Grand Canyon River Rafting Guidebook
There are few rivers more fabled than the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. The length of a journey down the canyon, paired with the unbelievable scenery and world-class whitewater make this a bucket-list trip for most boaters. Summer trips offer big whitewater, and searing temperatures. Many private boaters prefer the shoulder seasons when temperatures are moderate, and the whitewater remains plenty big. The commercial rafting season for the Grand is April-October. There are non-commercial permits available during this period, but private boaters will be sharing the river with commercial trips during this period. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado is an intermediate-advanced stretch of river in terms of whitewater difficulty.
Grand Canyon Information
About this guide
This guide outlines one continuous stretch of river broken into three sections. Those sections are Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch, Phantom Ranch to Diamond Creek, and Diamond Creek to Pearce Ferry.
All data points were collected using GPS. These locations were checked against Google Earth for accuracy.
The Grand Canyon rapids rating system is on a 1-10 scale. This is unlike most other rivers which operate on a 1-6 scale.
Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch is the first 90 mile stretch of the Grand Canyon. The Marble Canyon portion of this section contains some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip. There are some major rapids in this section, including Hance, House Rock and the entire Roaring 20’s section, to name a few. If you have group mates that can only do a partial trip you can exchange boaters at Phantom Ranch.
Phantom Ranch to Diamond Creek is the second half of a standard trip. This section starts out with a bang. Some of the biggest whitewater of the trip is just after Phantom Ranch.
Diamond Creek to Pearce Ferry is an optional, 55 mile stretch of river. This section is pretty, but the river mellows significantly. The waterline of Lake Mead can take the Colorado’s current to a standstill around Separation Canyon, 13 miles below Diamond Creek.
The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is an intermediate to advanced river run. While there are significant sections of mellow or flat water, it is important to note other challenges that are present. The Colorado has ripping eddies, massive flip potential, and many other features that can present real danger. It is your responsibility to know your skill levels and the risks of the Grand Canyon.
A noncommercial rafting permit is required to run the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River starting from Lee’s Ferry. The main lottery is held for trips during the next calendar year. The main lottery is in February, and there are follow-up lotteries throughout the year. Learn more here.
There are additional permits, on a first come, first served basis, available for trips starting from Diamond Creek.
Colorado River Flow (Lee’s Ferry)
The Grand Canyon of the Colorado on average runs between 6,000CFS and 16,000 CFS. The river is dam-released, and so predictable flows are largely reliable. Generally, the river reaches its highest flows during the summer and mid-winter. Flash flooding, or the occasional planned high-water event can bring flows above their normal highs. During normal high-water events, the river remains runnable, although the consequences of flipped rafts and swimmers increases.
Sometimes the USGS flow image breaks. If this happens, here is the direct link.
Gauge data provided by the USGS.
Download the Grand Canyon Guidebook
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Grand Canyon Comprehensive Guide
WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment, experience, or skill level.
Class 1 Rapid
Class 1 rapid or river feature.
Class 2 Rapid
Class 2 rapid or river feature.
Class 3 Rapid
Class 3 rapid or river feature.
Class 4 Rapid
Class 4 rapid or river feature.
Class 5 Rapid
Class 5 rapid or river feature.
Class 6 Rapid
Class 6 rapid or river feature.
Class 7 Rapid
Class 7 rapid or river feature.
Class 8 Rapid
Class 8 rapid or river feature.
Class 9 Rapid
Class 9 rapid or river feature.
Class 10 Rapid
Class 10 rapid or river feature.
Put-In / Take-Out
The most commonly used access points.
Point of Interest
These include side canyons, waterfalls, and more.
Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas
Grand Canyon campsites
Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch – Class 1-8
The first stretch of the Grand Canyon is known for its stunning scenery and exciting whitewater. Marble Canyon, the Roaring Twenties, and other phenomenal sections await!
Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch is 88.1 miles
Feet per Mile
Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch averages 7 FPM
Mile 0 – Lee’s Ferry: River Right. You made it! Stay organized as you get your gear together. Learn more about Lee’s Ferry.
Mile 0.1 – Night Zero Camp: River Right. This is where you’ll camp the night before your trips launch. Learn more about Night Zero Camp.
Mile 0.2 – Paria Riffle: Class 2. This is a long, very gentle rapid.
Mile 0.9 – Paria River: River Right. There is a popular trail that ends here that starts up the Paria river ~40 miles and takes you through beautiful slot canyons. Learn more about the Paria River.
Mile 2.8 – Cathedral Wash Riffle: Class 2. This is a mild rapid at the mouth of Cathedral Wash, which comes in on river right.
Mile 4.5 – Navajo Bridge: This historic bridge was completed in 1929. The completion of the bridge allowed for much easier crossings of the river than previously possible at Lee’s Ferry. Learn more about the Navajo Bridge.
Mile 5.9 – Six-mile Wash: River Right. This small camp is the first one available in the Grand Canyon. Bill Beer and John Daggett, who swam the Grand Canyon in 1955, spent the first night of their trip here.
Mile 8 – Badger: Class 5. Welcome to the Canyon. This is the first large rapid of the trip. The run for Badger is relatively straightforward but if you would like to scout it, you can do so from the left bank. Look for the entrance-tongue in the middle of the river. Straight down the middle of the tongue will set you up for a smooth ride. Be careful for the large hole on the right-edge of the tongue near the top of the rapid. At medium and low flows, both sides of the rapid can be rocky – stick to the middle. Learn more about Badger Rapid.
Mile 8.1 – Badger: River Right. Badger camp has a tight pull-in after Badger Rapid. The name comes from Jacob Hamblin, who killed a badger in this canyon. The camp is less trafficked by hikers than Jackass, across the way.
Mile 8.1 – Jackass: River Left. Large Camp. Jackass camp has trail access from the rim, so be prepared to share with hikers. Male donkeys (jackasses) were released in the Grand Canyon area in the 1800s by various prospectors. While mules are still used today as pack animals, a campaign to remove wild mules from the Grand Canyon was put in place by the National Park Service. Learn more about Jackass Camp.
Mile 8.9 – Below Jackass Camp: River Left. Small Camp. This is a small, sandbar camp that appears only during low water.
Mile 10.1 – Ten Mile Rock: This beautiful monolith rock is narrow and tall. Learn more about Ten Mile Rock.
Mile 11.3 – Soap Creek: River Right. Large camp. Soap Creek Camp is located just above the rapid and has a couple eddies to choose from. Learn more about Soap Creek Camp.
Mile 11.3 – Soap Creek Rapid: Class 5. Right scout. Soap Creek is filled with fun waves – but it’s not all play. Be careful for the large rock in the center of the rapid. A right-of-center run is standard. Learn more about Soap Creek Rapid.
