If you are more of a water happy kind of adventurer, don’t miss whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon! Hop in a motorized or oar-powered raft and enjoy the thrill of going downstream on the Colorado River between exciting whitewater rapids and calm waters, surrounded by the scenic beauty of the canyon and filled with a serene feeling of communion with nature.
Did you know that the waters of the Colorado River are between 45° and 52° Fahrenheit / 7° and 11° Celsius year round?
Whitewater rapids around the world are classified in 6 difficulty levels, from 1 being easy to 6 being extreme? The Grand Canyon however uses another type of rating scale from 1-10 that already existed when the international scale was introduced. One thing to note is that the intensity of the rapids often depends on 3 factors, namely the water flow, speed and level and the Grand Canyon waters are dam-controlled and released year-round.
From peaceful waters to exhilarating rapids, rafting down the Colorado River is a truly unique way of discovering the Grand Canyon. It is a fantastic activity for families, groups or solo travelers, adventure-seekers and history buffs alike who are looking for a fun-packed water escapade offering a mix of rafting, camping, cooking, relaxing, snapping amazing pictures and taking in the spectacular surroundings in the Grand Canyon.
Each night you will set up camp and get ready to sleep under the gorgeous starry sky while your guides prepare dinner. And for those who haven’t had their fill of excitement, astrophotography, hiking, horseback-riding and fishing are but a few activities to do throughout the trip. Keep in mind that you will need a fishing license that costs around 55$ for non-residents.
Many options are available to satisfy every adventurer, every wallet and every agenda. For example, would you rather go on a motorised raft (fast, thrilling and very popular) or an oar-powered raft (slower, more relaxing)? When your rafting trip is over, you can choose to hike out back to your hotel or vehicle or take a private shuttle, a helicopter or a plane. Alternatively, you could hike in from the South Rim to the Colorado River at Phantom Ranch and raft the river to Diamond Creek. Feel like continuing West? Hop in a helicopter to the Skywalk after rafting on the Colorado River from the Hualapai Indian Reservation.
Rafting down the Colorado River typically starts in Lees Ferry near Lake Powell and ends in Whitmore Wash (188 miles/302 km) or in Diamond Creek (225 miles/362 km) but many options are available depending on your budget and timeframe. Most rafting journeys take between 3 and 13 days for a full excitement packed experience. Other rafting trips are possible in Horseshoe Bend, AZ and Cataract Canyon, UT.
The main companies organising whitewater rafting trips down the Grand Canyon are Grand Canyon Whitewater, River Adventure and Western River out of Flagstaff, Hualapai River Runners out of Peach Springs, and Arizona River Runners out of Las Vegas or Marble Canyon (Lees Ferry).
Standard itinerary options
Upper Canyon: from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch (88 miles/141 km) 3 to 6 days
Lower Canyon: from Phantom Ranch to Whitmore Wash (102 miles/164 km) 4 to 8 days
Full Canyon: from Lees Ferry to Whitmore Wash (188 miles/302 km) - from 6 to 13 days
Did you know that the Hualapai people have been living along the walls of the Grand Canyon making this rugged terrain their home for hundreds of years? Hualapai River Runners also offers a unique insight into the Hualapai people sharing with you fascinating facts about the homes of the Hualapai people along the Grand Canyon, their relocation in 1874, the myth of the Spirit Mountain, the geology, plant and animal life of the Grand Canyon. If you are interested in the culture and history of the Grand Canyon people, Hualapai River Runners is for you.
Hualapai River Runners is based in Peach Springs, just over 100 miles West of Flagstaff, and is the only company offering 1-day and 2-day trips on the Colorado River. They also have a 5-day rafting trip. In addition to the whitewater rafting trips, you have the option to add transportation by helicopter to the Skywalk ($58), to rent your own private paddle raft ($700) or a private motorised boat ($1,500). A permit from the National Park System and Hualapai Game & Fish Department is necessary for self-guided tours.
All their trips start in Bridge Canyon on the Hualapai Indian Reservation and include whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, a short hike to Travertine Falls and additional activities depending on the length of your trip such as camping in Spencer Canyon or a relaxing pontoon boat ride.
What will you see?
You will see some waterfalls, Indian ruins, unique geological formations, impressive cliff walls and if you’re lucky, you might spot some wildlife like elks, condors, bighorn sheep or mule deer.
This is also a great way to meet fellow-minded travellers and bond over the same experience. Needless to say, the guides all have years of experience rafting in the Grand Canyon and will share their knowledge of the area, its geology, history and astronomy with you.
Name: Whitewater rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon
Location: adaptable from Lees Ferry to Whitmore Wash or Diamond Creek and from Hualapai Lodge to Pearce Ferry near Lake Mead
Duration: from 1 to 13 days
Difficulty: medium to difficult
When to go: from April to October
What to take: clothes, toiletry, personal items such as photography equipment, head torch, sunscreen, hiking shoes, etc.
What is included: the company provides food, snacks and drinks, tents, camping gear, waterproof containers and bags, life jackets, kitchen utensils and plates etc. Some companies include the entrance fee to the Grand Canyon National Park, some do not
Lodgings: camping with camping equipment provided by the company
How to get there: transportation is usually provided back to Flagstaff or to your vehicle and can be arranged if you do not have a vehicle
Why is it for you: great for adventure-seekers and history buffs, adapted for families, groups or solo travellers who are looking for a fun-packed water escapade offering a mix of rafting, camping, cooking, relaxing in nature
Sherpa Sam’s recommendation: “Don’t just come down to the Grand Canyon for a weekend if you can afford a longer trip. You have to spend a couple weeks here to really enjoy everything this beautiful area has to offer. Rafting on the Colorado River is one of those amazing activities you can’t rush.”
Price: varies from $325 to $5000
Age limit: children are allowed from 8 years old (motorised rafting) and 12 years old (oar-powered trips)
Tips: join Rafting Grand Canyon and Green and Colorado River Rafters Paddlers Sups and Swimmers Facebook groups to discuss information on the rapids in the Colorado River. Leave no trace, use reusable water bottles when possible, and bring Quick Dry types of clothing and towels