Full Grand Canyon Rafting Trip
The Grand Canyon National Park is the second most popular national park in the United States. Every year, thousands of tourists and families travel to the Grand Canyon to experience phenomenal views, world-renowned hiking, and, of course, whitewater rafting. The Grand Canyon National Park Service accommodates hundreds of rafting trips along the Colorado River, with commercial outfitters offering a wide range of safe and easy tour options. A full Grand Canyon river trip is the perfect introduction to whitewater rafting and is the best way to experience first-hand the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon.
Where Do Full Grand Canyon Rafting Tours Start and End?
Depending on your outfitter’s itinerary and your designated take-out point, a full Grand Canyon river trip can reach up to river mile 280. All full Grand Canyon river trips begin at Lees Ferry, a vehicle accessible site close to both Glen Canyon and the beautiful Marble Canyon. From Lees Ferry, you will travel the entire length of the Grand Canyon, exiting the river at one of the following three locations.
1. Lees Ferry (River Mile 0) to Whitmore Wash (River Mile 188)
This is the most exciting take-out point in a full Grand Canyon river expedition. When you reach Whitmore Wash, you will take a short helicopter ride out of the Grand Canyon, witnessing jaw-dropping panoramic views over the National Park, before landing at Bar 10 Ranch. From there, a charter plane will return you to either Las Vegas or back to your starting point.
2. Lees Ferry (River Mile 0) to Diamond Creek Road (River Mile 225)
If you want to see as much of the Grand Canyon as possible, the route to Diamond Creek is an excellent option. From Diamond Creek, an air-conditioned coach will take you to Flagstaff airport or further on to Las Vegas.
3. Lees Ferry (River Mile 0) to Lake Mead (River Mile 280)
A Grand Canyon trip from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead offers another exciting take-out experience. At river mile 240, you will leave your raft behind and take a thrilling jet boat ride across Lake Mead to river mile 280. From there, coach transport will take you back to either your original starting location or on to Las Vegas.
What River Rafting Boats Can You Choose From?
Rafting outfitters in Grand Canyon National Park offer rafting trips on both motorized and non-motorized rafts. Which raft you select will depend on your day/time availability and how much of the Grand Canyon you’re aiming to experience. See below for a comprehensive breakdown of the 5 raft types used on full Grand Canyon river trips.
Motorized rafts are the most popular style of raft offered by Grand Canyon rafting outfitters. Motorized rafts are powered by an ultra-quiet motor and require no assistance from passengers for paddling or steering. This feature makes motorized rafting a great option for families with young children, inexperienced rafters, or individuals who find paddling too physically taxing. Furthermore, motorized rafts are much larger than oar-powered rafts (a motorized raft is usually around 35 feet long), giving them more stability while moving through the water. This is an added comfort, especially for first-time rafters or passengers who are nervous about swimming.
If you’re on a tight schedule and want to see as much of the Grand Canyon National Park as possible, a motorized rafting adventure is an excellent option. A motorized raft will cover more river miles per day and can transport you between major sites more quickly than a non-motorized raft. For instance, if you want to explore hidden caves, ancient Native American cultural sites, and enchanting waterfalls, a motorized Colorado River trip allows you to spend less time on the water and more time sightseeing.
While motorized rafts are very child friendly, most outfitters will enforce a minimum age requirement of 8 years.
As the name suggests, an oar-powered raft is steered and powered by two long oars situated at the center of the raft. Oar rafts are much smaller than motorized rafts and will usually accommodate 6 passengers, including your river guide. Like a motorized raft, you will not be expected to paddle at any time. If interested, you may get the opportunity to try your hand at paddling when the raft is floating down calmer sections of the river, but this will be at your river guide’s discretion and is not guaranteed.
An oar-powered raft is a fantastic option if you have the time to take a slow and leisurely journey through the Grand Canyon. Traveling at 3-4 mph, your speed will generally match that of the river current. This essentially doubles the time, in comparison to a motorized trip, it takes to travel from the Upper Canyon through to the Lower Canyon. The smaller size of an oar-powered raft will also give you a better feel for the twists, turns, and bumps of the Colorado River — in turn, this makes negotiating whitewater rapids an even more exhilarating experience!
The minimum age requirement for oar-powered rafting is between 10-12 years. Oar rafts are the second most popular option for rafting the Grand Canyon. As a result, you’ll find that 12 out of our 15 outfitters offer oar-powered rafting trips.
Paddle rafting is what most people expect when they envisage their Grand Canyon rafting experience. A paddle raft holds 6-8 passengers, each of whom controls a small paddle to assist with steering and propelling their vessel. Because of the challenging physical demands of consistent paddling, we recommend that you have previous multi-day paddling experience under your belt before embarking on a Grand Canyon paddle raft trip.
Paddle rafts usually travel at the same sedate speed as the Colorado River’s current. This means you’ll have more than enough time on the water to enjoy the towering vermilion walls of the Grand Canyon. Although the small size of paddle rafts allows for greater agility, it can also lead to a more tumultuous ride when traveling through rapids.
Paddle rafting is not recommended for children under 12 years of age (or for anyone who’ll find a multi-day paddling trip overly strenuous). Paddle rafting is only offered by 4 of the 15 outfitters operating along the Colorado River.
Hybrid rafting simply refers to a combination of both oar and paddle rafts, with the passengers rotating between approximately 4 oar-powered rafts and 1 paddle raft each day. Hybrid rafting is a great option for people who want to try their hand at paddling but aren’t yet ready to commit to a full Grand Canyon paddle raft trip. As you’ll only be paddling every other day, you don’t need a huge amount of prior rafting experience to participate in a hybrid Grand Canyon river trip. If you’re not confident in your paddling abilities, your outfitter may be able to arrange for you to skip your turn in the paddle raft.
Hybrid rafting the Grand Canyon river is limited to 4 out of our 15 outfitters. Also, please note that no children under 12 years of age will be permitted on hybrid rafting trips.
Unlike the previous rafting options, dory rafts are made from hardwood and, consequently, respond more quickly to rapids than an inflatable raft. Although slightly faster than oar-powered rafts, dory rafts are still much slower than a motorized vessel. This means you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery of the Grand Canyon National Park during a dory raft trip.