Mile 12 – Brown’s Riffle: Class 2. Frank Brown was the president of the Pacific Railroad Company. In 1889 on an expedition trip to study the feasibility of placing a railroad through the Grand Canyon, he drowned in this riffle, when his wooden boat caught an eddy fence and turned over.
Mile 12 – Brown’s Inscription: River Left. Small camp.
Mile 12.4 – Below Saltwater: River Left. Small camp.
Mile 13 – 13 Mile Riffle: Class 2. Go right of center and avoid the left side of this small rapid.
Mile 13.1 – 13 Mile: River Right. Medium sized ledge camp. Rocky.
Mile 13.2 – Overhang Rapid: Class 2. This rapid features a nasty overhang that dominates the right shoreline. You do not want to be over on the right and this can easily be avoided. Read and run. Learn more about Overhang Rapid.
Mile 14.3 – Sheer Wall: River Left. Small camp. Sheer Wall has solid ledge protection. Learn more about Sheer Wall Camp.
Mile 14.4 – Sheer Wall Rapid: Class 2. Tanner Wash is the canyon that comes in on the left that creates this read and run rapid. Keep your eyes peeled for a bottom right rock coming off of the right shore.
Mile 16 – USGS Birdseye Expedition Inscription: River Right. There is a small and hard to spot inscription of a rock hammer located here underneath a small overhang from this 1923 expedition. Learn more about the USGS inscription.
Mile 16.6 – Hot Na Na Wash: River Left. Medium sized camp. This camp had a flash flood in August, 2022 which has eliminated the upper end of it. This is the last camp before House Rock rapid. Learn more about Hot Na Na Wash.
Mile 17 – House Rock: Class 7. Left scout. House Rock is your first big test. Pull right to avoid the huge holes on river left. Learn more about House Rock Rapid.
Mile 17.2 – House Rock: River Right. Large camp. Tough pull-in out of the tailwater at the base of House Rock Rapid.
Mile 17.6 – Redneck Rapid: Class 4. Hey diddle-diddle, right down the middle is good to go in this wave train rapid. Pay attention and square up to wave number three as it is kicking and can be large.
Mile 18.3 – Ledges Riffle: Class 2. Small wave train that is read and run. Large eddies on the left and right.
Mile 18.5 – 18 Mile Ledges: River Left. Medium sized camp. Pull-in is tight. From this camp, you can spot Boulder Narrows, which is just downstream.
Mile 18.7 – Boulder Narrows: The Boulder Narrows are formed by a monolith rock sitting in the middle of the river. A massive flood in 1957 deposited the driftwood that still sits upon the top of the rock. Learn more about Boulder Narrows.
Mile 19.2 – 19.2 Mile: River Right. This is a small camp. If you have the time and no groups are behind you, you can pull over here and send a scout down to see if 19.4 mile camp is available, as that is a larger, better camp.
Mile 19.4 – 19.4 Mile: River Left. Large camp. Sandy.
Mile 19.6 – Good Lunch Beach: River Right. Just downstream from 19.4 Mile Camp is a good lunch beach that captures plenty of sun on river right.
Mile 20.2 – 20 Mile: River Left. This is a large camp located on a debris fan. The pull in is located towards the bottom of the fan. If someone has good eyes you can spot if Upper North Canyon camp is available from 20 Mile Camp, which is a more desirable campground.
Mile 20.7 – Upper North Canyon: River Right. Large camp. Just above North Canyon Rapid.
Mile 20.8 – North Canyon: Class 5. Take the right side of the tongue which will keep you away from the left which pushes into a wall. This is a straightforward, easy rapid.
Mile 20.8 – Lower North Canyon: River Right. If you plan on staying here, make sure you communicate with your group as it is easy to zip by this camp due to North Canyon Rapid. This is a smaller camp than Upper North Canyon.
Mile 21.3 – 21 Mile Rapid: Class 5. At the top left of the rapid there is a big wave that may be breaking and towards the bottom center there is another large-ish standing wave that is runnable. For the most exciting run, go left of center. Other than that, this is a straightforward read and run rapid.
Mile 21.6 – 21.7 Mile Rapid: Class 3. Follow the tongue, with the splashier waves being towards the left. Any route is runnable though.
Mile 21.7 – 21.7 Mile: River Left. This is a large camp, tucked on the downstream side of the alluvial fan that creates 21.7 Mile Rapid. If you plan on stopping here you want to exit the rapid early, however, this eddy is quite large so if you accidentally shoot by it, you can catch the eddy quite low and work your way back up to the camp.
Mile 22.1 – 22 Mile: River Right. This is a very exposed sand dune camp. At low flows, there is a good park and cook option. This is considered a small camp.
Mile 22.8 – Indian Dick: River Left. This camp is a rocky beach at lower flows that is a bit of a carry to the camp. The camp backs up into a wash that you can clearly make out. There is a small riffle (Class 1) that leads into it, with the landing zone being just below this current. From camp you can just make out the Indian dick “feature” downstream. This is considered a small camp.
Mile 22.9 – Numerous Beaches: You’ve probably already noticed it, but in this section of the canyon there seems to be lunch beaches galore.
Mile 23 – Indian Dick (23): Class 4. The cleanest line in 23 Mile is a left run. There is a large lateral wave on river right on the bottom of the rapid which is a raft flipper if you decide to run it and not square up to the feature. Going left of it is easy enough.
Mile 23.5 – 23.5 Mile: Class 4. This rapid is just below Indian Dick Rapid. It is a single feature rapid with a somewhat ugly pour over located at the top center. While you can go right or left of this hole, it’s much easier passing it on the right. Once you clear this rapid look just downstream on river left for a similar Indian dick geology “feature” to the one just upstream.
Mile 23.6 – 23 Mile (Lone Cedar): River Left. Medium sized camp. If you plan on stopping here, make sure you exit the above rapid early on the left to make sure you don’t blow by it. For winter trips, there is typically driftwood here.
Mile 24.3 – Georgie Rapid: Class 6. Right scout. Originally known as 24.5 Mile Rapid, Georgie’s is formidable at low water and less so at higher flows. Run the seam just to the right of the large standing wave, or load up on the oars and punch through the lateral left of this hole. Learn more about Georgie Rapid.
Mile 24.7 – 24.5 Mile Camp: River Left. Medium sized camp. 24.5 Mile is located at the top of a large debris fan.
