Going down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is an incredible experience that should not be missed.   

Ride the Colorado River rapids.  See the walls of the canyon rise or fall around you.  Explore hidden caves, enormous caverns and modern tunnels.  Visit ancient Native American cultural sites.  Hike to beautiful waterfalls, verdant fern gardens and hidden springs.  Sleep under the stars on sandy beaches surrounded by the immense canyon walls.   All this and more awaits you on Grand Canyon river trips. 

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How to Plan Your Grand Canyon White Water Rafting Adventure
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Guide to White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Guide to White Water Rafting In the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Grand Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience, but there a few things to consider when looking for a Grand Canyon white water rafting trip.  

The Types of Rafts/ Boat 

There are several different types of craft to choose from when white water rafting Grand Canyon. 

Motorized Raft 

These are large ponton rafts with (very quiet) motors.  They are around 35 feet long, which is much larger than regular rafts, so they are more stable and you feel the rapids much less.  They have seats with backs, so are also more comfortable.  However, if you are looking for a typical white water rafting experience, this is not for you, as it is much less interactive.  Passengers sit there and enjoy the views, but are not involved in paddling, steering or bailing.  

If you are doing a one-day Grand Canyon white water rafting experience, this is the only option.  

They usually seat around 14 people. 

  • Age requirement: 8 or older 
  • Pros: Proceeds more quickly through the canyon, getting you to major points of interest more quickly; quicker, so trips are cheaper; smoother and more comfortable 
  • Cons: Less immersive and adventurous than a regular raft; you have less time in the canyon to soak it all in; you feel the rapids less (can be a good thing, depending on your point of view) 
  • Best for: Families with younger children; inexperienced rafters; people who don’t want to paddle; people who have less time available 

Paddle Raft 

This is your regular raft that you think if when you think of whitewater rafting. Each inflatable raft holds 6-8 passengers, and you will need to paddle the boat.  One of the Grand Canyon river guides is at the back steering, but the passengers are the ones propelling the raft forward.  Going through the rapids means frantically digging your paddles into the water, as you need to be faster than the water flowing so that the guide has control over the raft.   

Some of the Grand Canyon whitewater rapids are pretty big, so this is definitely for those with a sense of adventure.  Unlike some rivers though, there are also long flat sections between the rapids.  In a paddle raft, passengers still need to row these sections, and this can be tiring if you aren’t used to it.  

Only a few Grand Canyon rafting outfitters offer paddle rafting trips.  

  • Age requirement: 12 or older 
  • Pros: Highly interactive and the most adventurous of the options as you ride the rapids 
  • Cons: There are long sections of the river that are calm flat water.  This requires constant paddling, and can be tiring if you’re not used to it; takes longer than motorized rafts; some of the larger rapids can be scary if you’re not used to rafting 
  • Best for: People with enough time and a sense of adventure; people with some rafting experience (recommended, but not required) 

Oar-Powered Raft 

With this option, the guide does all the rowing and passengers just have to sit in the raft (and hold one in the rapids).  You feel the rapids just as you would if you were doing a regular white water rafting trip, but don’t have to paddle at all.   The rafts are much smaller than motorized rafts, with just six people per raft. 

Oar raft Grand Canyon
  • Age requirement: 10 or 12 or older 
  • Pros: You don’t have to paddle in the calm sections, so can relax and enjoy the scenery; if you want to really feel the rapids and the all the excitement that goes with that, you will do that much more than on a motorized raft 
  • Cons: It is roughly twice as long as a motorized raft trip; it is rougher than a motorized rafting trip; you don’t get to paddle yourself in the rapids 
  • Best for: People who have time, and want a rafting experience without having to paddle themselves 

Hybrid Raft 

This is a combination of both oar and paddle rafts.  Some trips have a mix of rafts that are oar-powered (rowed by a guide) and regular whitewater rafts where the passengers do the rowing.  This means that passengers can alternate between therm.  There are usually 4 oar-powered rafts and 1 paddle raft.  Only a hand-full of outfitters offer this option.  

