Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is perhaps the best river trip in the world. That's a bold statement, but most who have spent time there will agree that it is a life changing experience. It's not just the whitewater, but about spending up to 3 weeks in remote desert wilderness with some of the most dramatically stunning scenery in the world. It’s the Grand Canyon!
The whitewater is fairly straightforward big water Class III with a few Class IV/IV+, but has it’s own rapid rating system from 1 - 10. The rapids are spread out and at times the pools in between the rapids are several miles long. The biggest rapids are Crystal and Lava Falls which are both intimidating and have a good chance of flipping your boat.
Most people take 14 - 21 days to complete the 227 mile journey from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek. If you're doing a private trip you'll need to be at Lee's Ferry the day before you launch to rig your boats. After rigging, you'll row your boats about 100 feet downstream to the boat camp. The next morning a NPS ranger will check IDs and life jackets, give you a final talk, and send you on your way. If you can’t steal away for 2-3 weeks, it’s possible to do a shorter trip by hiking into or out of Phantom Ranch at mile 88 or doing as few as 10 days on a 39-foot motor rig.
While the river runs year round, each season offers a unique experience. In the summer, the Colorado is its quintessential brown color from the flash floods that flow in from the hundreds of side canyons. Average daily temperatures are in the 100's and afternoon thunderstorms are common in late summer/fall. Summer flows are often the highest of the year. Springtime flows are lower, the water is less muddy but perhaps a bit colder, and the daytime temperatures range anywhere from the 60's to the 90's. Afternoon winds are more common, and can prove exhausting. The weather is a bit less predictable in March and April, but the wildflowers are abundant. Many consider April and May the best times to go. Only the hardy choose to go in winter when it is often raining or snowing.
Many people agree that the best part of a river trip down the Grand Canyon are the side hikes. Most of the hikes are up creeks like Tapeats or Havasu and range from an easy 1/2 mile walk to more difficult rock scrambles. There’s plenty of hiking opportunities for a wide variety of activity and ability levels all leading to or through awe-inspiring geography. You can visit archeological sites to see pictographs, petroglyphs, or find pottery shards or you can hike up to hidden waterfalls bursting out of rock walls.
The Grand Canyon is a geologist’s dream come true, and even the most unlearned will come away with a ton of new knowledge about the formation of the Canyon, geologic features, and the names of a variety of different rocks and minerals.
The camps along along the Colorado are kept in pristine condition. There is a stringent “Leave No Trace” policy and the 30,000 people that go down each year do an impressive job of adhering to it. Most camps offer plenty of space for a kitchen, camp chairs, widely spaced tents and nooks to steal away if you need some alone time.
Mile 0: Put-in at Lee's Ferry.
Mile 33: Redwall Cavern is a humongous cavern on river left. No camping allowed here, but perfect for lunch, playing music, or a rousing bocce game.
Mile 61.5: Little Colorado River enters river left. Beautiful turquoise-blue water if it hasn't been muddied by upstream rains.
Mile 76.5: Hance Rapid (IV/IV+) is often the first rapid groups will stop to scout.
Mile 93.4: Granite Rapid (IV+)
Mile 98: Crystal Rapid (IV+) if one of the largest rapids in the Canyon.
Mile 156.8: Havasu Creek on river left is a major tributary to the Colorado of stunning turquoise water. The quintessential side hike of the Grand Canyon, it is often crowded with other boaters as well as hikers and backpackers.
Mile 179.3: Lava Falls Rapid (V) is the most famous rapid in the Canyon. After running Lava, pull over river right to "Tequila Beach" to toast getting through all of the largest rapids in the Grand Canyon.
Mile 225.5: Take-out at Diamond Creek