Mile 24.7 – 24.5 Mile: Class 6. Left scout. This rapid makes a left hand turn. The center line has large features and the right side has ugly and large pour overs which are to be avoided. The line is enter left of center and keep working left. This is easier said than done as there are some guard rocks and pour overs located on the left which you must pass by before you start your move left. This rapid is also known as Bert Loper Rapid.
Mile 25.1 – 25 Mile: Class 6. Left scout. This short rapid requires a similar move to the one you just ran. Work your way left to avoid a large hole on river right. This rapid is also known as Hansbrough-Richards Rapid.
Mile 25.7 – Cave Springs: Class 5. There is a center pour over that can easily be avoided by going to the right of it. Below this, there is a medium to large wave that is good to go.
Mile 26.57 – Above Tiger Wash: River Left. This is a small, brushy camp on the downstream side of a wash. It’s easy to mistake this camp for the small sandbar just downstream of this, which is separated from this camp by a large boulder.
Mile 27 – Tiger Wash Rapid: Class 5. Tiger Wash Rapid is named for the short wash that created this rapid on river left. This rapid features surprisingly large waves in the center. The line at this rapid is to enter center or left of center and keep working left. The river can easily take you into the center wave train, and if that occurs, hold on and make sure you hit everything straight. Finally, there are enormous rocks on river right which you absolutely want to avoid and there is a large eddy on both river right and left immediately following this rapid.
Mile 27.1 – MNA: Class 3. MNA Rapid sits immediately below Tiger Wash. MNA is notable for being one of the few rapids that was created solely from rockfall. This rockfall occurred on river right, so generally speaking, it’s easier to pick your route through this rapid towards river left. Pay attention here as wraps do occur.
Mile 29.2 – 29 Mile: Class 2. Read-and-run down the middle.
Mile 29.5 – Silver Grotto: River Left. Silver Grotto Canyon ends on the upstream side of Shinumo Wash Camp. It is possible to scramble into Silver Grotto from Shinumo Camp and explore several of the pools. If your crew brings small-boats you can head downstream to a hiking trail on river left where you can access the top of Silver Grotto canyon. The canyoneering from the top is excellent. Be prepared to swim in deep pools. Learn more about the Silver Grotto.
Mile 29.5 – Shinumo Wash: River Left. Large camp. Shinumo Wash is an excellent camp with access to Silver Grotto Canyon. There is often plenty of wood here. If your group is into canyoneering, then this is a good camp to shoot for to allow access to the Silver Grotto loop. Learn more about Shinumo Wash.
Mile 30.2 – Fence Fault Rapid: Class 4. Run left of center to avoid a large boulder right-of-center. Learn more about Fence Fault Rapid.
Mile 30.5 – Fence Fault: River Right. This is a medium sized camp. Often referred to as Upper Fence Fault. This is a tough camp to pull into as the current is swift here.
Mile 30.6 – Fence Fault Springs: River Left. Opposite Fence Fault camp are some springs that bubble out of the wall. Please treat any water prior to drinking.
Mile 30.8 – Sand Pile: River Right. This is a medium sized camp with minimal shade. Often referred to as Lower Fence Fault. The similarities end at their names, fortunately, as this camp features a great sand bar and large eddy.
Mile 31.29 – Thru Cave: River Left. If you look high on the river left canyon wall at this location, you’ll spot a cave that goes all the way through to the other side into the adjacent wash. Learn more about the Thru Cave.
Mile 31.8 – South Canyon: River Right. Large camp. Pull in below the debris fan formed by South Canyon. Plenty of driftwood here.
Mile 32 – Stanton’s Cave: River Right. Look right and you’ll see a cave seemingly chiseled into the canyon wall. This is not a man made cave and is prohibited from visitation.
Mile 32.1 – Vasey’s Riffle: Class 2. There aren’t many islands in this section of the canyon, so you know you’re here when you spot the small rock island splitting the river. While the left side of the island is fine, at low flows it does shallow out, so in general, we recommend always taking the right channel. Once you clear the island, you’ll want to slowly make your way back left. The river for the next mile or so moves at a brisk pace starting around this point.
Mile 32.1 – Vasey’s Paradise: River Right. As you pass the island mentioned above, look right and you may see a waterfall seeping or pouring into the river. We say may because many times there is no water flowing.
Mile 33.1 – Redwall Dam Site: River Right. While the adits are visible on both canyon walls, the river right adit is the easiest to spot. This location and the other one at mile 39.7 were identified as potential dam locations during the 1923 USGS exploration trip.
Mile 33.3 – Redwall Cavern: River Left. Redwall Cavern is a wonder to behold. Enjoy its beauty, and make sure you leave it cleaner than you found it. Remember, there is no camping or fires allowed at Redwall. Learn more about Redwall Cavern.
Mile 33.8 – Below Redwall: River Left. Small camp.
Mile 34.1 – Little Redwall: River Left. This is a small beach camp, and as the name suggests, has an overhang.
Mile 34.1 – Hanging Springs: River Right. On the right-hand side, you can see plants hanging from the canyon wall. Water from a natural spring drips down onto a nice sandy grotto here.
Mile 35.1 – Nautiloid: River Left. This is a large, very nice camp. Learn more about Nautiloid Camp.
Mile 35.9 – Bridge of Sighs: River Right. On the right side of the river, if you look up high into a side canyon, there is a beautiful natural arch known as the Bridge of Sighs.
Mile 36.1 – 36 Mile: Class 4. Read and run with a fun and splashy wave train on river right. The dry line is left, but don’t go too far left as there are some shallow rocks towards the top that might hang you up.
Mile 37.9 – Tatahatso: River Left. This is a medium-sized camp located a third of a mile below Tatahatso Wash. As of November 2021, this camp looked washed out and quite uncomfortable. Learn more about Tatahatso Camp.
Mile 38.24 – Martha’s Riffle: Class 2. As you pass Above Martha’s Camp, there is a small read-and-run rapid.
Mile 38.3 – Above Martha’s Camp: River Left. This is a small, sandy camp. There’s a beautiful alcove behind the camp.
Mile 38.7 – Martha’s Camp: River Left. Medium-sized camp with plenty of sand. There is a ledge behind the camp that could provide some shelter during a rain event.
Mile 39.3 – Redbud Riffle: Class 2. There is a small read-and-run rapid above Redbud Alcove. On the FAR left is a boulder that could be a hazard, but it is well out of the way of the main channel. On the right-hand side is a large eddy, so don’t make your move into Redbud too early if you plan to camp here.
Mile 39.3 – Redbud Alcove: River Right. This is a medium-sized camp located just downstream from a small riffle. There is a large eddy here so if you get caught up in the current from the riffle and shoot past this camp you can easily catch the eddy low and make your way back up. A short hike from camp will lead you to the alcove.
