Grand Canyon Rafting Trips Guide

Grand Canyon Rafting Trips

Since John Wesley Powell first ran the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, boaters have chased the dream of experiencing this awesome adventure.  Whitewater rafting through the canyon is one of the most popular Grand Canyon activities and a once in a lifetime experience for most people lucky enough to get on the river. Grand Canyon is well known as one of the top whitewater rafting experiences in the world and its reputation is well earned. Class 5 rapids are common, and the scenery is unparalleled as you gaze at the canyon above you. With rapids like Lava Falls, hikes to hidden places like Elves Chasm, and remnants of both modern and ancient canyon explorers, who could pass up such an amazing opportunity?

Lees Ferry a few hours from the South Rim is where the 277-mile journey through Grand Canyon National Park on the Colorado River begins.  Hidden side canyons, ancient ruins, beautiful waterfalls, and some of the world’s best whitewater are all part of a trip on the Grand.  Grand Canyon Rafting offers a variety of multi-day river trips lasting anywhere from four days up to two weeks. For visitors with a little less time, you can still experience the Colorado River on a one-day whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon or a scenic smooth water float on the Colorado River above Lee’s Ferry. If you want more information on guided rafting trips, read our Grand Canyon Rafting Tours page for commercial outfitter options. For an overview on Grand Canyon rafting trip options and more read our guide below, or for rafting locations check out our Rafting map

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Grand Canyon Rafting Trip Options

Guided Rafting Tours

Guided rafting trips are the easiest and quickest way to get on the river and experience the Colorado River and Grand Canyon. To learn more about guided rafting trips, check out our rafting tours page to learn about all of the great options for guided river rafting trips. TO learn about specific types of rafting trips continue reading.

One Day Whitewater Trips

Diamond Creek to Lake Mead offers 1-5 day rafting trips for private boaters. Permits for the one day trip can be obtained from Grand Canyon National Park. The Hualapai River Runners have the only commercial single day whitewater trip in the canyon. This trip departs from Peach Spring, AZ and includes a helicopter ride out of the canyon to get you back to the rim. Learn more about One Day Whitewater Rafting Trips.

Multi Day Whitewater Rafting Adventures

If you want to truly experience rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, then a multi-day whitewater expedition is the only way to go. These rafting trips through Grand Canyon National Park are 4-14 days and use either motorized rafts or oar boats. Learn more about Multiple Day Whitewater Rafting Trips

One Day Smoothwater Rafting and Kayaking

For visitors who want a more mellow rafting experience try a smoothwater float down the Colorado River. These trips are great if you want a little less excitement or have a family with young children. These trips take place on the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, just above Grand Canyon National Park. The fees are less than the whitewater rafting trips and the scenery is still beautiful. This mellow float trip takes about a half a day, and makes several stops along the way, including the chance to view an ancient pictograph panel.

Just below the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead is Black Canyon. This is another smoothwater trip on the Colorado River that offers amazing views on a beautiful section of the river and even some hot springs you can take a side hike to. Learn more about One Day Smoothwater Rafting and Kayaking.

Grand Canyon Whitewater Rafting Trips for Private Boaters

River runners from around the world seek out the thrilling excitement of Colorado River Rafting through the Grand Canyon.  With the completion of the new Colorado River Management Plan boaters applying for a permit for a private river trip will enter a weighted lottery system.  The National Park Service gives out a limited number of permits to raft the Grand Canyon which are divided equally between private and commercial boaters. The main lottery happens each February for permits that will open up the following year.  There are also follow-up lotteries throughout the year for launch dates that are left over, and for canceled trip dates.  The annual fee to enter the lottery is $25, with a $400 non-refundable deposit if you win a permit.  Each year applicants do not get a permit it increases you chance of success for the following year, hence the weighted lottery. If you're an experienced boater wanting to do a private trip, the weighted lottery may or may not give you the chance to run the Grand, but if you don't have sufficient experience or time to win the lottery, commercial trips are the best option! 

Grand Canyon Rafting Permits Lottery

To apply for the lottery, you'll need to set up a profile.  This profile will let you apply for the lottery as well as receive email updates on river news and launch dates.  To set-up your profile, go to Grand Canyon National Parks website for the Colorado River rafting lottery.