  • Age requirement: 12 or older 
  • Pros: You can paddle through some of the rapids, but then not have to paddle all of the calm sections; you get more time in the canyon than a motorized raft 
  • Cons: You don’t get to paddle all of the rapids; takes longer (and is more expensive) than motorized rafts  
  • Best for: People who want to paddle themselves, but don’t want to do it for the entire trip (either because they aren’t very experienced or just want a break sometimes during the calm sections. 

Wooden Dory 

small wooden boats and oars inside grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

A guide does all the paddling for you, so you can relax and enjoy the canyon on calm water.  When riding the rapids, you will still have a very immersive experience as you need to frantically bail all of the water that is flooding into the solid wooden boat. It’s a rougher ride than an inflatable ride, as the boat tips and rocks through the rapids without any flexibility.   

They are a little faster than oar-powered rafts, but obviously slower than motorized rafts.  They are also much less common than the other options; only a few Grand Canyon rafting companies offer these trips. There are usually four people per boat, plus the guide. 

John Wesley Powell was the first person (that we are aware of) who traversed the length of the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.  He did it in a small wooden boat called a dory.  There are a few trips offered that reenact Powell’s trip by using dories instead of inflatable rafts.   

  • Age requirement: 10 or 12 or older 
  • Pros: Interactive in the rapids, but you can relax in the calm sections of the river 
  • Cons: Rougher on the rapids than inflatable rafts; slower than motorized rafts (can be a Pro); more expensive than motorized rafts 
  • Best for: People looking for an adventure and who have enough time; people who want a more historically authentic experience (or something a bit different from – and more unique than – the usual whitewater rafting experience) 

The Section of the Canyon 

The canyon is divided into several sections: 

The Upper Canyon (Lee’s Ferry – Phantom Ranch) 

When you ride through the Upper Canyon, you slowly see the walls of the canyon rise around you as you get deeper and deeper in.  Soon, identifiable layers of rock that were right at water level, so close you could almost touch them, are thousands of feet above you, as the canyon gets deeper and deeper.  It helps give you an intimate connection to the canyon.   

tiny boat surrounded by towering cliffs of grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon
  • Start/ Finish: Lake Mead (River Mile 0) to Phantom Ranch (Pipe Creek or Boat Beach) (River Mile 88).  
  • To know: Hike out at end (on Bright Angel Trail to South Rim) 
  • Rapids: 19 major rapids rated 5 or above (on a 1-10 rating scale), including House Rock, Unkar, Hance, Sockdolager, Grapevine and Zoroaster 
  • Highlights: Hike into North Canyon, hike into Saddle Canyon, Redwall Cavern, Nankoweap Anasazi Granaries, Vasey’s Paradise, floating down the aqua blue Little Colorado River 

This section of the main Canyon is generally considered more varied and beautiful than the lower section.  

The Lower Canyon (Phantom Ranch – Lake Mead) 

This is the deepest section of the canyon and has the biggest rapids.  You start in the middle of the canyon and slowly see the walls get smaller and smaller.  Layers that started out high above you end up beside you.   

Elves Chasm Grand Canyon
Elves Chasm

There are three different places you can exit this section, which obviously affects the length of your trip. 

  • Start/ Finish: Phantom Ranch (Pipe Creek or Boat Beach) (River Mile 88) to Whitmore Wash or Diamond Creek or Lake Mead / Pearce Ferry 
  • To know: Hike in at start (From South Rim on Bright Angel Trail)  
  • Rapids: 19 major rapids to Whitmore Wash | 23 rapids to Diamond Creek | 28 rapids to Lake Mead.   Major rapids are rated 5 or above (on the 1-10 rating scale used on Grand Canyon – which is different from the world standard of I-VI).  Famous rapids in this section of the canyon include Lava Falls (possibly North America’s most famous big drop) and Crystal Rapid 
  • Highlights:  Hike above the 100-foot Deer Creek Falls, hike to where Thunder River gushes from a rock wall high above the river, fern and moss garden at Elves Chasm, limestone chutes in Matkatamiba Canyon, swimming in the turquoise Havasu Creek pools, riding through Granite Narrows (the narrowest part of the canyon). 