Mile 39.7 – Proposed Marble Canyon Dam Site: River Left. This was the proposed location for a dam that was very nearly built. There’s a test drill site here located on river left, with the material from the drilling piled on the left bank.
Mile 41.2 – Buck Farm: River Right. Large camp. There is a hiking trail from camp that leads into Buck Farm Canyon. If you are looking to just do the hike into the canyon and the camp is taken, there is an upper area to park your rafts.
Mile 42 – Royal Arches: River Right. As you make your way through this long left bend, you’ll see arches on the river right canyon wall, called The Royal Arches.
Mile 43.4 – Anasazi Bridge: River Right. If you look up high into the cliff, you can see a small wood bridge spanning between two sections of rock.
Mile 43.4 – Anasazi Bridge Camp: River Left. This is a small, brushy camp with a difficult pull-in.
Mile 43.6 – Lower Anasazi: River Left. This is also a small camp and is separated from the upstream Anasazi camp by a small riffle. From the pull-in there is walk through the brush in order to reach the sandy camping area.
Mile 44 – President Harding Rapid: Class 4. Run left of the large boulder in the center of the river. There is a large wave just left of the boulder, which at most flows is good to go but a big hit. The dry line is further left of this feature. The right side of the boulder should be avoided. Learn more about President Harding Rapid.
Mile 44 – President Harding Camp: River Left. Medium-sized camp.
Mile 44.25 – Below President Harding Rapid: Class 2. Below President Harding Rapid is a long S-turn. Pay attention on the oars and you’ll be fine in this small rapid.
Mile 44.5 – Eminence Break: River Left. This is a large camp with an easy pull-in on the downstream end of an alluvial fan. Learn more about Eminence Break.
Mile 44.6 – Lunch Sandbar: River Left. Within view of Eminence is a good lunch beach.
Mile 44.9 – 44.9 Mile Camp: River Left. This is a small camp that shares the furthest upstream portion of the same eddy as Willie Taylor Camp.
Mile 45 – Willie Taylor Camp: River Left. This is a large camp. You’ll want to park your rafts on the upstream side of the alluvial fine, so avoid entering the riffle that is located here. This is a brushy camp.
Mile 47.3 – Duck ‘N Quack: River Left. Medium-sized camp. This camp has a nice sandy area underneath an overhang. You’ll be doubting yourself if you’re looking for this camp because it’s not an obvious camp. From here you can look downriver and see if Upper Saddle is available, and if it is, we suggest going there instead.
Mile 47.5 – Upper Saddle: River Right. This is a large, expansive, popular camp. There is hiking access from camp into Saddle Canyon.
Mile 47.7 – Lower Saddle: River Right. Large camp. This camp is below the Saddle Canyon debris fan, but still provides hiking access to Saddle Canyon.
Mile 50.2 – Dinosaur: River Right. Large camp. The alluvial fan located here has a small beach at the upper end of it, however, the main pull-in and camping area is downstream of this. If you are unsure of where you are, pull over at the upper beach and explore the alluvial fan for the typical campground. The current here is moving and if you pass by it, it’s gone.
Mile 52.1 – Little Nankoweap: River Right. Medium-sized camp.
Mile 52.4 – Nankoweap: Class 3. Read-and-run rapid. Enjoy one of the longer rapids on the river.
Mile 53.1 – Upper Nankoweap: River Right. Medium-sized camp. The pull-in is at the top of a large eddy, most of the way through Nankoweap rapid. Camping is possible at the bottom of the eddy as well. There is hiking access to the granaries from this camp.
Mile 53.2 – Nankoweap Granaries: River Right. The Nankoweap Granaries are an important historical site on the Canyon as well as a popular destination for hiking. The granaries were previously used by the Anasazi People for food storage. Learn more about the Nankoweap Granaries.
Mile 53.4 – Main Nankoweap: River Right. Large camp. Catch the eddy low. There is easy hiking from Main Nankoweap to the granaries. Learn more about Main Nankoweap Camp.
Mile 53.5 – Lower Nankoweap: River Right. Medium-sized camp. There is hiking access to the granaries from the lower camp although the path cuts through the main camp.
Mile 53.61 – Nanko Cobble Bar: This cobble bar island is exposed at most flows. At low flows, the left side can shallow out. Go to the right side of the island for the deepest channel.
Mile 56.5 – Kwagunt: Class 5. This is a steep rapid featuring a sharp and nasty pour-over at the top. Enter left of the pour-over and once cleared, work towards the right. It’s important to not get too relaxed on the oars because there is a rock located at the bottom of the rapid on the left that will cause you issues if you prematurely celebrate a seemingly successful run.
Mile 56.6 – Kwagunt: River Right. Large camp. There are hiking trails from camp into Kwagunt Canyon.
Mile 56.75 – Below Kwagunt Rapid: Class 2. Just downstream of Kwagunt camp is an easy read and run boulder garden. As the water drops, more and more rocks begin to appear in this rapid. At low flows, just downstream of the main action of this rapid is easy to spot and avoid wrap rock located towards the bottom left.
Mile 57.1 – Below Kwagunt Camp: River Right. This is an okay, small to medium-sized camp that is beginning to get overgrown.
Mile 58 – Malgosa: River Right. Small camp. Malgosa Camp is at the mouth of Malgosa Canyon. At lower flows, the camp has a long strip of sandy beach to enjoy.
Mile 58.1 – Opposite Malgosa: River Left. Short carry to unload camp. This is a sunny, medium-sized camp.
Mile 58.7 – Awatubi: River Right. Small, brushy camp in the debris fan of Awutabi Creek.
Mile 59.1 – Below Awatubi Left: River Left. Small camp. Good pull-in beach at low flows.
Mile 59.4 – Below Awutabi Right: River Right. Medium-sized camp. Brushy. There is a beautiful amphitheater wall behind camp.
Mile 60 – 60 Mile: Class 4. Read-and-run down the left/center-left.
Mile 60.2 – 60 Mile Camp: River Right. Small camp. Sandy beach pull-in just after 60 Mile Rapid.
Mile 61.1 – 61.1 Mile: River Right. Small camp. Steep carry to set up camp. 61.1 Mile is located at the mouth of a canyon.
Mile 61.6 – Above LCR: River Right. Small camp. Pull in above the riffle.
Mile 61.7 – Little Colorado River: River Left. Enjoy the beautiful blue water of the Little Colorado. Learn more about the Little Colorado River.
Mile 62 – Below LCR: River Right. Medium-sized camp. Brushy.
Mile 62.7 – Crash Canyon Rapid: Class 3. There’s a large center boulder at the top of the rapid. At low flows, this boulder is a pour-over and at higher flows, it’s a standing wave. The run is to the left of this feature in the wave train.