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More About Grand Canyon Rafting

The First Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

Long before the advent of modern-day whitewater rafting, Major John Wesley Powell led the first successful expedition of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869. Spanish for "Red River," the Colorado was so named for the red sediment of side tributaries flowing into the clear waters of the main river channel. A Civil War hero who lost one arm in the war, Powell was determined to explore the unknown on this first boat trip through Grand Canyon. On May 24, Powell embarked from Green River, Wyoming with nine men, four boats and ten months’ worth of food. The group continued down to the confluence of the Green River flowing west into Utah, and it is here that the two rivers merged into the mighty Colorado. Powell sought out, among other things, to prove his theory that the River predated the Canyon and actually carved the Canyon as the land elevated.

Early in the trip, Frank Goodman quit the expedition, stating that at that point, the Colorado River had shown him enough excitement for an entire lifetime. Over the next couple months, the journey through the Grand Canyon proved itself to be dangerous and quite treacherous. The group encountered numerous rapids that, according to Powell, could not be run safely. The Major was a courageous, yet cautious leader, always mindful that they could lose supplies and perhaps even their lives. In such instances, they lined the boats down the side of the rapids or carried boats and supplies through the rocks along the shoreline. There was, however, Grand Canyon whitewater that could not be evaded, and these rapids were rafted with some skill and a lot of luck. Late in the journey, Bill Dunn and the Howland brothers were convinced that they would not make it out alive if they continued on. They left the expedition the next morning, and Powell left his boat at the head of what is now called Separation Canyon should they change their minds. This all transpired ironically two days before the group reached the culmination of their journey at mouth of the Virgin River, after traversing almost 1,500 km. The three who left the group were later killed, the specifics being a subject of conjecture and speculation to this day. John Wesley Powell was successful in proving his theory and made a second expedition in 1871 to create a map and other research documents.

River Rafting in the Early Days

Several other adventurous souls braved the river after Powell's expedition, creating some momentous firsts. In 1949, Ed Hudson and Dock Marston drove the first power boat through the Grand Canyon, the Esmerelda II, setting a record run of four and a half days. Two years later Jim and Bob Rigg rafted the length in two and a half days. Jimmy Jordan and Rod Sanderson were the first to use outboard motors on the river. But it was Georgie White who, in 1947, pioneered white water river rafting as we now know it. With surplus of inflatable rafts from the war, Georgie lashed 3 bridge pontoons with an outboard motor and carried upwards of 50 people and gear down the Grand Canyon. This boat, known as the G-rig, named for Georgie White helped create the modern-day river rafting business.

Glen Canyon Dam

The Glen Canyon Dam project began construction in 1956 and began blocking the flow of the Colorado River in 1963. The purpose of the dam is to provide water storage for the southwest, and to generate electricity for the region's growing population. Glen Canyon was chosen by the Bureau of Reclamation for several reasons: the basin could hold a huge amount of water; the Canyon walls and foundation were strong and stable enough to safely support the 3,700 ft. dam; and a large source of good rock and sand was available nearby. The dam has been controversial since its inception, because it caused the flooding of beautiful Glen Canyon and its tributaries to create a man-made reservoir, Lake Powell, which took 17 years to completely fill for the first time. However, if the Colorado was not dammed here, river rafting would not be possible during the summer because of low water levels in the Grand Canyon.

Environmental and Cultural Effects

The number of thrill seekers rafting the mighty Colorado of the Grand Canyon has increased exponentially since the time of John Wesley Powell's first expedition, but all these thrills are not without cost. After the flooding of Glen Canyon, countless natural and archaeological resources were lost forever. Although the National Park Service and other entities are making an effort to preserve Grand Canyon for future generations, habitat along the Colorado River corridor is being eroded away, and some native plant and animal species are disappearing. It cannot be doubted that the Glen Canyon Dam creates the summer river flows necessary for the whitewater rafting adventure of a lifetime, but in enjoying our natural wonders, it is important to be aware of the impact we cause and make a conscious effort to tread lightly.

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