Grand Canyon Rafting - Colorado River
Lee's Ferry to Pearce's Ferry
Gradient: 7 ft/mile
Season: Year Round
Recommended Flows: 5000 to 40,000 cfs at Lee’s Ferry
Shuttle: 9 hours/ 330 miles; much longer in the winter
Flow Information: 3 day Colorado River forecast
Permits: Required, Required, won through the Grand Canyon Rafting Lottery (held in February for following year) or follow-up lottery.
A Grand Canyon rafting or kayaking trip is the best of western river expeditions and arguably the top river trip in the world. Starting just south of the Arizona/Utah border the Colorado River flows unhindered from Glen Canyon Dam almost 300 miles to Lake Mead.
Grand Canyon rapids have some of the largest waves of rafting rivers anywhere. Another unique aspect of these trips is the ability to spend two-weeks floating downstream. However, the exquisite scenery and countless side hikes are the most memorable parts of the trip. A whitewater rafting or kayaking trip through Grand Canyon is a truly unique experience. The key is how to get on a trip. Many Grand Canyon outfitters are booked years in advance, and the weighted lottery system is not easy to win so plan ahead.
Luxury Rafting Options
For those looking for luxury rafting trips like the Rogue River Lodge trips in Oregon and safari camping trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho will be disappointed. Due to the way the river is managed by the National Park the outfitters are unable to offer luxury trips. That being said, it’s worth roughing it for a week or two and experience one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Rating System for the Colorado River
This section of river is unique in that it doesn’t use the level I – V International Scale of River Difficulty that is used on most whitewater rivers world wide. Instead it uses a 1 through 10 system. A 10 is arguably like a class IV+ rapid. Cataract Canyon, just upstream from Lake Powell also uses this rating system.
When to raft the Grand Canyon
One of the most common questions is when is the best time to raft the Colorado River. The obvious answer is whenever you can get on a trip. That being said, it is really about personal preference. Grand Canyon in the spring has wild flowers, milder temperatures and tends to be more windy particularly in May. While June and July are hot and dry until monsoon season start, meaning the Little Colorado is typically vibrant clear blue water. Some try to time the high water of July and August to see the biggest whitewater the Grand Canyon has to offer.
Monsoon season in Grand Canyon starts in late July and continues through August. Monsoons bring afternoon thunderstorms that cool down temperatures and can lead to amazing sights of hundreds of waterfalls of different colors cascading into the river. Unfortunately, this rules out certain hikes at times due to lightning and flash flood concerns. The fall is cooler, a little dryer and the days are shorter. As a result the hiking options become endless. Winter temperatures can be cold at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where the sun never reaches the river, however there are less people on the water.
Best Grand Canyon Rafting Trips
Where to End Your Grand Canyon River Trip
Mile 0: Put-in at Lees Ferry
Put-in at the Lees Ferry. The right side of the beach is for private trips and the left side is for commercial trips. The National Park rangers will show up to check your pfds and make sure you are bringing all the required equipment. There is a smooth water float trip that starts upstream at the base of Glen Canyon Dam and ends here. This is a nice day trip but for those wanting rapids the one-day Diamond down rafting trips are a better option.
Mile 0.3: Paria River
The Paria River enters on river right. This “river” typically runs like a creek until a local storm brings the flow up for a couple of days. The Paria adds much of the sand that is in the corridor and also is one of the drainages that commonly causes the river to turn brown.
Mile 4.2: Navajo Bridges
The original bridge was completed in 1929 and the new bridge was finished in 1995. This is a common spot to see California Condors.
Mile 17.1: House Rock Rapid
Mile 20.7: Rapid Roaring 20’s
Mile 33.3: Redwall Cavern
Mile 39.7: Marble Canyon Dam Site
The federal government was extremely close to building a dam here that would have backed the river up past Lee’s Ferry. The Sierra Club was instrumental in stopping this dam with a famous national media campaign.
Mile 52.4: Nankoweap Creek and Granaries
The Nankoweap trail meets the river here after a long descent from the North Rim along Nankoweap Creek. This is a popular place to camp and hike a steep trail to ancestral Puebloan granaries.
Mile 61.5: Little Colorado River
Mile 77.1: Hance Rapid
Mile 88.1: Phantom Ranch Boat Beach
Mile 89.5: Pipe Creek Beach
Mile 90.8: Horn Creek Rapid
Mile 95.5: Hermit Rapid
Mile 98.2: Crystal Rapid
Mile 117.2: Elves Chasm
Mile 131.1: Bedrock Rapid
Mile 134.3: Tapeats Creek
Mile 136.9: Deer Creek Falls
Mile 150.2: Upset Rapid
Mile 157.3: Havasu Creek
Mile 179.7: Lava Falls
Mile 187.4: Whitmore Heli-pad
Mile 225.9: Diamond Creek Take Out
A common take-out for Grand Canyon trips. Diamond Creek flashes yearly closing the road and forcing groups to run to Lake Mead. This really means Pearce Ferry which is now above the lake. There are some fun challenging rapids downstream: 231 Mile Rapid, 232 Mile Rapid (worth scouting), and 234 Mile Rapid. Below Separation Canyon the river gets flat with minimal current – happy rowing! Outfitters typically have a jet boat meet trips at Separation Canyon for a fast, thrilling ride across the flatwater. If Lake Mead ever gets the river back into its original channel a couple more notorious rapids, Lava Cliff and Separation will reappear.
Mile 280.7: Pearce Ferry Take Out
Don’t miss the take-out. Just downstream is Pearce Rapid a nasty drop that was formed as the river cut down through the sediment of the reservoir creating a new channel. Just upstream the canyon opens up signaling the true end to Grand Canyon.