No paddling is required when you take a dory raft down the Colorado River. In most cases, you’ll share your vessel with 5 other people, and, like an oar-powered raft, your river guide will steer from the center of the boat. Dory rafts often accompany oar-powered rafts during full Grand Canyon trips to give passengers the chance to experience the river on a different type of rafting vessel. However, the inclusion of a dory raft in an oar-powered rafting expedition is not guaranteed and will depend on your outfitter. When booking your trip, please keep in mind that only 5 out of the Grand Canyon’s 15 outfitters currently support dory raft trips.
Children aged 10 and above are permitted to travel in a dory raft.
What to Expect From a Full Grand Canyon River Trip?
A full Grand Canyon trip covers both the upper and lower sections of the Grand Canyon and is the best way to see everything the Grand Canyon National Park has to offer. Shortly after you depart Lees Ferry, you’ll enter the Roaring 20s, a well-known rapids system that contains some of the Colorado River’s most formidable rapids. This will be your first real experience with Class V rapids in the Colorado River. Fortunately, you’ll have ample opportunity to enjoy lots more whitewater rafting during a full Grand Canyon trip. If fierce whitewater river rafting isn’t enough, there are dozens of other highlights you can look forward to, from the turquoise blue waters at the confluence of the Little Colorado River to the towering canyon systems of Elves Chasm and Redwall Cavern. If you have any questions during your trip, your river guides are full of knowledge and always happy to share what they know about the ecology, geology, and history of the Grand Canyon.
All food and camping equipment is included in the cost of your trip, leaving you with one less thing to worry about when planning your adventure. While you choose a spot to set up your camping gear, your river guides will be busy cooking you a delicious dinner. After dinner, you and your raft mates can settle in with a warm drink and take in the awe-inspiring night sky. The following morning, you’ll wake up to a hot breakfast, fresh coffee, and an impeccable Grand Canyon sunrise.
On the last day of your trip, you will be transported out of the Grand Canyon from one of the three take-out points listed above. Where you end your trip will depend on your outfitter. Regardless of your take-out point, your return transportation will take you to either Page, Las Vegas, or back to your starting location. The latter option presents an excellent opportunity to extend your trip and explore some of the Grand Canyon National Park’s other attractions. The National Park Service maintains a wide range of tourist facilities along both the North and South Rim ?— popular attractions include the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the Canyon Vistas Mule Ride, and the rim-to-rim hiking trail.
Full Grand Canyon Rafting Trip Outfitters
The Grand Canyon National Park Service provides a comprehensive list of reliable outfitters for full Grand Canyon rafting trips, each with varying itineraries and trip lengths.
If you’re considering a rafting expedition in the Grand Canyon, Advantage Grand Canyon is the best place to go for advice on outfitters, route selection, raft type, and trip duration. We offer trips from all of the 15 top outfitters so you may shop them all and get the best trip for the best price RIGHT HERE! Our free and easy-to-use trip planner makes it easy to understand and compare the vast range of trip options.
Transportation Options for Full Canyon Colorado River Rafting
Transportation: Meeting locations depend on itineraries which vary from one outfitter to the next. Return transportation also depends on some trips to end at the South Rim, while others include transportation to Flagstaff.
Las Vegas, NV: Trip may start here or you may use as a hub and take a charter flight to Marble Canyon if the trip begins there
Marble Canyon, AZ: Fly to Las Vegas, Charter flight to Marble Canyon or Drive from Las Vegas to Marble Canyon (4.5 hours) or from Phoenix to Marble Canyon (4 hours)
Page, AZ: Fly into Page by way of Phoenix, or arrive in Phoenix and drive to Page 4.5 hours
Flagstaff, AZ: Fly into Flagstaff, or drive from Phoenix via car or shuttle service (2-4 hours) or from Las Vegas via car or shuttle service (4-6 hours)
Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Rafting on the Colorado River
The whole point of traveling is to experience transformation; of the mind, body, and spirit.
For those looking to squeeze the maximum amount of joy, laughter, and exhilaration from their next on-water adventure, few options come close to Grand Canyon rafting.
So, what does Grand Canyon rafting have to offer?
It’s safe to say that Grand Canyon rafting offers an experience like no other on the planet.
Not only will you be experiencing 300 miles of raging whitewater of the Colorado River, but you will also be navigating through the twists and turns of the roiling rapids while being sandwiched between a mile-high canyon made up of a billion years (2.5 billion to be exact) worth of the earth’s crust.
The experience itself is enough to humble the most ardent of adventurers, which is exactly what makes this an excursion of a lifetime.
Grand Canyon rafting takes you on a heart-pumping adventure through scenic landscapes you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyplace else.
An action-packed rafting trip will bring you face-to-face with the infamous Class VI+ whitewater of the Colorado River, where you’ll have multiple chances to experience the truly exhilarating rapids as your boat rushes forward between the towering canyon walls.
Since we’re guessing you won’t find the time to think about the nitty-gritty of the trip as you’re hanging on for dear life and double-guessing your decision, this is going to be the quintessential guide on Grand Canyon rafting.
So, without any further ado, let’s get started.
How Much Does a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip Cost? (On Average)
The best way to experience the majesty of the Grand Canyon is not by taking a road trip, but by getting your hands dirty with Grand Canyon rafting.
While they say, “The best things in life are free.” Unfortunately, whoever said that clearly wasn’t talking about vacations.
The good news is, Grand Canyon rafting doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Here, we are going to break down the cost of white water rafting in the Grand Canyon.
It should be noted here that the cost of the trip will mainly depend on where you’re coming from.
If you’re planning on a multi-day rafting trip to the Grand Canyon, then you will probably first need to get to Las Vegas.
Fares to Sin City tend to be lower from August to October, which also incidentally happens to be the best time for rafting.
However, it should be noted that planning your Grand Canyon rafting trip in August will coincide with the monsoon season while waiting for October to make the trip will be one of the cooler months for a Grand Canyon rafting excursion.
Of course, the actual cost of flying to Las Vegas is mainly going to depend on where you are flying from, so you will need to do your research to find the cheapest flight options according to your budget.
The cost of your Grand Canyon rafting is also going to depend on several other factors as well.
That’s because there are different licensed companies that offer Grand Canyon rafting trips all through the year at varying price tags.
