars. The lower part of the Grand Canyon takes 4.5 days by motor and 6.5 by oar, and is a quite a bit more adrenaline filled. The motor boats hold up to 20 people and offer a smoother ride through the rapids than the oar-powered rafts. But since the guides do the rowing (for a few months straight during the peak season), you can expect them to be strong enough to carry you down the Grand Canyon if the Colorado River dries up.

How to Raft the Grand CanyonYou’ll feel the adrenaline rush, when you tell your rower/guide that you ate his last PowerBar because you were like really hungry

If you want to get more involved, there is also the paddle boat option where passengers actually pitch in with the paddling. So, if you’re considering Rowing the Atlantic, this could be a good practice. It’s also a lot more exciting on the rapids, because of your hands-on involvement.

The Grand Canyon is rated Class IV with a few Class V rapids and numerous Class I – III rapids. But to put things into perspective: the minimum age is only 12 years old and most trips organized by the top outfitters do not require any previous rafting experience at all! So for those of you a bit intimidated by the rating of these rapids; don’t be! This is a great way to see a landmark that attracts millions of tourists annually, but from a side that only a few thousand ever get to see.

The duration, prices, and options differ from outfitter to outfitter, so compare several companies and options before making your decision. For example, some outfitters will supply you with everything you need, while others may leave it up to you to prepare your gear. Some outfitters have an option of hybrid trips. These trips typically have a combination of oar boats, motor boats, and paddle boats, letting you decide for yourself, which one you want to be in, for the different stretches of the river.

How to Raft the Grand CanyonBarrel also an option

Best Time To Go:

The season usually runs from May to September when Northern Arizona is warm and dry. The busiest months for commercial trips are July and August, when the more frequent rain storms make the rapids run wilder, but because the Colorado River is dam-controlled the water isn’t ever too wild.

Bragging Rights:

Michaelangelo – not the Renaissance painter/sculptor, but the Ninja Turtle. Sure he’s a brave BA, but he could never take on the bosses on his own.

There are a variety of packages provided by different organizations with prices ranging from $900-$6,000 based on the length of the trip and comforts provided. Take into consideration what kind of side-trips and modes of transportation are included in the price, and what kind of supplies are provided. For about $2,000 you can probably find yourself a very good package. Also, search for special deals and promotions before ordering. For example, in 2010 Wilderness River Adventures was offering discounted kids rates for all rafters through their “Be a Kid Again” promotion.

Insider Tips:
  • Go on some side-hikes, if not for the scenes, then to find some solitude from the guides and travel companions and to go #2.
  • After registration for the trip you may still need to make a few arrangements, like purchasing beverages and duffel services. Unless you arrange for duffle service in advance through the mule-ride outfitters, you’ll have to carry all your stuff on your back.
  • Here’s a tip from Fodor’s: “Some outfitters will provide gear-like lifejackets, sleeping bags and tents, not to mention the all-important dry bags. The extreme wet, sandy, and sunny conditions mean you’ll need to bring essentials like a rain suit, sun block and hat, bathing suit, bandana, sundries, and layers of fast-drying clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty. A waterproof camera is a plus, even if it’s a disposable one. Remember that you can’t restock along the way, and because of the dry environment you’re more likely to wish for comforts like extra contact solution and lotion than for an additional change of clothes.”
Learn More:

Here are some big names that offer Grand Canyon rafting trips:

When you are ready to plan a raft adventure down the Colorado River, familiarize yourself with the basics. Here are 6 especially relevant unique Grand Canyon raft adventure facts about the water level, water temperature, rapid ratings and the National Park Service. Know these SIX basic unique Grand Canyon facts. They will help shape your expectations as you plan a Grand Canyon raft expedition.

#1 The National Park Service.

National Park Logo

The National Park Service regulates all rafting of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The commercial rafting season begins in April and runs through October. Therefore, these are the only months you can raft with a commercial outfitter like Arizona Raft Adventures. The Grand Canyon National Park Service maintains strict oversight of the approved outfitters, the allocation of “user days” between commercial and private boaters and even the rules and regulations on how trips are operated. There is a set of Commercial Operating Requirements (COR’s) to ensure impact to natural resources is minimal. Most noteworthy, the Grand Canyon must remain as protected as possible.

#2 Where the Water Originates

How to Raft the Grand Canyon

Lake Powell holds water until it is released through Glen Canyon Dam for hydroelectricity.

The water that flows down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon has previously been contained upstream behind the Glen Canyon Dam in Lake Powell. Therefore, the water level does not fluctuate like rivers downstream of seasonal snow melt or timed releases. Lake water is released through the Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydroelectric power. It does fluctuate a little as the Bureau of Reclamation adjusts the release of water to meet electricity demands during the summer. A lot of electricity is needed to power air conditioners in big cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas. Regardless of the ebb and flow caused by the Bureau of Reclamation, the water flowing through the unique Grand Canyon down the Colorado River remains runnable by rafting expeditions.

#3 The Water is Cold

The water flows through the dam from the bottom of Lake Powell. Which, in places, is hundreds of feet deep. Therefore, the river is always about 48-52 degrees year round. Brrrrrrr! It does warm up slightly as it travels downstream but only by a few degrees. Have you ever wondered how guides and guests survive the summer heat on a Grand Canyon raft adventure? A quick dunk in the river will cool you off quickly. Consequently, it can be more challenging to stay warm in the spring and fall. Choose to raft with an authorized National Park concessioner like Arizona Raft Adventures. You will receive a recommended packing list to guide you in the packing process.

#4 The Rapid Rating System

It is common knowledge that rivers and rapids are rated on a world wide class I – VI system. While this is true, not ALL rivers are rated on this universal scale. In fact, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is rated on a class 1-10 system. This is easily confused with the more commonly known I-VI scale. Hence, the confusion turns into concern when potential raft participants hear that there are several rapids rated 8-10. Never fear! The classifications roughly translate as follows:

Universal Grand Canyon
Class I Rating 1-2
Class II Rating 3-4
Class III Rating 5-6
Class IV Rating 7-8
Class IV+ Rating 9-10
Class V None Currently Exist
Class VI None Currently Exist

There are no rapids rated V+ between Lee’s Ferry and Diamond Creek. The universal Class VI is considered unrunnable and is not recommended to river runners. While there might not be any “class V” rapids in the Grand Canyon, there are many awesome rapids! Here is a short clip from Hermit Rapid located at river mile 95. Hermit Rapid is rated 8-10. It is one of the biggest and most fun in the Canyon!

#5 Whitewater Versus Flat Water

If your only intention is to seek out a whitewater thrill, you may decide to choose a river elsewhere. The stretch of river between Lee’s Ferry and Diamond Creek is mostly flat water! There are roughly 160 rapids, but the rapids span over 225 river miles.The whitewater is fun, wavy and can really get your adrenaline pumping. The rest of the trip is meandering flat water. The calm water provides a perfect opportunity to take out your camera, relax and maybe even try your hands at the oars (if you are on a Classic Adventure). Although, if you travel with Arizona Raft Adventures, the guides fill the day with great interpretation, sightseeing and hiking opportunities. If you seek the full experience of hiking, camping, camaraderie and time on the river, a unique Grand Canyon Classic Adventure may be perfect for you.

#6 Grand Canyon Raft Day Trips

Finally, there are no one day options to raft in the Grand Canyon National Park. The Canyon is BIG and REMOTE which means there are very few places to get on or off a river trip. If you want to raft through the National Park, you should dedicate at least a week to the experience.

However, there are options for day trips on the Colorado River near the Grand Canyon National Park. Contact a travel agent for a one day raft trip.