Full Canyon (Lee’s Ferry – Lake Mead) 

If you have the time, a non-motorized raft gives you more time to really soak in the whole canyon experience.  A motorized raft does give you a chance to travel the whole length of the canyon more quickly.  You will also often have a little more time for side trips since you can travel along the river more quickly.     

Western Canyon  

This is the western-most portion of the Lower Canyon.  It is closer to Las Vegas and there are several places you can enter/ exit the river, so short rafting trips in the Grand Canyon are possible.  There are two main options – shorter multi-day (typically 3-5 days) trips and one-day trips. 

Multi-day Western Canyon Trips (Whitmore Wash – Lake Mead) 

Western Canyon rafting tours take place in the Westernmost section of the Colorado River.  They typically start with a scenic flight from Las Vegas to Bar 10 Ranch.  This is a working ranch, and you can see ranch demonstrations, go horseback riding, ATVing, etc. before taking a helicopter to Whitmore Wash to start the rafting trip.  

  • Start/ Finish: Whitmore Wash (River Mile 188) to Lake Mead (River Mile 280) 
  • To know: Helicopter flight in.  The last section is calm water and typically via jet boat 
  • Rapids: 9 major rapids rated 5 or above (on a 1-10 rating scale) + 4 lower intensity rapids 
  • Highlights: 2 side hikes 
One-Day Western Canyon Trips  (Diamond Creek – Lake Mead) 

One-day rafting the Grand Canyon trips start and end with a two-hour shuttle ride from/ to Peach Springs.  They enter the Colorado River at Diamond Creek and take out at Quartermaster Canyon at lunch time with a helicopter ride out, or involve an afternoon on calm water to Lake Mead.  They are all in motorized rafts.   

This section of the canyon does not have the biggest rapids or the most interesting side trips.  Nor does it go through the tallest part of the canyon.  But, if you only have a day, it is a super fun taster, and a great day out.  There is a short optional hike to the picturesque Travertine Falls included.   

  • Minimum Age: 8 years 
  • Start/ Finish: Diamond Creek (River Mile 224) to Quartermaster Canyon (River Mile 261) or Lake Mead (River Mile 280) 
  • To know: Finish at Quartermaster Canyon involves a 6-7-minute helicopter ride.  This includes a visit to the Skywalk.  If you stay until Lake Mead, the last section after lunch is calm water (which gives you a chance to dry off) and you can’t visit Skywalk. 
  • Rapids: 9 major rapids rated 5 or above (on a 1-10 rating scale) + 4 lower intensity rapids 
  • Highlights: Hike to Travertine Falls 

There are two options for one-day Grand Canyon river tours 

1. Grand Canyon rafting tours to/ from Las Vegas 

This includes pick up and drop off from your hotel in Las Vegas.  Be warned – it’s a long day with a 4:00am pickup and 8:00pm drop off!  However, if you are staying in Vegas and want to add this Grand Canyon experience to your vacation easily, this is a great option. 

Book a one-day river rafting Grand Canyon trip from Las Vegas here 

2. Grand Canyon raft trips from the Peach Springs 

If you have a car, this makes for a shorter day.  You can stay in Peach Springs the nights before and of your trip and then head to the South Rim of Grand Canyon, to Vegas or somewhere else on your Southwest road trip.  This makes the most sense if you aren’t based fully in Las Vegas.  There is a two-hour transfer from Peach Springs to the Colorado River and another two hours back at the end of the day. 

Book a one-day Colorado River rafting in Grand Canyon trip from Peach Springs here 

Horseshoe Bend Section (Glen Canyon Dam – Lee’s Ferry) 

There is one more section of the canyon that you can raft through. The eastern section is usually run by different companies.  In fact, it ends at River Mile 0 (Lee’s Ferry).  This a short five-mile section of the canyon and the trips are half day trips. 

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend

The trip, which is completely flat water (there are no Grand Canyon river rapids in this section) starts at Glen Canyon (after a bus transfer from Page), passes Petroglyph Beach and floats around Horseshoe Bend.  It ends at Lee’s Ferry, which is the starting point for trip through the Upper Canyon.  The half-day trip ends with a bus trip back past Vermillion Cliffs to Page. 

