Grand Canyon Colorado River Travel Guide

 Colorado River Grand Canyon

The Colorado River is the beating heart of the Grand Canyon. Starting at its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, this mighty river flows 1450 miles to the Gulf of California, 277 miles of which flow through the Grand Canyon. The Colorado is the major tool in the creation of the canyon, and one of the major sources of life sustaining water for many western states. With 277 river miles and over twice that distance along both rims, this is a fairly vast area and most places in the inner canyon are only accessible via foot or boat, making trip planning before your visit more important for adventures below the rim.

The average visitation to Grand Canyon National Park is only 2 hours and few visitors ever venture below the rim.  Although the views from the South Rim and North Rim are unsurpassed, you just don't get a true Grand Canyon experience without a little exercise. Stepping below the rim gives you a totally new perspective of the Grand Canyon that changes as you make your way to the Colorado River, where there are vast stretches people cannot even see from the top of the canyon. Whether you hike from the rim, get in a raft, hop on a mule, take a flight, or drive out to a scenic overlook to get a view of the Colorado River, make sure you spend a little time taking in this awesome force of nature. Read the guide below to learn about exploring the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, or check out our Colorado River map to see all the canyon destinations and attractions along the river.

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Colorado River Activities and Tours

Getting there by raft

Rafting the Colorado River is a great way to explore the inner Grand Canyon and
rafters are able to visit places at the bottom of the Canyon no one else gets to see. 
Rafting Trips on the Colorado River are among the best in the world with huge whitewater rapids, stunning scenery, and great side hikes many of which can only be accessed while you are on the river. Grand Canyon rafting tours and self-guided rafting trips (for experienced boaters) are available at the canyon.

Getting there on foot

The extensive trail system within Grand Canyon National Park covers a lot of ground and hiking the inner Grand Canyon is one of the most popular Grand Canyon activities. Grand Canyon Hikers main goal is usually reaching the Colorado River from the rim, crossing the river via one of two suspension bridges to get to Phantom Ranch, or hiking all the way across the canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim. Learn more about Grand Canyon hikes, trails and backpacking trips.

Riding a mule

Mule rides within Grand Canyon National Park to the Colorado River are limited to the Bright Angel Trail. There's also mule rides that don't go all the way to the river on the Rim Trail, North Kaibab Trail, and outside the park at Grand Canyon West and Kaibab National Forest. You can learn more about guided mule rides here.

See the Colorado River by Air

There are limited helicopter flights into the Canyon, but both the Hualapai (Grand Canyon West) and Havasupai Reservations offer helicopter flights that will get you into the inner Grand Canyon. You can learn more about scenic helicopter and plane flights here.

Driving to the Colorado River

There are only two scenic drives that actually go into the Grand Canyon all the way to the Colorado River.  One is the road is to Lee's Ferry, where boaters start their journey through the Grand Canyon.  The other road which actually carves its way through the Canyon starts near Peach Springs, AZ and follows Diamond Creek to the Colorado River through the Hualapai Reservation.

Guru Tips for Exploring the Colorado River

You can reach the Colorado River by boat, mule, car or on foot. Here’s a couple tips for getting to the Colorado River and finding the best attractions for your trip.

Lodging and camping options for exploring the Colorado River

  • Phantom Ranch is the only lodging at the bottom of the canyon near the Colorado River. Reservations are done via a lottery, so make sure to submit your request on time. 
  • Bright Angel campground is next to Phantom Ranch and there are several other backpacking sites for experienced hikers at the Colorado River. Make sure you submit your backcountry permit request on time for the best chance at a permit for the campground.
  • Lee's Ferry campground in Marble Canyon (East Rim) is only a few hundred yards from the river. This is also where Grand Canyon rafting trips launch.
  • The Hualapai Lodge is close to Diamond Bar Road (a rough dirt road) in the western Grand Canyon and visitor can drive to the river or meet up for the canyon's only one-day whitewater rafting trip.

Book your guided hike, rafting trip or mule ride in advance 

Get geared up

  • Make sure you have the right gear before your trip, since you'll need to have all necessary gear with you on the river.
  • We’re definitely gear junkies here at the Grand Canyon Guru. Check out our recommended gear for our favorite canyon-ready clothing, travel bags and outdoor gear as well as rental options to outfit your trip.

More resources for the Colorado River

  • It always a good idea to have travel insurance for your trip. Check out rates and get travel insurance before you head to the canyon.
  • If you need more booking options for hotels, rental cars, flights, tours and tickets just check out our Grand Canyon reservations page.
  • Take a look at our featured adventure and recommended lodging below!
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Grand Canyon Two Day Rafting Trip

Featured Adventure - Grand Canyon 2-Day Rafting Trip

Experience Grand Canyon whitewater rafting and camp along the Colorado River on this 2-day canyon adventure , from $1194 on Viator.

Phantom Ranch

The Best Colorado River Lodging - Phantom Ranch

The most popular and only lodge at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch is accessible by mule, raft or hiking. Lodging options start at $65.

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