Although overlooking the majestic Grand Canyon from the top is an option, there is no better way to fully grasp this wonder than to raft the Colorado River. Whether your trip lasts a day or more than two weeks, you can slosh through roaring rapids, float down tranquil streams, trek around cliffs and into caves on daily hikes and sleep under the stars, all while being fully surrounded by the rich history of the canyon walls.
Whitewater season is April through September. Numerous types of rafting trips are available to suit every type of schedule.
Outdoors Unlimited offer a five- or six-day trip down the first portion of the river; an eight- or nine-day trip down the second half of the river; or a 13-day trip that covers the entire river. Both portions of the river include hikes into the canyon.
Rafting the Grand Canyon & Utah gives you the choice of a full-force rafting experience in an oar raft, similar to those provided by Outdoors Unlimited, or a calmer ride on a motorized craft. For a one-day exploration, you can rent a kayak. The lengths of the trips depend on the type of craft and the part of the canyon you choose.
O.A.R.S. offers nine different trips, each beginning and ending in a different location and ranging from four to 18 days. They also offer the option of rafting in a blow-up raft, or rafting in a hard-hulled dory that feels the rapids more and moves more slowly.
No matter which company you choose to ride with through the Grand Canyon, the itineraries are all somewhat similar. Beaches and shorelines along the Colorado River provide ideal spots for lunch or dinner. After a full day of rafting, the vessels park for the night on a beach.
Each passenger is allowed a small duffel bag of necessities and clothing, and a sleeping bag. The operator provides waterproof bags, a list of items to bring, and tents if needed. Otherwise, everyone sleeps under the stars. Filtered water, portable toilets, first-aid kits and fresh fruits, vegetables and lunch meats are provided each day.
Daily hikes are available but not mandatory. These hikes explore the hidden caves and rock formations that surround the Colorado River. Depending on the location and timeline that you choose, extra stops include waterfalls, turquoise ponds, Native American ruins and more.
The Grand Canyon was formed 5 to 6 million years ago, but some of the rock that makes up the canyon walls is as old as 2 billion years. During the trip, you will learn about—and begin to notice on your own—the different types of rock from different geological eras. Along the river and during daily beach stops you will spot naturally formed caves, plateaus, cliffs and fossils, along with lakes, waterfalls and Native American dwellings.
For either the 7-mile Kaibab Trail or the 10-mile Bright Angel Trail, you’ll want to be sure your health and fitness levels are up to par. In the weeks or months prior to your trip, practice walking up hills or on a treadmill. Raise your endurance with running or high-impact workouts. Stretch daily, and become accustomed to drinking lots of water. In hot temperatures, these hikes can become fatal if you don’t stay hydrated. Practice walking with a backpack full of weights, since you will be carrying your belongings with you. Practice yoga or Pilates in order to work your core and strengthen your balance. Read the list of items to pack carefully, so you arrive fully prepared. Let your river guides know ahead of time of any food allergies or health conditions that may affect your experience.
If you don’t camp frequently, you’ll have a lot of new experiences on your trip. You’ll often be relieving yourself and bathing in the numbing cold water of the Colorado River. You will sweat in the sun, and freeze in the water. At campsites, you’ll use simple toilet buckets; privacy will consist of a mere sheet or tarp. You’ll eat when meals are served, and you will eat what is served. You will sleep under the stars and could possibly see snakes or scorpions. You’ll have the option to hike along dangerous cliff ledges and slippery rock formations. Though the lifestyle isn’t luxurious, it allows you to let go of your standards and step outside your comfort zone while becoming one with a natural wonder.