A rafting trip can offer you the rare opportunity to explore the heart of the Grand Canyon, whether you’re a whitewater veteran or a first-time adventurer. Before you book a guided trip with an area rafting company or apply for a solo permit, it’s important to consider a few factors, such as the length of your outing and time of year you’ll be setting out. You’ll also need to pack appropriately to prepare yourself for the unpredictable conditions of the Colorado River and surrounding desert and ensure that your experience is a safe and comfortable one.
EditPlanning a Rafting Trip
Decide on a time of year to go. The Grand Canyon sees most of its tourism in the summer between May and September. This is when the chilly water of the Colorado River will be most hospitable. However, you might also consider planning your trip for one of the bookend months of April or October, when the river and other nearby natural areas tend to be less crowded.
One neat thing about the water in the Grand Canyon is that it originates from a man-made reservoir, so it never gets much colder than about . This means that water temperature won’t be as much of a concern if you schedule your trip later in the year.
Consider how long you have to spend on your adventure. The majority of guided trips led by commercial rafting companies can be completed in a single afternoon. Self-guided outings, however, can take quite a bit longer, as they tend to be less tightly regimented. Don’t forget to factor in travel time to and from your launch site when determining a time frame that works for you.
Most rafting companies organize outings by length. For example, you might sign up for a half-day, 2-day, 5-day, 7-day, 10-day, or 15-day trip, depending on who you book with.
All-in-all, it takes an average of about 15 days to raft the entire length of the Grand Canyon’s waterways. The various sections of the river can be traversed in hours or days.
Select the type of raft you want to take. Unlike some other notable whitewater destinations, you have a few different means of conveyance to choose from when rafting the Grand Canyon. Many shorter trips take place in motorized rafts, which offer a more leisurely sightseeing experience. You also have the option of paddling an oar-powered raft or old-fashioned wooden dory if you want to test your skills and get a little exercise.
Be sure to specify the type of raft you want to reserve when you book your trip. Your choice of vessel may determine the specific route you end up taking.
You can even kayak sections of the Colorado River with a special permit. Kayaking can be an exciting alternative to group rafting for advanced solo paddlers craving a challenge.
Schedule a guided trip with an area rafting company. Get in touch with one of the many commercial outfitters operating in the Grand Canyon to set up a reservation. Guided trips won’t typically need to be booked more than about a day ahead of time. They can fill up quickly, though, so the earlier you reserve your slot, the better.
One of the biggest perks of going through a rafting company is that they’ll take care of all the important planning, including travel routes, departure times, and meal breaks.
Commercial outfitters provide rafts, oars, life vests, helmets, and all other necessary equipment to their guests. If you plan on making a self-guided trip, you’ll need to bring these things yourself.
Apply for a permit for self-guided trips at least one year in advance. If you’re a veteran rafter determined to brave the river on your own, your first step will be to fill out a Diamond Creek to Lake Mead Permit Application. You must submit your completed application to the United States National Park Service no earlier than one year prior to your intended launch date. Be aware that permits are granted on a first-come, first-served basis, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive one.
It doesn’t cost anything to submit an application. However, the Hualapai tribe who owns the surrounding land does charge a small access fee to adventurers crossing through their territory. You’ll need to make arrangements with the tribe on your own by calling 928-769-2210.
The National Park Service only authorizes two non-commercial trips to set out from the Diamond Creek launch site per day. Each outing is restricted to a total of 16 participants.
Be prepared to hike the Bright Angel Trail to reach your launch site. Both Upper and Lower Canyon routes start with a long foot trek through Bright Angel Trail. The trail, which spans and climbs around in elevation, as been rated “strenuous” by the National Park Service. Due to its difficulty, the hike is only recommended to adventurers who are in good physical condition.
If you don’t think you’re up to the challenge, you also have the option of scheduling a 3-5-day Western Canyon trip or 6-18-day Full Canyon trip, both of which end with a helicopter or car ride out of the Canyon.
The craggy, sun-baked trail is well-maintained, but offers little shade, so make sure you bring plenty of water.
Watch the weather closely in the days leading up to your trip. A sudden change in the weather has the potential to severely complicate a routine pleasure trip. Guided outings may even be cancelled if river conditions become too tumultuous. If the forecast doesn’t look promising, it may be safest to put your trip on hold until you see clearer skies.
Monitoring the weather will also give you a better idea of what types of items you’ll need to bring with you.
If you obtained a permit for a solo venture, it can’t be cancelled due to dangerous weather. Keep in mind that if you decide to go ahead with your trip, you’ll be doing so at your own risk.
EditPacking for Your Adventure
Provide your own equipment for non-commercial trips. As a solo adventurer, you’ll be expected to show up with all your own gear. This means a raft, main and spare oars, life vest, helmet, and cargo net or platform at the bare minimum. It’s also a good idea to keep a life preserver or rope bag onboard your raft, plus a first aid kit containing pain relievers and supplies for treating minor wounds.