This is also partly because of the fact that while some of these tour providers offer a low-frills, budget-friendly option, others offer a Grand Canyon rafting experience that comes with all the bells and whistles, such as, helicopter drop-offs into the canyon, overnight stays at a ranch, and other activities.
Regardless of the outfitter you choose to go with, the fare will include all rafting and camping gear, including meals.
Another thing that you will need to factor into the cost is whether you will be going for a motorized, rowing, or paddling option, which can also have an impact on the cost.
Here’s a short breakdown of the options that are available for Grand Canyon rafting.
Different Raft Types
Motorized rafts can have a length of up to 35 feet, and can carry up to 15 passengers at a time.
These boats are powered by a four-stroke outboard motor, which helps drive the boat and its occupants forward.
Since the captain is entirely responsible for steering the raft, it does not take any effort by the participants, as compared to the paddle or oar options.
A motorized boat also means that you can travel farther down the Colorado River as compared to using a non-motorized raft.
While motor rafts have more space and are faster, it isn’t the best option for those who are looking forward to taking in the sights and sounds of rafting down the Colorado River.
An oar is a smaller raft that can only carry up to eight passengers at a time. Since the oar is rowed by the guide and the passengers aren’t required to paddle, it makes for a thrilling and stress-free experience.
Similar to an oar-type raft, a paddle-type raft can also carry no more than eight passengers at a time.
Normally, a single paddle raft and four oar rafts are used in rotation amongst the passengers during a Grand Canyon rafting tour.
This makes the trip more fun and also allows the passengers to take rest in the oar boats once they are tired from all the paddling.
A dory raft is another option that you can take advantage of. A dory raft is made from solid hardwood and is a traditional way of rafting down the Colorado River.
Not only is a dory raft agile, but it also allows you to travel a bit faster as compared to oar rafts.
Similar to an oar raft, the guide is going to be responsible for rowing the dory while passengers can sit back and soak in the beautiful 360-degree views.
Dory rafts are not an option that’s offered by many outfitters because of their small size (can only fit up to 4 passengers at a time), so you will need to find out in advance if the outfitter you’re going with is offering Grand Canyon rafting in a dory.
Contrary to popular belief, human-propelled options such as paddling and rowing are going to cost you more when it comes to Grand Canyon rafting, as compared to motor trips.
This is partly because both rowing and paddling trips take longer and require more effort.
The duration of the trip is also going to be another major factor to consider when it comes to how much you will need to fork up for the Grand Canyon rafting trip.
Normally, a 5-day excursion will cost you anywhere between $1,800 and $2,000 per person. Going for a longer trip, such as a 15-day trip will cost you around $4,500.
Regardless of when you plan on making the Grand Canyon rafting trip, you’re going to need the right rain gear, which is going to include both rain jackets and rain pants.
This is because you are most likely going to get drenched regardless of whether it rains during your trip or not.
That said, spontaneous downpours aren’t unheard of in the Grand Canyon, so it’s best that you go prepared. A good rain jacket and rain pants will cost you around $250 a pop.
There aren’t any rentals offered, and even if they were, we suggest you make the investment and get yourself a clean pair of the rain jacket and pants you’re going to wear during your Grand Canyon rafting trip.
Wearing just any boots won’t do when you’re going whitewater rafting. You are going to need a good pair of hiking boots that will help you keep your balance and keep your feet protected at all times during your trip.
Investing in good quality hiking boots is going to be essential since the majority of outfitters begin their trip with a long hike into the depths of the canyon.
Chances are, you may also have to make your way back by hiking up steep, rocky terrain.
There are also many tour operators who use side hikes through the canyon as an added advantage of booking their tour services, so you best be prepared for the long hike ahead.
A good pair of sturdy, hiking boots should cost you around $150.
A pro-tip for getting hiking boots for a Grand Canyon rafting trip is to make sure that the boots you wear have been broken-in and will be able to take on the rocks, gravel, and uneven surfaces during the trip.
A good pair of water shoes should cost you around $85 and will be an investment worth making.
As tempting as it might be to wear your flip-flops while Grand Canyon rafting, you will be more comfortable in a pair of quick-drying water sandals.
Another great reason to invest in a good pair of water shoes is that while navigating your way through the rocks, rough surfaces, and rougher waters, all while carrying a heavy backpack, you will find yourself getting in and out of the water more times than you can remember.
Water shoes are a great way to ensure that not only your feet stay protected while you’re Grand Canyon rafting, but also that the boat doesn’t get damaged with the spikes under your hiking boots.
Needless to say, you will find little to no shade during your whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River.
This is why protecting your skin against the harmful UV rays should be a priority. Besides, you wouldn’t want to end up with a nasty sunburn at the end of a glorious Grand Canyon rafting trip, now would you?
The best way to beat the heat while on a Grand Canyon rafting trip is to use plenty of sunscreen and lip balm that has SPF.
It is also advised to take along a hat, cap or bandana, and sunglasses with a safety strap, and stay hydrated to keep yourself protected from the sun.
Sun protection should cost you another $75, but you’re going to be glad you made the investment.
How Many People Raft the Grand Canyon (Annually?)
It is without a doubt that white water rafting is the best way to experience not only the Grand Canyon National Park but the entire stretch of the Colorado River.
Seeing that Grand Canyon rafting makes it to the top of the list of most thrill-seekers, it comes as no surprise that more than 20,000 people float through the canyon every year.
One of the reasons why Grand Canyon rafting is such a popular trip for seasoned thrill-seekers and vacationers alike is that it allows you to travel through time through millions of years of geologic history as the raft plunges through the raging whitewater of the Colorado River.
Trip lengths can range from a few days to up to 21 days, where passengers descend deeper into the gorge and reach the Precambrian rock of the Vishnu Schist, which is the innermost part of the canyon, and is estimated to be around two billion years old.
In the past, those who were seeking the exhilarating experience of Grand Canyon rafting could organize a private tour by themselves after signing on a waiting list to get a permit.
Even then, due to the increased demand by adventurers and thrill-seekers from around the world, the process oftentimes takes years before your name comes up on the list for a permit.
In 2006, a new law was passed by the National Park Service, which decided to introduce a weighted lottery, which was to take place every year.
Outfitters who wish to take part in this annual weighted lottery can do so every February.