Mile 62.9 – Crash Canyon: River Right. Small camp. Near this location is where two planes collided in 1956, which at the time was the deadliest air accident in aviation history. You can make a fun excursion into Crash Canyon from this camp. Learn more about Crash Canyon Camp.
Mile 63.65 – Salt Mine Rapid: Class 3. Read-and-run rapid. There are some fun waves on the left-hand side with a dry line on the right. On the left, salt precipitates out of the canyon walls, please refrain from touching the walls here.
Mile 64.9 – Desert Watch Tower: This is the first place where you can spot (faintly, but it’s there) the Desert Watch Tower on the South Rim.
Mile 65.1 – Carbon Canyon: River Right. Wonderful side-hike. Can be done as a through hike to Lava Canyon. This is a nice hike to get up and out of the canyon if you’ve got Ditch Fever. Be careful during wet weather, as this hike requires a bit of scrambling over rocks, which can become a bit slick. Learn more about Carbon Canyon.
Mile 65.1 – Carbon: River Right. Large camp. There is excellent hiking up Carbon Creek from the back of camp. It is possible to hike all the way to Lava Canyon camp from Carbon.
Mile 65.9 – Lava Canyon: River Right. Medium-sized camp. It is possible to hike to Carbon Canyon camp from Lava Canyon.
Mile 65.92 – Lava Canyon Rapid: Class 4. Read and run. Easy run down the right side.
Mile 66 – Palisade Creek: River Left. Large camp at the base of Lava Canyon rapid.
Mile 66.8 – Above Espejo: River Left. Medium-sized camp.
Mile 67.3 – Espejo: River Left. Small camp.
Mile 68.3 – Upper Tanner: River Right. Large, sandy camp.
Mile 68.7 – Tanner: River Right. Large camp. Lots of sun.
Mile 69 – Tanner: Class 6. Enter Tanner in the center of the river and move left. There are large waves and several holes right of center. Move right as you get near the tail waves. There is a cobble bar below the rapid on the left that can beach a raft.
Mile 69.3 – Below Tanner: River Left. Large, exposed camp.
Mile 69.9 – Basalt Rapid: Class 6. Right run to avoid a huge hole on river left near the top.
Mile 70.1 – Basalt: River Right. Medium-sized camp. Basalt has a large lounging beach at lower flows.
Mile 71.6 – Cardenas: River Left. Medium-sized camp. The camp has a small pull-in. There are many hiking options out of Cardenas camp. In 2018, the NPS in partnership with the Arboretum at Flagstaff completed significant native habitat restoration at Cardenas Camp. The goal of the restoration was to create a habitat for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher.
Mile 72.4 – Upper Unkar: River Right. Medium-sized camp.
Mile 72.7 – Unkar: River Left. Medium-sized camp. The camp itself is tucked into the reeds. There is a nice hike up the ridgeline from camp to get an overview of the river above Unkar Rapid.
Mile 72.9 – Unkar Delta: River Right. The Unkar Delta is one of the largest and most easily accessible archeological stops in the Grand Canyon. The pull in is right at the top of Unkar Rapid.
Mile 72.9 – Unkar Rapid: Class 6. Unkar is a large right bend with features on both sides of the river. There are shallow rocks on river right than can beach a raft. There are rocks, as well as some large hydraulics against the left cliff. At most flows, a good run starts near the center in the tongue. Pull right to stay off the wall and make your way down the center of the rapid.
Mile 74.2 – Below Granary: River Right. This is a small, hard to find and overgrown camp.
Mile 74.6 – Upper Rattlesnake: River Right. This is a nice, medium-sized camp located just below a small riffle. There is a hiking trail up to the Tabernacle Butte to the west of camp.
Mile 75.6 – Escalante Rapid: Class 2. This is a no big deal read-and-run rapid. You’ll want to work back left towards the end of this short rapid to stay off the shoreline on the right.
Mile 75.9 – Upper Nevill’s Camp: River Left. This is a small, brushy camp with immediate access to Seventyfive Mile canyon. Technically, this camp shares the same alluvial fan as Nevill’s Camp, however, they are quite spread out and you shouldn’t be able to hear or see the other camp.
Mile 75.9 – Seventy-Five Mile Canyon: River Left. Seventy-Five Mile Canyon offers some cool hiking into a canyon that gets narrower as you go up.
Mile 76 – Nevill’s: Class 6. Left scout. A solid run down Nevill’s starts center-left and works left to avoid large pour-overs in the main channel in the center and near the bottom of the rapid. In a pinch, it is possible to split through the pour-overs, but the cleanest run will stay left. At very low flows there is wrap potential here.
Mile 76.1 – Nevill’s Camp: River Left. This is a large camp located alongside and below Nevill’s rapid. There isn’t much of an eddy here so running Nevill’s rapid cleanly is critical or else you’ll shoot right past this camp. This camp provides easy access to Seventyfive Mile Canyon. The Tonto Trail runs through this section, so in the spring/fall months, you may encounter backpackers or rangers.
Mile 76.3 – Below Nevills: River Right. Small Camp.
Mile 76.5 – Papago Camp: River Left. Medium-sized camp.
Mile 77.1 – Hance: River Left. Medium-sized camp. Just above Hance Rapid.
Mile 77.2 – Hance: Class 8. Right or left scout. The right scout gives a better view of the rapid. Hance Rapid follows a left bend in the river. The current in Hance pushes right, and the left entrance is blocked by large boulders. Work hard left after the entrance in this rapid to stay out of the large waves at the bottom center of this rapid. Learn more about Hance Rapid.
Mile 77.5 – Son of Hance: Class 4. Read and run. SOH comes at you fast as it is immediately below Hance Rapid. Where this rapid becomes problematic is if you have swimmers in Hance, as this will prolong their swim if you can’t get to them soon enough.
Mile 79.1 – Sockdolager: Class 7. Left scout. Sockdolager is best done as a down-the-center run. There is a large hydraulic near the top on the right side, however, there are seemingly large holes everywhere in this rapid. Learn more about Sockdolager Rapid.
Mile 79.4 – Small Sock’: Class 2. Just below Sockdolager is a read-and-run rapid. The only item to pay attention to is the standing wave on the right.
Mile 80.02 – Vishnu Riffle: Class 2. This read-and-run rapid passes through some wonderful Vishnu Schist.
Mile 81.7 – Grapevine: River Left. Large camp. Tight pull-in. Beautiful views of the Vishnu Schist. This is an exchange camp. Learn more about Grapevine Camp.