  • Minimum Age: 4 years 
  • Start/ Finish: Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry (River Mile 0) 
  • To know: This is a Grand Canyon float trip, not a whitewater rafting trip 
  • Rapids: None 
  • Highlights: Glen Canyon Dam, Petroglyph Beach, Horseshoe Bend, Lee’s Ferry, Vermillion Cliffs 

At a Glance: Places that Grand Canyon river rafting trips start/end 

Glen Canyon Dam (River Mile -15) 

  • Start of ½ day Horsehoe Bend trip 

Lee’s Ferry (River Mile 0) 

  • End of ½ day Horsehoe Bend trip 
  • Start of Upper Canyon and Full Canyon trips 

Phantom Ranch (River Mile 88) / Pipe Creek (River Mile 88) 

  • End of Upper Canyon trip. Hike Bright Angel Trail to South Rim/ Grand Canyon Village 
  • Start of Lower Canyon trip. Hike Bright Angel Trail from South Rim/ Grand Canyon Village 

Whitmore Wash (River Mile 188) 

  • One possible end to Lower Canyon or Full Canyon trips.  Helicopter to Bar 10 Ranch then charter plane to Las Vegas or your starting point. 
  • Start of Western section (multi-day).  Scenic flight from Las Vegas to Bar 10 Ranch then helicopter. 

Diamond Creek (River Mile 224) 

  • One possible end to Lower Canyon or Full Canyon trips. Coach to Flagstaff airport or further on to Las Vegas.  
  • Start of one-day trip (after 2-hour shuttle from Peach Springs). 

Quartermaster Canyon (River Mile 261) 

  • One possible end to one-day trip.  Helicopter + optional visit to Skywalk then 2-hour shuttle to Peach Springs. 

Lake Mead / Pearce Ferry (River Mile 280) 

  • One possible end to Lower Canyon or Full Canyon trips. Usually, you leave your raft around river mile 240 and take a jet boat ride to the end, then a coach to Las Vegas or your starting point.  
  • One possible end to one-day trip.  The final section after lunch is calm water.  Then a 2-hour shuttle to Peach Springs. 
  • End of Western section.  Coach to Las Vegas or your starting point. 
wooden boats going through small rapids on river rafting trip through grand canyon

Length of Time 

How long white water rafting trips in Grand Canyon take depends on the type of craft and the section of the canyon that you go through.   

How long does it take to raft the entire Grand Canyon?   It usually takes between 6 and 18 days to travel the entire length of the canyon (Upper and Lower Canyons).  There is some variation between outfitters and types of raft, but in general 

  • A motorized raft takes 6-8 days 
  • A non-motorized raft/ boat (paddle, oar, hybrid or dory) takes 12-18 days 

See below for more details on time and price for each section.

rafts and doreis pulled up on beach inside grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

How Much is White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon? 

Grand Canyon white water rafting prices depend on the type of raft or boat, the length of your trip / which section of the canyon you go through, and the outfitter. 

Longer trips cost more, as they involve more staff time and more food, etc.  Because motorized rafts are quicker (and have more people on them), that means they are also cheaper.  Dories tend to be the most expensive. 

Some outfitters like Oars provide more extras, maybe better food and have a reputation of excellence, so they tend be more expensive.  Other more budget operators will be less frills, and therefore a but cheaper.  

view from river in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

Approximate times and prices for rafting in Grand Canyon 

  • Upper Canyon  
    • Motorized: 4 days | $1,500 
    • Non-motorized: 6-8 days | $3,100 – $3.500 
  • Lower Canyon 
    • Motorized: 4 days | $1,800-$2,000 
    • Non-motorized:  
      • 7-8 days to Whitmore Wash | $4,500 – $5,000 
      • 10-12 days to Diamond Creek/ Lake Mead | $5,000 – $5,300  
  • Full Canyon  
    • Motorized:  
      • 7 days to Whitmore Wash | $3,300 
      • 8-9 days to Diamond Creek/ Lake Mead | $3,000 – $3,300 
    • Non-motorized: 
      • 12-14days to Whitmore Wash $5,700 – $6,300 
      • 15-18 days to Diamond Creek/ Lake Mead | $6,100 – $6,700 
  • West Canyon 
    • Non-motorized: 5 days | $2,800 – $3,000 

All times and prices are approximate and vary between operators.  This is given here a general guide only.  Please check with the actual operators for exact times and prices. 

rafts and wooden boats going through rapids inside large canyon on river trip through grand canyon

What is the best time to raft Grand Canyon? 