Currently, there are only 16 outfitters who operate along the Colorado River and organize Grand Canyon rafting excursions for adventure seekers.
Is Rafting the Grand Canyon Dangerous?
Back in the day, in the 1930s, thrill-seekers who ventured out on the majestic Colorado River had around a 1000-fold higher risk of not making it to the other side, as compared to adventure seekers of today.
This is also a reason for the increase in demand for Grand Canyon rafting through the years. That being said, the short answer to the question will be – yes and no.
Contrary to popular belief, when gauging the danger level of white water rafting in the Colorado River, you do not necessarily need to factor in where you’re going to be jumping into the water from.
For instance, there are six dams along the length of the Colorado River, which are located above the Grand Canyon (this includes the Glen Canyon Dam, which is the biggest of all).
This significantly reduces the amount of water due to loss from irrigation, along with the evaporation phenomenon on the lakes behind the dams.
Additionally, the dams also help moderate the flow of the water in the Colorado River, so there’s less variation in the roughness of the river between spring peaks and summer minimums.
It should also be mentioned here that it has been an extremely long while since the flow of the Colorado River reached its exit, which is in the Pacific Ocean in Mexico.
This is one of the reasons why the Colorado River is considered to be somewhat tame today, as compared to the time the early explorers attempted to go through the Grand Canyon in their rafts.
That being said, the flow of the water at any time of the year still remains to be fairly constant thanks to the six dams above the Colorado River.
This has also resulted in far tamer rapids, and consequently, the risks of death while Grand Canyon rafting.
The more dangerous rafting trip can be had at Lake Powell before the Glen Canyon Dam, by taking the rafting trip from Moab, Utah, down the Cataract Canyon, which features more variable water flows.
In fact, during spring and fall season, it’s possible to experience multiple Class-V rapids above Glen Canyon Dam, which pose a risk, but not so much when going Grand Canyon rafting.
So, in short, rafting in the Grand Canyon is a relatively safe experience thanks to modern technology and experienced tour operators.
The good news is…
The guides who take you out on a Grand Canyon rafting trip are usually Wilderness EMTs, which basically means that they are licensed for dealing with various medical emergencies while in the wilderness.
While your mobile phone might not find a signal while out in the open, tour operators are equipped with satellite phones and have access to a medical professional should the need arise.
This means, if you do meet with any danger during your Grand Canyon rafting trip, the tour guide can easily use their skills to carry out some medical treatment or use their satellite phone to call in a MedEvac helicopter, which can have you in a hospital within an hour.
So, there’s really no need to worry about the danger of going on a Grand Canyon rafting trip. In fact, the biggest danger you would be faced with (and people usually are) is dehydration and exhaustion.
Is Upper or Lower Grand Canyon Rafting Better?
When answering the question of whether you should go on a Grand Canyon rafting trip in the upper or lower Grand Canyon, it mainly depends on one’s personal preferences.
That said, some prefer upper canyon because you get to see the magnificent canyon walls rise above you.
If you choose the upper canyon, you will begin your Grand Canyon rafting trip at Lee’s Ferry and end after around 89 miles.
Along the way, you will get to view some amazing Native American history, and the guide will usually share the background story of the area you will be passing.
The Lower Canyon will start around mile 89 on the river and will end at around mile 225, and also offers plenty of sights and sounds as your raft rushes through the roiling torrents.
The best way to know what you are getting into when considering a Grand Canyon rafting excursion is to get familiar with the lay of the land.
For instance, the Colorado River is divided into lower and upper sections (but you already knew that), which comprises of various river bodies.
These river bodies can be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of miles in length, which is why it’s impossible to complete a rafting trip along the entire length of the Colorado River.
For those thrill-seekers who want to have the complete experience of Grand Canyon rafting, outfitters offer longer trips, which can range between 14 to 21 days.
This usually involves paddling through the tedious journey, which begins at Lee’s Ferry and ends at Diamond Creek, which is a whopping 8,340 miles apart.
The Colorado River is one of the longest rivers in the U.S., which is why it comes as no surprise that some sections of the river are not considered to be entirely safe for rafting.
That said, there are many Grand Canyon rafting enthusiasts who consider on-water excursions on both upper and lower parts of the canyon.
It is important to note that the headwater of the Colorado River is at La Poudre Pass Lake, which is a tiny lake in the Rocky Mountains located in Northern Colorado.
What makes the Colorado River unique is that the river’s mainstream is actually more suitable for beginner rafters, which is unlike most other upper and lower basins.
Once you have crossed the La Poudre Pass Lake, you will enter straight into the deepest part of the river – Grand Lake, which is located in Grand County.
This is widely considered to be one of the best destinations for summer holidays when considering Grand Canyon rafting.
Also, since kayaking is easy at Grand Lake, it is another major on-water activity that’s enjoyed by families and thrill-seekers alike.
Grand Lake is also home to some awesome views of giant pine trees and beautiful lakefront homes that come complete with their own dockyards and boats.
Working your way down Grand Lake, you will find your first real obstacle in the form of Gore Canyon.
This is located at the upper Colorado River at Northwest Grand County and is not for the faint-hearted.
The aptly named Gore Canyon has many difficult Class V rapids, which only makes it more suitable for skilled rafters and kayakers.
Once you’ve passed that, you will be met by Glenwood Springs Canyon, which is the lower section of the Colorado River.
This section is divided into three parts; Barrel Springs, which is a rough and dry section that can easily push you to the limits.
Shoshone and Grizzly Creek Canyons are next and also pose a formidable challenge.
After Shoshone is Glenwood Spring Canyon, where you should experience Class-II and Class-IV rapids.
This is one of the reasons why many thrill-seekers who are looking to get the ultimate experience while Grand Canyon rafting come to this area and beyond.
Those who wish to paddle through this section will need Class-IV skills to survive.
It goes without saying that you are going to need a permit to paddle in this area of the Colorado River (along with the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Westwater, Cataract, Ruby, and Horse Thief Canyons in Utah).
What is the Best Time of Year to Raft the Grand Canyon?
The best time to go to the Grand Canyon rafting will depend on the weather and your personal preference.
It should be noted that rafting downstream from the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring experience regardless of the time of year.
Commercial Grand Canyon rafting trips are usually offered between April and October. Apart from that, there are several “mini-seasons” that occur between these seven months.