Mile 82.1 – Grapevine: Class 7. Left scout. A center-right entrance is standard. There is a hole on the left side of the tongue at the top, and a rock pile on the right. Enter just to the left of the rocks on the right and then work your way back towards the center. There is a hole at the bottom of the rapid on the center-right that is to be avoided by passing to the left. Learn more about Grapevine Rapid.
Mile 84.2 – 83 Mile: Class 4. A tricky eddy makes setting up for this rapid challenging. Learn more about 83 Mile Rapid.
Mile 84.6 – Clear Creek: River Right. This is a small, brushy camp that requires a carry. This is an exchange camp.
Mile 84.8 – Below Clear Creek: River Right. This is a small bar that comes out at low water. Zoroaster is a better camp if it’s available, but the benefit of Below Clear Creek is you can access Clear Creek which is just upstream. This is an exchange camp.
Mile 85 – Zoroaster: River Left. Small camp. This is an exchange camp.
Mile 85.2 – Zoroaster: Class 5. At low flows this is a Class 3 rapid, as the water gets higher this is a fun wave train but mind the holes on river right as well as the wall.
Mile 85.8 – 85 Mile: Class 3. There are two holes that are slightly offset from each other (one slightly left of center the other slightly right of center). These holes are more pronounced at low water. You can run left or right of the holes, however, if you enjoy reading water it’s fun to test your skills and split them down the middle.
Mile 87.7 – Upper Cremation: River Left. Small camp. This is an exchange camp.
Mile 87.7 – Lower Cremation: River Left. Medium-sized camp. Depending on flows, the current can be slow enough that it is possible to row to river right, drop off exchange hikers to walk to Phantom, and row back. This is an exchange camp.
Mile 88.1 – Black Bridge: Also known as the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, this bridge opened in 1928 and connects the North Kaibab Trail to the South Kaibab Trail. At the time, it was the only bridge crossing the Colorado River for hundreds of miles.
Mile 88.2 – Boat Beach: River Right. This is a large beach just below Black Bridge. There will likely be other groups here. No camping is allowed. Learn more about Boat Beach.
Mile 88.2 – Phantom Ranch Ranger Station: River Right. The Historic Phantom Ranch is an enjoyable break mid-trip. At the Ranger Station, you can find a weather forecast posted next to the front door. If you continue up the path just a bit from the station you will find the general store where you can buy goods and send mail. Learn more about Phantom Ranch.
Phantom Ranch to Diamond Creek – Class 1-9
The second half of a Grand Canyon journey. Many boaters choose to take-out at Diamond Creek given that the river mellows significantly after Diamond. Note that it is possible to continue past Diamond Creek to Pearce Ferry or South Cove.
Colorado River Rafting
Choosing your Colorado River Rafting Outfitter is an important choice. The trip down the Colorado River is a one way adventure, so planning your entry and exit are important. The length of a Colorado River Rafting journey varies depending on how far down river you want to go, whether you use engines on your raft and whether you visit side canyons. There are many tour outfitters to choose from. Check out the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association for a list tour operators.
Badger Creek Rapid, © Can Stock / Pancaketom
Colorado River Rafting – Three Sections
Upper Grand Canyon from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch. Most people cover this first section, which doesn’t have whitewater.
Lower Grand Canyon from Phantom Ranch to Whitmore Wash. The second section of Colorado River Rafting has all the famous whitewater rapids. To get here you either have to float down the Upper Grand Canyon or you have to spend a day hiking in to the Phantom Ranch from Grand Canyon Village.
Whitmore Wash to Diamond Creek or Lake Mead. The third section is very tame and less traveled. You either have to float the Lower Grand Canyon to reach this section or you have to helicopter in from the Bar 10 Ranch to start your Colorado River Rafting experience in the third section.
Red Wall Cavern, © Can Stock / Pancaketom
Colorado River Rafting – Lees Ferry
You start the Upper Grand Canyon section of Colorado River Rafting at Lees Ferry and finish this first section at the Phantom Ranch. Lees Ferry is an easy launching spot and it’s officially Mile 0 of river rafting. Most good outfitters will shuttle you from Flagstaff to Lees Ferry and take you back to Flagstaff after your river rafting run. In Lees Ferry, stay at the Marble Canyon Lodge, Lees Ferry Lodge or the National Park Service – Lees Ferry Campground.
There are abandoned buildings at Lees Ferry from the settlement that was established in the late 1800s, when this was the only place to cross the Colorado River for 700 miles.
Lees Ferry, © Can Stock / sprokop
Rafting Upper Grand Canyon
From Lees Ferry, the Upper Grand Canyon river rafting section takes about 4 – 6 days and cover 87 miles. Your Colorado River Rafting voyage through the Upper Grand Canyon soon takes you down Marble Canyon and under the Navajo Bridge. Then you pass Nankoweap where you can walk up to the ruins of Anasazi granaries. Another famous stop on the Upper Grand Canyon is the gigantic Red Wall Cavern.
Black Bridge, Kaibab Trail, © Can Stock / Pancaketom
At Phantom Ranch you will find two foot bridges over the Colorado River. First is the Black Bridge on the Kaibab Trail and then the Silver Bridge on Bright Angel Trail. Some rafters finish their adventure here, while others continue to the exciting rapids of the Lower Grand Canyon.
Nankoweap Granary, © Can Stock / PBodig
River Rafting – Phantom Ranch
Phantom Ranch is on the north side of the river. Some Upper Canyon rafters hike a full day up and out of the canyon here to Grand Canyon Village. Be prepared for heat, steep grades and heights on the trail. Others hike down here to start their Lower Canyon Colorado River Rafting adventure. Reservations for the Phantom Ranch can be made through Xanterra as they manage National Park accommodation.
Navajo Bridge, © Pixabay – 12019
Rafting Lower Grand Canyon
The Lower Grand Canyon Colorado River rafting section takes about 6 – 8 days and covers about 100 miles. The Lower Grand Canyon has the heaviest white water in the canyon, including Lava Falls, Crystal Falls, Hermit Falls and Granite Falls. These are Class IV – V rapids. You can also see Deer Creek Falls and the turquoise waters of Havasu Creek. Havasu Falls is a half day hike from the Colorado River, so it is unlikely that your outfitter will allow enough time to visit Havasu Falls.
Whitmore Airport, Whitmore Wash Pullout
The last stop on the Lower Grand Canyon is Whitmore Wash, where many Colorado River rafters exit the canyon by helicopter to the Bar 10 Ranch . At the Bar 10 Ranch you can shower, eat, relax and even rent a room. Then you can fly out from “Whitmore International Airport” with its small plane service to Las Vegas.