Unlike most rivers that are fuller in spring with the snowmelt and smaller by the end of summer, the flow of the Colorado River is controlled by the Glen Canyon Dam upriver, so it tends to be fairly consistent throughout the year. 

The rafting season is typically from April to October.   

The Colorado River is surprisingly cold, which can be refreshing in the hotter summer months and downright chilly in the cooler spring and fall months. Summer is definitely more crowded.   

From July to early September is monsoon season and occasionally intense rains can wash out the road between Peach Springs and the river, which can mean that the one-day rafting trips in the Grand Canyon can be cancelled. 

In general, spring (April-May) and fall (September-October) are the best times of year for raft trips in Grand Canyon. 

wooden boat with umbrella on calm river in large canyon  on river trip through grand canyon
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Guide to White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Upper Canyon Colorado River Rafting Description

We chose to take a dory because:

  • a dory is wood, so it is not flexible, so you feel every part of every rapid, making riding the rapids more thrilling
  • this is how the original explorers did it and there is a romance to following in their footsteps more closely
  • one of the crew actually does the rowing (we needed to bail the water out as we went through each of the rapids, though), so it is actually less strenuous.

We chose the Upper Canyon because:

  • it was a bit shorter than the Lower Canyon, giving us more time at the rim
  • the hike on the Bright Angel was uphill, and I prefer hiking up rather than down because, although it requires more effort, it’s easier on the knees
  • I wanted to see the canyon grow and see it get bigger, rather than entering at the deepest point

However, keep in mind that the Lower Canyon has the biggest rapids and is actually the deepest part of the canyon.

Day One of Rafting in the Grand Canyon

We are picked up at 7:00am for the trip to Lee’s Ferry, where the boats put in.  The countryside quickly changes from pine forest to desert and soon enough we see some mesas appear, which really evoke the American South West.

wooden boat on river in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

I was expecting Lee’s Ferry to be flat, but actually the canyon has already started and there are some short sandstone cliffs.  We board our dories; each of the four wooden boats has four passengers plus the crew member who is doing the rowing.

We go through three rapids, including Badger Rapids and Soap Creek.  They aren’t that big, but are fun nonetheless as we bounce around, bailing frantically.  The canyon gets deeper as the day progresses, and the layers of rock start to rise high around us. It’s beautiful and awe-inspiring.

We camp for the night on a beach on a narrow stretch of the river.  Directly opposite is a sheer wall of orange sandstone. We can hear the bleating of longhorn sheep, but can’t see them.  It’s cooled down and is very pleasant; a gentle breeze is blowing.  We pitch our tent and bathe in the freezing cold river.  After a dinner prepared by the crew, we are in bed by 8:30 pm, exhausted after a day in the sun.  We are alone surrounded by scrub and the canyon walls.

beach in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon
Campsite Day 1

Day Two of Rafting in the Grand Canyon

We wake up at 6:00am, excited for the day ahead, and after breakfast, set off about 9:00am.  It is not long before we face the first rapids of the day.  House Rock Rapid is bigger than anything we went through yesterday and we have to wear helmets.  The crew stop to check it out so they know exactly how to navigate safely through it.  We head into it, bailing like crazy with water swirling in front of us and crashing into the boat.  It’s good fun and over too soon.

small wooden boat surrounded by large canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

I sit back and relax, soaking everything in.  The canyon is high above us now.