It is important to keep in mind these minute changes in weather if you want to have the best experience possible while Grand Canyon rafting.
For instance, April and October are considered cold months for on-water excursions on the Colorado River, which average highs of up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit and average lows of up to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
But, traveling during April will give you a chance of spotting wild spring flowers that cover the majority of the landscape of the Canyon.
The first two weeks of May and September are when the temperature begins to warm up at the Grand Canyon and is more suitable for those who do not want to go Grand Canyon rafting in the cold.
Average temperatures during this time can go up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The month of June is the hottest in the Grand Canyon, with temperatures exceeding 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The months of July and August are considered to be monsoon season in the Grand Canyon.
This is also the time when water into the Colorado River is being released the most to accommodate electricity demands, which results in a high-water level.
It should be noted here that more water doesn’t necessarily translate to a greater Grand Canyon rafting experience.
This is why it’s best to consult with your tour operator before planning a whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River.
How Long is the Wait to Raft the Grand Canyon?
Whitewater rafting on the Colorado River is considered to be the ultimate thrill-seeking experience, so it should be no surprise that you might have to wait in line to experience Grand Canyon rafting.
If you are looking to enjoy Grand Canyon rafting on the Colorado River, you could start with a Canyon River Adventure Tour, or go for a picturesque float trip in Glen Canyon, or a one-day white water tour offered by the native Hualapai Nation at Peach Springs, Arizona.
If you’re looking for longer tour options of the Grand Canyon, then you best contact any one of the 16 White Water Concessionaires for the Grand Canyon National Park.
Another factor to keep in mind is that rafting trips that take place within the Grand Canyon National park have a few things in common, such as, they are all whitewater trips, which will get you face-to-face with some of the biggest rapids in the world.
You will also need to take out anywhere between 4 to 20 days for a Grand Canyon rafting trip within the Grand Canyon National Park.
But, the most important factor to consider is that these trips need to be booked at least a year in advance.
However, for those who are not looking to go on a multi-day Grand Canyon rafting trip or face the torrents, there are other single-day options, which are organized outside the Grand Canyon National Park, which does not take so long.
How Long Does It Take to Float the Grand Canyon?
Dams have been built on the Western and Eastern ends of the Grand Canyon, as in, the Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam.
These offer easy access points for families and thrill-seekers who are looking to scratch the itch of rafting through the Grand Canyon.
However, these regulated river flows (due to the dams) makes for what is known as “float trips.” These are on-water adventure trips that do not traverse on any rapids.
These float trips are roughly half a day long and can also be taken by children and seniors since the average rapids on these trips range from Class 2 to Class 3 (Grand Canyon/Colorado River rapids use a1-10 scale and not 1-6 scale like other rivers).
The Colorado River Discovery out of Page, AZ, is a great example of a float trip in the Grand Canyon.
Since the flow at the Grand Canyon is moderated by the Glen Canyon Dam at 10k to 20k FPS, this makes for a 4-mile an hour float downriver.
Grand Canyon rafting trips for a one-day float trip in Arizona or a multi-day excursion starts off bright and early with a pickup from your hotel or a designated area by the outfitters.
In case of a single-day trip, a motor coach ride along the East Rim Drive of the Grand Canyon and through the Navajo Indian Reservation will get you to the location where the Grand Canyon rafting trip begins.
But, not before you’ve got a view of the rugged escarpments of the Echo Cliffs and Chinle Rock formations that are unique to the Painted Desert.
Once at Page, Arizona, you’ll be transported to the base of the Glen Canyon Dam from where your tour will start.
A multi-day Grand Canyon rafting excursion that’s pro-fitted starts at Lee’s Ferry and ends at Diamond Creek.
The trip takes you through roughly 226 miles of the Colorado River and takes around 18 days to complete.
Colorado River Drought Affecting Rafting Trips
Every rafter’s dream comes true when they find themselves basking in the sun on the banks of the Colorado River. The river leaps and jumps through the rock gardens next to the shore. Most times, rafting trips start smoothly when rafters are pushed off the upstream launch ramp. When the fun begins, your heartbeats could be heightened to conquer the rapids of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. And that is one of the things that make river rafting a popular recreation.
What happened to Wild Colorado?
In 1919, Congress established the National Park with no dams in view to slow the river down. It rushed through the Colorado Basin, after making its way to the rough mountains, and finally to the ramparts of several layers of the Grand Canyon. Back then, the flow of the river water was only controlled by the snowmelt through the mountains during spring seasons.
Back then, reports show that the early 1900s, 1940s, and 1980s had the maximum flow. However, the last 60 years changed wild Colorado due to climate change and consequent developments along the way.
The health of the Colorado River starts to degrade about 700 miles far at the headwaters on the western lower basin of Rocky Mountain National Park. The river’s health worsens as we move from there to the languid Lake Powell across the Glen Canyon Dam. From there, almost everything started going downhill, thereby making it hard for some people to enjoy their normal rafting recreation.
The Importance of the Colorado River
The Colorado River is considered the center of many things in the region. It is not only the breadwinner for many families but also the lifeblood of Colorado. For the tribes too, it is the backbone of all their lives. Their lives have been compromised due to climate change and dams trying to strangle the river and rob it of its ecology.
What is happening to the Colorado River?
The lives of the people in the upper and lower basin states are in jeopardy due to the long droughts in the Southwest and have started since the starting period of the 21st century. The upper basin states saw a declining tourist traffic and raft trips due to the long drought stretches, especially from 2002 to 2005 and 2012 to 2020. Moreover, the reduction of snowfall in the headwaters of the river has greatly affected the flow of the Colorado River.
Is rafting still possible in the Colorado River?
So, here comes the big question, whether rafting is possible in the Colorado River. Even after long-lasting droughts, there is enough water and plenty of flow in the Colorado River to support rafting trips and adventures in a normal season.
Many rapid rivers in the Grand Canyon are more adventurous, rockier, and challenging during the low flows. Some rapids also throw bigger waves when there is lower flow and are calmer during the high flow rafting season. Whether the flows are low or high, it is always exciting to have a rafting experience in Grand Canyon Park and Lake Powell.