North Rim, Colorado River, Lower Grand Canyon
Diamond Creek or Lake Mead
The third section of the Colorado River takes 2 – 5 days depending on whether you finish at Diamond Creek or Lake Mead. This is a peaceful section of the Colorado River after the Grand Canyon. Visit the Travertine Grotto en route. If you exit at Diamond Creek, stay at Hualapai Lodge. Then head over to the Grand Canyon Skywalk and fly out of nearby West Rim airport. You can also continue past Diamond Creek to exit at Pearce Ferry or even jet boat across Lake Mead where the mighty Colorado has been tamed by Hoover Dam. It’s more than 90 miles from Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead.
Lower Colorado River
Colorado River Rafting Weather
Colorado River Rafting weather is extremely hot in summer in the Grand Canyon. Average highs exceed 100 F from June to September. Average lows during the summer months are in the mid 70s F. The river rafting weather temperatures contrast nicely with the 50 F water temperature of the river. Spring and fall are excellent times to float the river and enjoy more comfortable temperatures. There are also fewer people at these times.
Rainfall is light in the canyon, but thunderstorms peak in the month of August. Flash flooding in creeks and gullies can turn the Colorado River a muddy brown. Although rafting is possible year round, water levels drop in the fall and the white water disappears. Many outfitters close from October through March. Swimming in the Colorado River is prohibited in the Grand Canyon National Park due to the strong currents.
Grand Canyon Rafting Trips 101: a Beginner’s Guide
You know you want to go rafting in the Grand Canyon.
The trip is often cited as America’s #1 adventure vacation.
Why? The Canyon is simply out of this world.
So to experience it slowly, from the bottom?
Whitewater rapids, hidden slot canyons, sandy beaches, great people, and tasty meals are just the beginning of the fun.
This video sums up the experience, check it out:
That’s why they call it the Trip of a Lifetime!
The first step in planning a river trip can be overwhelming.
You have to choose from over a dozen companies that do guided tours through the Canyon. Worse yet, each of these individual companies offers about a dozen of their own different choices of raft expeditions.
Going through all of their websites makes you want to pull your hair out!
Let’s start from the beginning, defining where all the Grand Canyon rafting trips begin and end.
Places to Begin and End Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip
All the river trips don’t start and finish in the same places. There’s a number of variations, so I’m going to outline them for you here.
Sometimes I’ll call the location where you begin your trip the “put-in.” It’s the place where you first enter the Colorado River. The spot where you end is called the “take-out.”
One way that the Grand Canyon is measured is in “River Miles.” If the Colorado River was a paved road, its length through the Grand Canyon would be 277 miles.
Glen Canyon Dam – The Minus Level
The smooth-water day trips begin at Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona. In terms of river miles, the dam would be at mile-marker minus fifteen (-15). You’re driven through an access tunnel to reach the shore of the River at the bottom of the dam.
The day trip through Horseshoe Bend wraps up 15 miles downstream at Lee’s Ferry. If you want to steer clear of any “excitement,” this is a perfectly simple float with no white water rapids.
Lees Ferry – Ground Zero
Lees Ferry is considered to be the beginning of the Canyon. It’s at “Mile Zero.”
Most river trips start here. There’s a launch ramp, a campground, and little other development in the area.
The commercial tour companies drive you to Lees Ferry from someplace more civilized. Marble Canyon AZ and Page AZ are the closest “cities,” but there’s almost nothing but a lodge and a gas station in Marble Canyon.
Phantom Ranch – The Divide
From Lees Ferry it’s a journey of several days through the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch, at river mile 89. The section between Lees Ferry and Phantom Ranch is called the “Upper” Canyon.
The only way to get to Phantom Ranch is by mule, on foot, or on that boat you rode in on! There’s occasional helicopter traffic, but that’s only for official National Park Service use.
You’re now a vertical mile below the rim. Phantom Ranch is far from the outside world, but there’s some basic services here – like lemonade!
Most companies begin or end some of their raft tours at Phantom Ranch. The 10-mile Bright Angel Trail connects Phantom Ranch to the South Rim Village, where you can finally find some air-conditioning and pizza. If you choose this option, be prepared to hike a strenuous 10 miles up or down the trail. It’s no joke.
Some companies provide vehicle transportation to or from the South Rim. Others let you find your own travel connections. The Historic South Rim Village is the centrally developed area of Grand Canyon National Park.
Sometimes you’ll see references to Pipe Springs. This is the river access on the Bright Angel Trail. Pipe Springs is about 1.5 miles closer to the South Rim Village than Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Canyon. Generally companies will drop you off at Phantom Ranch, but pick you up for the “put-in” at Pipe Springs.
Trips that begin at Lee’s Ferry and end at Phantom Ranch are considered the top half or upper half of the Canyon.
Trips that begin at Phantom Ranch (Pipe Springs) are considered the lower half or bottom half of the Canyon.
Whitmore Wash – The Beginning of the End
From Phantom Ranch it’s a dramatic ride through the biggest, baddest rapids to the next portal – the Whitmore Wash Helipad, at river mile 187. By now you’ve been through the best of the Grand Canyon.
There’s no road to the Colorado River at Whitmore. It’s a helicopter pad where you’ll be whisked away to the Bar X (10) Ranch on a remote part of the North Rim. You’ll then be flown again to another airport, usually in Las Vegas NV or Page AZ. So if your trip involves Whitmore, you can expect an included helicopter ride and charter flight!
Some trips begin at Whitmore or farther downstream at Diamond Creek. These tours exist for those that only have a short window of time. They’re still awesome experiences, but they miss the best that the Canyon has to offer.
As opposed to the upper trips and lower trips, I refer to trips that start at Whitmore or Diamond as the bottom. The section is more commonly referred to as Diamond Down.
Diamond Creek – Maybe The End
Diamond Creek is the next access point at River Mile 226. This is a popular place to finish your rafting trip and exit the Canyon, particularly for non-motorized trips. Your outfitter will drive you to civilization, likely in Peach Springs AZ, Flagstaff AZ, or Las Vegas. There’s nothing here at Diamond but a ramp and a parking area.
You’re not missing much by ending a trip at Diamond Creek. Farther at Separation Canyon (Mile 240), commercial trips often pick you up in a jet boat for the rest of the way to Lake Mead at speeds up to 35mph anyway.
The whitewater day trips begin here at Diamond Creek.
Interesting fact: Diamond Creek Road is the first place that you can drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon after Lee’s Ferry. That’s 225 river miles without any access to roads!
This is a 26-mile dirt road completely on Hualapai Tribal Lands, requiring a high-clearance vehicle. The Hualapai charge a toll of at least $65. In most cases you shouldn’t have to worry about these fees when an outfitter is handling your transportation.
