Ultimate Guide to Whitewater Rafting on the Colorado River

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)

How Much Does A Grand Canyon Rafting Trip Cost?

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.

Outfitter Fees

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

DIFFERENT RAFT TYPES

Motorized Rafts:

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.

Oar Rafts:

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.

Paddle Rafts:

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.

Dory Rafts:

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.

Rafting Gear

RAFTING GEAR

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.

Hiking Boots

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.

Water Shoes

WATER SHOES

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.

UV Protection

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?)

How Many People Raft The Grand Canyon

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

Conclusion

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.

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