On top of all this, the United States government controls hydroelectric power, which has allowed around 8.23 million acre-feet of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon dam and then to the Grand Canyon National park. This figure is also set to reduce further by almost a million-acre due to the receding snowmelt. The life of the river and the economy of the river basin states have been greatly affected by the drought.
Why is the Colorado River becoming dangerous?
Rafting in Colorado is in a dire stage as people won’t face death or serious accidents due to drowning as it happened years ago.
There is also another side of this coin. Years ago, the rampant flow of the Colorado River carried sediments and sands through the way to the river basin. These materials are eminent for building and re-building beaches and sandbars. But, in recent times, the sediments are trapped behind the dams of the lower basin.
What is drought?
Drought, as defined by the United States Geological Survey(USGS) is a period when the state is in drier than usual conditions that result in water-related problems. Drought is characterized by a reduction of precipitation, such as sleet, snow, or rain, for the given period, hence resulting in water shortage in the area. Assuming this is your first time, this is something that needs consideration when you are planning for the next rafting season.
What are the general causes of drought?
There are several causes of drought. Some of them are listed below:
- Natural causes: Sometimes droughts occur naturally. Since years ago, humankind has witnessed natural-occurring droughts which are heightened by the cyclones, or excess amount of heat in the land and sea.
- Altering weather patterns: The circulation of air in the atmosphere has highly altered the distribution of precipitation all over the world. The air circulation patterns are affected due to the anomaly in surface temperature.
- Increasing water demands: Drought can be caused due to the irregularity in the demand and supply of water. The increase in the demand for water to sustain the human race and agricultural practices has caused droughts in recent years.
- Soil degradation and deforestation: Trees are very important for all aspects of our ecosystem. They are vital for the release of moisture in the atmosphere and to maintain the water balance in the atmosphere. Due to the constant destruction of the forests by humans, droughts have increased in recent years. As the vegetation and forests have hugely reduced in recent years, less water is available for the water cycle. This hampers the entire ecosystem and makes the areas vulnerable to droughts.
- Global warming: The term does not need any explanation. The planet is being heated at startling rates which can be one of the primary reasons for the long-lasting droughts.
- Climate change: The increasing temperature is impacting the climate and weather of several regions. They make the dry areas drier and the wet areas wetter. This also leads to an increase in natural calamities like cyclones, tornados, and droughts.
What are the general effects of drought?
Droughts are known to have some dangerous effects on mankind. Some of them are listed below.
- Famine and hunger: Droughts often result in scarcity of water in regions and hence there is very little water for irrigation and all agricultural purposes. Due to lack of natural rain, the land remains dry for long periods which ultimately destroys the food crops. Therefore, longer periods of drought can cause famine and cause severe issues for the region.
- Scarcity of clean drinking water: The droughts eventually imply that there is not enough water to use or drink. This compels people to drink water from unclean sources and degrade their health. The deficiency of clean water also means that there is not enough water to maintain personal hygiene or public sanitation that causes serious health issues. Several people die due to the lack of access to sanitation and clean water.
- Wildlife also suffers: The region which suffers from droughts often has low precipitation and moisture. This causes dangerous situations in the forests and fires that might cause deaths and property damage. This also leads to a shortage of food supplies. The wild animals also face scarcity of water and are bound to invade human properties in search of water. This is life-threatening and creates havoc among the people.
- Power cuts: Most people in the world are dependent on hydroelectric power for electricity. Droughts generally reduce the water in the reservoirs behind dams for creating hydroelectric power. This often turns out to be problematic for smaller and under-developed regions that are generally dependent on one turbine for their power supply.
- Relocation and migration: Many people and even animals try to relocate and settle in other places so they have enough food, less disease and conflicts, and a better supply of water.
What are the effects of drought on the Colorado River?
If the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon National Park became lower than people can navigate, then most southwestern communities face huge issues to start with. The rafting industry will be hampered due to a reduction in tourism revenue. But above all, the whole region can face long years of droughts and/or climate change.
The situation must be handled with precision planning and execution. The changes in the water conservation methods will ensure that the coming generations can also enjoy rafting adventures in the Colorado River.
Are changes possible for the Colorado River and basin states?
There are several interest groups and stakeholders who use their brains, power, and money for the Colorado River water. The changes which are planned in the Colorado River and the basin states by the stakeholders are a long legal affair and will also hamper the water municipalities and management of both the lower basin states and upper basin states.
Even if Colorado River plans are changed frequently. The lower basin states like California, Arizona, Mexico, and Indigenous tribes will suffer a shortage of water and related problems as there won’t be enough water for the upper basin states too. Also, if the changes are implemented, then there won’t be enough water current or flow for rafting to be possible through the Grand Canyon.
As of today, it is observed that the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon National park flows at a good rate after the service to the dams. It has only experienced a slight reduction in the flow from the last couple of years.
Furthermore, it is also estimated that the flow will be similar in the coming years if the federal laws are not altered. As long as the snow melts and enough water is contained in the reservoirs, the Colorado river basin and Lake Powell will not run dry. Possibly, there will be enough water for irrigation in the southern states. Also, the water in the river flows at a good rate even during low flows, so rafting in the Colorado river basin is not going to stop any time soon.
For the year 2021, it is estimated that the required amount of 8.23 million acre-feet of water will flow to the lower basin states of the river in the remaining time of the year. Will climate change affect this? It is left for us to find out.
The locals have seen the worse
The locals who rely solely on the raft adventures are not new to fewer visitors in a particular rafting season. They have dealt with hotter and drier weather due to climate change which had a worse effect on them than the pandemic.
The water resources are highly affected by the dry conditions since last year. The northeastern Yampa river is among those to receive the lowest flow. The below-average snowmelt has led to drier conditions. The locals are well aware of the drought since 2002 and have been planning accordingly.
Now, the focus has been shifted from rafting and kayaking for a few months and then to fishing and other recreational activities.
Some steps to tackle the drought
However, there has been some help from various businesses and foundations to improve the conditions of the Colorado River waters. They have planned to release the water from the upstream reservoir so that the flow increases downstream. Besides, cottonwood trees are planted to cool the river down by providing shade. These efforts are likely to increase the water flow in the coming years.
Are people still interested in the rafting experience in Grand Canyon Park?
Despite the water being at its lowest, children and raft enthusiasts continue to flock the waters. One whitewater rafting company official said that when you are dependent on mother nature for your living, you are in a relationship with the turbulent weather. They also said that after the pandemic, the increase in demand will be a redemption from last year.