To “drive to the bottom of the Grand Canyon” here is definitely not a worthy vacation activity. It’s a lot more trouble than it’s worth, and the Canyon isn’t quite as Grand down here.
Pearce Ferry – The End
Pearce Ferry (Mile 281) is the main take-out at Lake Mead. There aren’t any views of the broader lake from here.
When they say your trip ends at Lake Mead, that most often means Pearce Ferry. There’s nothing more than a ramp and a rough parking area here, though the impressive “Pearce Ferry Rapid” is located about one mile downstream.
Companies will drive you from here primarily to Flagstaff AZ or Las Vegas.
Driving distances from Pearce Ferry:
- Flagstaff – 210 miles
- Lees Ferry – 330 miles
- Las Vegas 110 miles
Looking a bit further, South Cove (Mile 297) is an historic take-out point for the Grand Canyon at Lake Mead. Fluctuating water levels of the lake create a level of unpredictability beyond Pearce Ferry – namely the problematic Pearce Ferry Rapid.
So now you have a better understanding of where to access the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. You’re more prepared to check out all the Grand Canyon Rafting Companies, but first…
Motors, Oars, Paddles, Hybrids, Dories, and Duckies!
There’s a choice to be made among a variety of different boats.
Motorized Rafting Trips
Motor trips involve large pontoon rafts, sometimes affectionately called “bologna boats.” These can hold a lot of passengers – 10 or more.
There’s usually a couple of crew members on board, in addition to the pilot. The pilot sits in the rear and steers with an outboard motor.
These large rafts offer the highest sense of safety. They’re so sturdy that the pilots deliberately may steer into rough water for a more exciting ride. Motor trips are the fastest option if you want to see as much of the Grand Canyon as you can in a limited time. These trips entail the least number of days, and are therefore less expensive, too.
The motorized rides are big business for the raft companies. It’s more of a roller coaster ride than a rafting experience, watching the Canyon pass you by at a higher rate of speed.
Or to put it another way, motor trips are like driving a car down a scenic road.
Non-motorized oar trips are more like riding a bicycle down that road.
Non-Motorized Rafting Trips (Oar Trips)
Oar trips use smaller rafts, usually 14-18 feet long. They’re piloted by a single “boatman” that simply rows down the River with two long oars.
These rafts typically hold about four passengers, in addition to the boatman.
Paddle trips are where you actually get to paddle down the river with your own muscle and sweat.
The typical arrangement is that six “passengers” use individual paddles, instructed and assisted by a guide that gives direction from the back (and paddles too).
Hybrid trips involve a combination of oar boats and paddle boats. You’re given a choice each day between active involvement on the paddle boat or just relaxing on an oar raft, piloted by one of the guides.
Most paddle trips are set up as hybrid trips.
Some outfitters offer trips on a dory. Resembling a large canoe, dories are typically 17 feet long and constructed of wood and fiberglass. Readers of the best book about rafting the Grand Canyon, The Emerald Mile, are no strangers to the craft.
Dories traditionally offer a more rigid and elegant ride, and more comfort too. There’s the ability to lounge back through the slow stretches, and the ability access your gear more easily. They have a reputation for offering the ultimate Grand Canyon rafting experience.
Oar Trips vs Motor Trips
No matter which oar trip you choose, you’ll have a more intimate experience than the motor trips. You’ll be up close and personal with the River, and maybe even swimming in it!
The simple rhythm of the oars splashing the water’s surface is something you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
Unfortunately, these tours are much more expensive than the motorized trips.
If you’re a crazy thrill seeker that enjoys getting pummeled by the big whitewater, some companies offer kayak support. Sometimes they have inflatable kayaks (Often called a ducky) available too.
Finally, there’s all kinds of specialized trips available. Some have a strong focus on hiking. Others specialize on a subject like geology or yoga. One company even offers a string quartet that serenades you through dinner!
Grand Canyon Rafting Safety and Deaths
You don’t have to know how to swim. Stringent rules require you to wear an approved life-jacket at all times on the water (Often called a personal flotation device, or PFD).
All of the commercial outfitters are known to have excellent safety records. It’s simply in their best interest for your trip to be injury-free.
The National Park Service doesn’t publicly release its safety statistics, but Tom Myers (Co-author of Death in the Grand Canyon) reports that Grand Canyon rafting injuries “occur at a rate similar to golf and bowling.”
As with any thrilling outdoor activity, accidents and even deaths sometimes do occur. The only comprehensive record of deaths is found in the book listed above.
So regarding those stinky guides and their high prices and their speedboats and string ensembles… maybe you just don’t want ‘em!
This National Park belongs to you, a citizen! Maybe you want to just blow up an inner tube, pack a few sandwiches, and go!
Well hold on there, Alexander Supertramp. Putting together your own rafting trip through the Grand Canyon is a huge undertaking… an expedition. All sorts of things can go wrong.
The good news is that the legendary 20-year waiting list for Grand Canyon rafting permits is ancient history. Read more about how much easier it is to win river permits these days, and what comes next if you actually get one.
When is the Best Time to Go?
The best time to go is when you can!
The first thing to know regarding timing is that multi-day commercial tours are only available from April 1 until the end of October.
Motor trips only run from April 1 until September 15.
The majority of people book their commercial trips for the common vacation months of June, July, and August.
I think the best time to go on a motor trip is late May. The river should be quieter than the summer months, and the beaches will show less impact after the quiet winter.
Additionally, the summer months are HOT at the bottom of the Canyon. Like 110-degrees-HOT. May should be slightly cooler (Like only 100 degrees vs 110).
Monsoon thunderstorms roll through the Canyon in July and August. In addition to the obvious precipitation, this means flash floods, so your guides are less likely to show you some of the slot canyons.
Whenever it rains, the river is likely to be thick and brown with sediment, like the picture of the kayaks above. This is okay when you get used to it, but obviously less picturesque.
It’s impossible to predict when the water will be blue-green, but the chances of clear water are better in late May, June, and in late September.
The best time to go on a NON-motorized commercial trip is probably late September into October. This is for one simple reason – there won’t be any motor trips out there! The Inner Canyon also has some of the best weather of the year at that time, too.
Private trips are available year-round. September, October, and March into April are the most desirable times to score a trip. These months have the best combination of pleasant weather and fewer people on the river.
The remaining summer months are okay, but crowded with motor boats. You also have more competition for permits throughout these traditional times for summer vacation.
Winter is okay too, so long as you don’t mind the cold… and the short daylight hours. The Canyon is exquisitely quiet in winter.