After another couple of rapids, we pull up on a beach at North Canyon, where we get out for our first hike of the trip.  The three-mile round-trip hike into North Canyon is spectacular, with incredible views of both the main Grand Canyon and the side North Canyon.

lone hiker sin side canyon from grand canyon on on river rafting trip through grand canyon

The scale is overwhelming – we are tiny blips on the landscape.  The hike ends in a ¾ tube that has been scoured out by water gushing during flash floods, with a tiny pool remaining.

pool of water at end of side canyon hike on river rafting trip through grand canyon

Nature never fails to amaze me – this hike is amazing.

two people surrounded by grand canyon on river rafting trip through Grand Canyon

After lunch, we run rapids virtually every mile, including 24.5 Mile Rapid, 25 Mile Rapid and The Roaring 20’s.   The cliffs in this part of the canyon are red and the views all around us are truly spectacular.

We set up camp for the night on another gorgeous sandy beach and are again in bed just after dark.

man standing next to tent on beach inside grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon
Campsite Day 2

Day Three of Rafting in the Grand Canyon

We are on the river by 8:30am.  There are no big rapids today, so a nice gentle day of rolling down the river, a new breathtaking scene around every bend.  The canyon is getting deeper and deeper and we often can’t see the rim, which is set back from the cliffs we pass under.  The cliffs are mainly red here, but at one spot a large slab of the cliff fell off a year or so ago and the exposed cliff is white.  This layer of the canyon is actually limestone at this level of the river, but is dyed red by oxides draining down from the sandstone above (see below for description of the layers).

boats on river in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

I become an expert in canyon geology for the next few days – and then forget most of it soon after getting back home!

We pass Vasey’s Paradise, a small waterfall and stop at Redwall Cavern.  This is an enormous cavern set deep into the canyon wall with a fine sandy beach.

boats and rafts drawn up on beach inside large cavern looking out at canyon walls and river on river trip through grand canyon

It is incredibly picturesque.

view of cavern in red wall at rovers edge on river trip through grand canyon

A little further down river, we have another stop.  A short hike takes us up to a tunnel created in the canyon wall as part of the exploratory stages of the Marble Canyon Dam.

man in mine with headlamp inside abandoned tunnel in grand canyon on river trip through grand canyon

If the dam had been completed, this part of the Grand Canyon would have been under water.  Fortunately, the project was cancelled after a huge public outcry.  Sometimes common sense does prevail.

river in grand canyon seen from slightly above on river trip through grand canyon

The long tunnel is more interesting for its place in history than for anything else, but it is interesting to see and learn about a new aspect to the canyon and its history.

Around 3:00pm, we reach Saddle Canyon, where we camp for the night on yet another gorgeous beach with breathtakingly beautiful views.

beach and tents late afternoon in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

Day Four of Rafting in the Grand Canyon

We start the day with a hike up Saddle Canyon.  The canyon is narrow, with sheer cliff walls towering overhead.  Most of the hike is through lush vegetation that grows around a creek.

man hiking on narrow path on side of cliff with canyon walls behind him on river trip through grand canyon

Near the end of the hike we change into wet shoes and hike through the creek and climb up a narrow crevice, helped by the crew, to a little rock waterfall where this part of the canyon narrows to an end.

two men standing shin deep in water surrounded by walls of canyon on each side very narrow on river trip through grand canyon

Back at the beach, we board the boats and head a little further down river.

small wooden boat going through rapids in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

There are no major rapids in the morning.

boat on river in grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

We stop at Nankoweap Granaries and have lunch on the beach before starting our second hike of the day.  It’s a steep climb- the last part is basically straight up – but worth the effort.  At the top is an ancient native American granary – a bricked wall with windows that create a cave-like storage area.  The area at the top is a row of steep bleachers, with a sheer drop far below, which is a little unnerving.

man standing on side of cliff on river rafting trip through grand canyon

In addition to the ancient granary, the payoff for the climb up is the singular most amazing view of the entire trip (in my opinion) down the longest straight section of the canyon where the river meanders around sand banks.  I take a million photos then sit and stare until it is time to go back down.