Is rafting possible in the Colorado River?
So, here comes the big question, whether rafting is possible in the Colorado River. Even after long-lasting droughts, there is enough water and plenty of flow in the Colorado River to support rafting trips and adventures. Many rapid rivers in the Grand Canyon are more adventurous, rockier, and challenging during the low flows.
Some rapids also throw bigger waves when there is lower flow and are calmer during the high water flow rafting season. Whether the flows are low or high, it is always exciting to have a rafting experience in Grand Canyon Park. When you are ready for the fun, you can get in touch with Advantage Grand Canyon to book your rafting trip. We can help you plan a perfect trip during the high water and low water rafting seasons.
What are the things to consider when planning a rafting trip?
The river atmosphere and environment are extremely fluctuating whether they are found in the mountains, plains, or valleys.
Several factors influence the water that flows through the lower or upper basin. Basic things like flow rate, clarity, and water levels must be considered as they vary with environmental causes like temperature, snowmelt, and rain. Like I have seen most times, the water levels vary with four different seasons. The rainstorms and snowmelt are the primary factors affecting this. The companies suggest the best time to visit the river for their rafting experience.
What causes the water levels to fluctuate?
As the river through the grand canyon is heavily influenced by the mountains, these are some factors that cause the water levels to fluctuate.
- Snowmelt: Those who are not aware of the way in the mountains might not understand how the snow that fell in December can influence the river in June. This is basically how the mountains determine the flow of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. During the colder months, the depth of snow is primary in determining the flow of the Colorado River water during the colder months. The deep snow is the main reason to decide how much water will flow through the river, streams, and the upper and lower basin states.
- Controller flow: The dams in the Colorado river enable people to manipulate the flow of the water. On popular rafting rivers like the Arkansas River through Grand Canyon park, the dams control the rate of flow to provide the best rafting experience. If you know about the cubic feet per second(CFS) for rafting of a river, then you can plan the trip for you or your family accordingly. For headers, 700 CFS is a medium flow rate while 2500 CGS is a higher flow rate for the Colorado River.
How do the Colorado River water levels look for planning a rafting trip this year?
The weather patterns of previous years highly influence the water levels of this year. The Colorado summers generally lead to a predictable monsoon season. The warm air from Mexico is coupled with the dry, cold air in the Colorado Rockies.
Therefore, July and August see regular thunderstorm activities. In 2020, lesser rains led to drought conditions in the lower and upper basin states.
But, the snowpack for 2020-21 looked good. Although they started slow, they picked up pace in February and March. The wetter spring added to the overall water and snowpack in the mountains. Things look better as the weather is warming the snow faster than usual and higher flows are expected sooner than usual.
By the later part of June, the snowpack will completely melt and most regions will rely on the rain to accelerate downstream. We have seen some experts suggest that monsoon moisture will be evident in increasing the water flow in the river through the Grand Canyon in the summer months. These are some of the factors to consider when you are planning a Colorado River rafting trip.
Do higher flows mean better Rapids?
Several factors determine whether the higher water ensures better rapids or not. The river dynamics like waterfalls and rapids are greatly influenced by the rising waters. Finally, it comes down to personal preference whether you choose the lower conditions or high water rapids. What we suggest to our rafting trip clients is to consider your risk tolerance, especially with all things outdoor adventures.
The increased water flows cause the rapids to grow larger. They hold colder water and develop strong currents.
That said, the higher water calls for more challenging rafting experiences. Those who are adventurous in rafting prefer these hardcore conditions during higher waters.
We have always observed that higher water is better for bigger and stronger rapids but it might not be ideal for rafting. The high water often creates fewer waves as the factors affecting the waves are much under the water now. So, the river tends to get smoother resulting in lesser hydraulics or waves. This also leads to faster rafting trips which means less time to enjoy the scenic beauty of the waters.
Again, early weather conditions or cold water means that you need extra wetsuits which may not convenient for most people. Here are some of the reasons we recommend a detailed grand canyon rafting trip itinerary. From the rafting trip cost to required materials and safety measures, Advantage Grand Canyon can help you plan a fun-filled outdoor experience.
Why choose Advantage Grand Canyon for your river rafting trip?
The Advantage Grand Canyon is a specialized tour guide and rafting trip booking company that plans the Grand Canyon rafting experience in every season and on every route. We are specialists and plan the trip according to the requirements of the tourist.
When is the ideal time to go river rafting in the Colorado River?
The ideal time to go rafting often varies from person to person. It hugely depends on your skill level and interests. For adventurous junkies, the early summer or late spring is the ideal season with higher water levels. As for families or beginners, the late summer seems more appropriate when the water levels come down to the medium level.
The most popular rafting months have always been June and July in the Colorado River waters. During these summer months, the snowpack melts and there is stronger downstream flow due to the snow of the last winter.
Also, these heavy streams are responsible for filling the watersheds of the Arkansas River. So, to enjoy the high waters of the Colorado River, June and early July are the best times.
As the summer months approached late July, August, and September, the river experienced medium flow as most of the snowpack had already melted by that time. The slower rafting conditions might not be suitable for the adrenaline junkies but make for a perfect family rafting experience. The Royal Gorge in August and September is perfect for small crowds and calmer waters.
What is your preferred raft?
If you are planning to travel with Advantage Grand Canyon, then you can choose between motorized and non-motorized rafts according to your preference. Let’s have a look at each of them.
Motorized rafting trips: These trips are available in 11 out of the 15 Grand Canyon Rivers. Motor trips are more popular than manual raft trips and there are several reasons for it. It saves both energy and time and allows you to cover larger distances.
With minimal effort, it enables you to experience the exciting rapids, breathtaking side canyons, ancient geographical figures, and stunning sceneries. You can also explore diverse fields and places of attraction across the Colorado River. Many people wonder whether the motor-controlled raft will be as exciting as the non-motorized one.
In this case, you won’t be paddling your raft personally but your trip will be as adventurous if not more. You can choose to sit in front or center according to your preference when going through the rocking rapids of the Colorado River.