It may be possible to rent some or all of your rafting equipment on-site once you arrive at the Grand Canyon.
Self-guided rafters are advised to pack a signal mirror and 2 international orange-colored panels to flag down help in the event of an emergency.
Bring along enough clothing to dress in layers. The weather in the Grand Canyon can fluctuate between hot and cold in the course of a single day. Wearing multiple layers will allow you to shed or pull on additional items as needed as the temperature changes. Ideally, most of your clothing should be made from quick-drying materials like nylon, neoprene, polyester, or wool.
Items like a waterproof jacket, insulated paddling gloves, and a hat with a bill or visor and strap are a must.
Don’t forget to pack a few spare dry garments for the journey back. Kicking around in soggy clothes isn’t very comfortable.
Select appropriate footwear for both wet and dry activities. Plan on wearing either sandals or amphibious water shoes while you’re on the river. If you’ll be hiking the Bright Angel Trail on your way in or out, be sure to pack a pair of hiking boots or sneakers sturdy enough to hold up to miles of rocky terrain. All of the footwear you bring should lace on or strap-on securely.
Consider picking up a pair of neoprene socks if you’re prone to cold feet or pruney toes.
Stock up on food and water to last you the duration of your trip. When heading down the river on your own, you’ll be left to your own devices as far as sustenance goes. Your best bet is to prioritize nutritious, calorie-rich offerings that take up as little space as possible. Protein bars, nuts, and MREs are all easy, cost-effective choices that will help keep your belly full for a few days.
If you prefer a hot meal, throw a small pan or skillet in with your gear. You may have the opportunity to cook over an open fire at one of the many campsites along the way.
Meals are often included in the cost of booking a multi-day outing with a commercial rafting company.
Bring a camera to capture the beauty of your surroundings. You’ll be treated to some truly sublime sights during your time in the Grand Canyon. Along with the rushing whitewater and towering desert cliffs, the National Park grounds are home to a diversity of wildlife, included hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, and large mammals like bighorn sheep, elk, and mountain lion. You’ll no doubt want to record these moments to commemorate your adventure.
A waterproof case for your phone or digital camera can make a wise investment.
EditEnjoying Other Activities During Your Trip
Set up camp along the river if you’re embarking on a multi-day trip. Unless you’re only completing a short route, it will be necessary for you to stop and camp overnight. You’re in for a treat, as the atmosphere of the Grand Canyon National Park makes for some of the best camping in the U.S. You’ll fall asleep beneath the open sky with rushing waters at your side and wake up to the spectacular sight of the sunrise glowing on the red rocks of the looming canyon walls.
There’s only one established campsite at the bottom of the Grand Canyon: Bright Angel Campground. Fire pits, clean drinking water, and maintained bathroom facilities are among the amenities that you’ll find there.
Backcountry camping is also allowed anywhere within the canyon itself, as long as you’ve obtained a backcountry permit ahead of time. Contact the National Park Service for more information on how to apply for a permit.
Pause periodically for a relaxing swim. Chances are, you’ll be pretty worn out after a few hours of intense paddling. When you feel like you need a break, find a safe place to ground your raft and take a dip. The cool, calm waters will soothe your tired muscles and leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the next leg of your journey.
Stick close to your raft and the rest of your group, and avoid entering any part of the river where the current picks up.
Watch your step in shallow areas. The banks of the Colorado River are populated by numerous animals, including a few dangerous ones like rattlesnakes, massasaugas, and scorpions.
Go cliff jumping at one of the nearby falls. On your way down the Colorado, you’ll pass several waterfalls marking the river’s descent. Satisfy the thrillseeker in you by hiking up one of the adjacent outcroppings and showing off your best cannonball. Just make sure you pick out a spot that’s deep and free of obstructions before you take the plunge. In some stretches, the depth of the river can vary widely in just a few feet.
Havasupai, Mooney, and Beaver Falls are all popular cliff jumping spots within the Grand Canyon. But be warned—some of these cliffs are as high as , so they’re definitely not for the faint of heart!
Don’t take off from anywhere you see a “No Jumping” sign posted, no matter how tempted you might be. These areas have been deemed unsafe by park authorities.
Your local outdoor center or sporting goods store can be a good place to find high-quality waterproof clothing and accessories.
For more information on the Grand Canyon or Colorado River area, pick up some travel literature or read through the website of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Rafting can be a dangerous form of recreation, even for experienced outdoor enthusiasts. Always take the proper safety precautions and keep your wits about you while you’re on the water.
Removing, vandalizing, or causing damage to any natural features inside a national park is a federal crime.
Prepare for a White Water Rafting Trip
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