View of colorado river snaking through grand canyon on river rafting trip through grand canyon

Back on the river, we roar down Kwagunt rapid and a few smaller ones as well.  I ride on the bow for the small rapids.  The front of the boat plunges and soars even in Class II rapids and it’s great fun.

small raft in large Grand canyon

We camp in another breathtaking spot.  It’s Kevin’s 50th birthday, and the guides bake him a chocolate cake in a Dutch oven and we all sing happy birthday.  Such a great way to spend a birthday!

sandy beach and river winding through canyon on river trip through grand canyon

Day Five of Rafting in the Grand Canyon

We have a bit more of a leisurely start and only go a short way before we stop at the Little Colorado River.  This side river is a vivid aqua blue due to its mineral content – and considerably warmer than the frigid Colorado River.  We walk about ¼ mile upstream and stopped by a mini rapid.  We wear our life jackets like diapers and, buoyant, float down the rapids.

bright blue shallow river  on river trip through grand canyon

We stay for about an hour, having several goes.

bright blue shallow river on river trip through grand canyon

The rest of the day sees us go through more rapids, including Unkar and Nevilles – nothing too major – but I ride the bow again for a smaller rapid to mix things up.

I could do this for days more.

Day Six of Rafting in the Grand Canyon

We got through several big rapids, including Hance, Sockdolager and Grapevine.  For Hance, the crew get out to survey the rapid before going down it.  Huge waves crash over the front of our boat and we bail like crazy people, but we get through unscathed.

raft in grand canyon and pillar of stone on river rafting trip through grand canyon

We arrive late morning at a hot beach just past a narrow bridge spanning the river.  We debark, have lunch, put all our stuff back in our duffel bags, and then hike a dusty ½-mile to Phantom Ranch, which is a group of rustic cabins with a large central hall for dining/ shop/ reception/office.  We weigh our duffel bags to make sure they are light enough to be carried up and out of the canyon on a mule, so that all we have to carry when we hike out the next day is a small day pack with water, snacks and a camera.

We attend a free ranger talk on rattlesnakes and have a family style stew, cornbread and salad and salad for dinner, then early to bed in a dorm with other members of our rafting group in preparation for the next day’s early morning hike out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. Read a complete guide to the Bright Angel Trail hike here.

The verdict: White water rafting in the Grand Canyon

I can’t imagine a better way to see the Grand Canyon.  We hiked out and that was great.  We spent several days at the rim and that was great.  But being in the canyon, careening down rapids in a wooden boat like explorers and being dwarfed by the immense layered cliffs all around us was totally awesome!

The layers of the Grand Canyon

One of the things I loved about going through the canyon was passing the different layers.  At the start, the youngest stone in the canyon was all around us.  As we continued down the river, that layer rose up and the layer directly beside us was older and different rock. It was really cool to pass through time and see familiar layers that we had passed directly by end up thousands of feet above us by the end.

  • Kaibab limestone – the youngest and therefore the topmost layer. In some places sandstone and shale also exits here (color is cream – greyish white)
  • Toroweap Foundation – a little darker than the Kaibab limestone, but similar material
  • Coconino sandstone (petrified sand dunes). A broad, light-colored cliff a few hundred meters below the rim (color is white – cream)
  • Hermit shale – siltstones, mudstones, fine grained sandstones. It is rich in iron that creates a red slope.  It is soft, so it erodes, causing the layers above to fall in (color is deep rust colored red)
  • Supai Formation – shale with bits of limestone and capped with sandstone (color varies from red for shale to tan for the sandstone caps)
  • Redwall limestone – this is prominent because it forms a sheer cliff. (Color is a deep reddish color, but this is due to the iron oxides leaching out of the layers above and staining the face.  Behind the red is dark brownish color.)
  • Temple Butte Limestone – this is most prominent in western end of the canyon. (Color is purplish in east and grey/ cream in the west)
  • Tonto group:
    • Muav limestone – thicker in the west (color is grey)
    • Bright Angel Shale – a broad flat area below the rim called the Tonto platform. it is much wider in the west (color is green to gray)
    • Tapeats Sandstone – dark brown
  • Precambrian basement rocks – there are various layers, which are tilted up rather than horizontal. Includes pinkish rock called Zoroaster Granite
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Guide to White Water Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Happy river running!

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About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents.  He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.

He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.

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