You can also enjoy the raft ride while the tour guide does all the control of the steering of the raft. The motorized is perfect for families and individuals who do not have experience in rafting. You can also enjoy several other activities when you are traveling through a motorized raft-like exploring hidden caves and waterfalls, hiking the side canyons.
You can also discover the exotic flora and fauna of the Grand Canyon National park. For any questions related to the geology or wildlife of the canyon, you can feel free to ask the river expert and be amazed by their responses.
Non-motorized rafting trips: Non-motorized rafting is for the traditional and more authentic rafting experience. These rafts are smaller in size and lighter in weight. As they are self-controlled, it takes more time to navigate through the Colorado river waters. When you want to explore the canyon with non-motorized rafts, there are four different options for you.
- Oar raft trip: This is the most popular rafting type and is allowed by 12 to 15 outfitters. These rafts are suitable for calmer waters of the Colorado River. It is a small raft that is 18-foot long and allows the tourists to experience the rapids to their full potential. The passengers might take charge of the steering from time to time but mostly the river guide is at the center of the raft and controls the steering and movement of the raft. These rafts are powered by the oars. Their maximum speed is 4mph.
- Paddle raft trip: This is a smaller raft option and can accommodate around 4 out of 15 outfitter options. It is physically the most exhausting rafting experience. The river guide will provide you with a small paddle and educate you on the ways to control, speed up and speed down the raft. This raft is ideal for 4 to 8 tourists at one time. This raft is suitable for slow-paced calmer waters as it is much smaller than oar-powered or motorized rafts.
- Hybrid raft trip: This is also a small raft type and can accommodate from 4 out of 15 outfitters. As the name suggests, this raft has 4 oars and 1 paddle raft which could be used for rotation by the passengers. One outfitter also provides inflatable kayaks.
- Dory Raft Trip: This is also a smaller rafting type. It is offered by 5 out of 15 outfitters. The small size makes the raft more agile and allows the tourists to experience the rapids more closely.
How much time do you need for the rafting experience of a lifetime?
When you are trusting Advantage Grand Canyon for your rafting experience, you are offered various durations for rafting. They are all listed below.
- Short trip(3-5 days): If you are running low with time and still want to experience camping and rafting in Colorado in just a few days. This trip only offers motorized raft types in the upper and lower canyon and non-motorized raft types in the Western routes. Here, you can enjoy hikes at the start and end of the trip for upper and lower routes but you cannot include the hikes in the Western Canyon route within this time.
Canyon routes offered: Lower, Upper or Western routes of Grand Canyon
Raft types offered: Motor rafts(for Lower or Upper routes) and Oar or Dory rafts(for Western routes)
- Medium length trip(6-9 days): This trip will enable you to see the upper or lower route of the Grand Canyon in a non-motorized canyon or you can also see the full canyon if you are going for the motorized raft. The non-motor raft trips include long hikes at the start and end of the trips but the motor trips or the Full Canyon trips do not include the long hikes.
Canyon routes offered: Lower, Upper, or Full routes of Grand Canyon
Raft types offered: Motor rafts and all kinds of non-motor rafts like paddle, oar, hybrid, or dory
- Long trip(12-18 days): This trip only allows non-motor rafts so that you can enjoy the Full Canyon within the span of 12-18 days. All the non-motor options like Dory, Hybrid, Oar, or Paddle. Also, there are no longer hikes required at the start or the end of the Full Grand Canyon trips.
Canyon routes offered: Full Canyon
Raft types offered: No motor rafts, all kinds of non-motor rafts like oar, paddle, dory, and hybrid.
What are Grand Canyon routes available for river rafting?
There are various combinations of travel points and the Advantage Grand Canyon offers 4 different routes for rafting in the Colorado River. There is more than one exit location for most routes so there can be different duration according to different outfitters.
For instance, one outfitter can raft by covering 180 miles in just 6 days of the Full Canyon while the other outfitter can cover 280 miles in the river in the duration of 8 days. For a full idea, let us look at the different routes.
- Full Canyon: This is a long trip that starts at 0 river mile(AZ, Marble Canyon, Lees Ferry) and ends at one of the three exit points 188 river miles(helicopter exit-Whitmore Wash), 225 river miles(drive exit- Diamond Creek) or 280 river miles(drive exit- Lake Mead). These are perfect for people who want to avoid hikes at the start or end of the raft journey which are necessary for upper or Lower Grand Canyon raft trips.
What should you pack for raft trips?
There are some particular items that you need to pack for non-motor, motor, partial and full raft trips. You will also be provided with a specific packing list by each outfitter.
- Small dry bag
- Two large dry bag
- Sleep kit: Sleep kit, Sheet and Ground Tarp, Sleeping cot(usually on motor trips),
- Mattress pad
- Camp chair(sometimes)
- 2 person tent
- Duffel bag(for Full Grand Canyon or Western Canyon trips)
- Back lack or Semi-rigid suitcase (for Upper or Lower Canyon trips)
- Clothing Upper body: Rain jacket(to keep the water out), cotton t-shirt (to keep cool), quick-dry or polyester t-shirt(for sweat), long sleeve lightweight shirts(extra warmth and sun protection)
- Clothing Lower Body: Rain pants(to keep the water out), lightweight and long pants(for sun protection and extra warmth), nylon or any quick-drying fabric shorts, swimsuits.
- Head, feet, and hands: hiking socks, warm socks, 1 hiking boots or shoes, 1 thick-soled shoe with toe protection, moisturizing lotion for face, body, and head, lip balm, handy wipes, sunscreen, moistened towels, 1 or 2 sunglasses, hat.
- Gear: Headlamp with spare batteries, microfiber small towel, 2 one-quartz bottles, camera with water protection with spare batteries, lock support carabiners, day pack which can fit in a small dry bag.
- Toiletries: Biodegradable soap, moisturizer for body and face, shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrush, prescribed medicine, tampons.
We have tried to list everything that you need to know when you are planning a rafting trip to the exciting waters of the Colorado River. If you are looking for someone to plan your raft trips, then the Advantage Grand Canyon is your best option. They specialize in raft trips and only do what they do best. They help with everything from finding to booking and then coordinating your raft trips. The client reviews are a testament that you won’t be disappointed if you trust them to arrange your rafting experience.
For questions, suggestions or to express views about this article, feel free to use the comments section below.
For more details about the Advantage Grand Canyon, click on the given link below: