There are a series of different Colorado River trips through Grand Canyon National Park. You can choose between single-day and multiday excursions, whitewater and smooth water, motorized and nonmotorized rafts, and commercial and noncommercial tours.
At the less expensive end are half-day, full-day, or overnight whitewater and smooth water trips, some of which start from Glen Canyon Dam or Lees Ferry (on the canyon's northeastern end), and others which launch from Quartermaster or Diamond Creek (on the canyon's western end). Noncommercial trips that launch from Diamond Creek and end at Lake Mead last 2 to 5 days. Permits for these whitewater trips are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis starting 1 year in advance. Motorized and nonmotorized whitewater rafting trips that launch from Lees Ferry and end at Diamond Creek vary in length.
Reserve 3- to 18-day professionally guided river trips 1 to 2 years in advance; 12- to 25-day noncommercial, self-guided trips are available to the public through a weighted lottery. Though motorized trips usually take at least 7 days to reach Diamond Creek, half-trip options exist for those who would prefer to hike in or out at Phantom Ranch. A full list of approved river concessionaires is available at www.nps.gov/grca under the "Plan Your Visit" section.
Colorado River Discovery (tel. 888/522-6644; www.raftthecanyon.com) offers half-day guided smooth-water float trips from the base of Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry (where most companies begin their trips). The excursions last about 5 hours and cost $85 for adults, $75 for children 12 and under. This trip is offered March 1 through November 30.
Grand Canyon Airlines (tel. 866/235-9422; www.grandcanyonairlines.com) has teamed up with Colorado River Discovery to offer full-day guided smooth-water float trips from the base of Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. Round-trip bus transportation is provided to and from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area transferring through Grand Canyon National Park and the Navajo Indian Reservation. Cost for this tour is $194 ($174 for ages 11 and under), including lunch. Tours are offered year-round, and include a flight over the canyon for an additional charge.
One-day guided motorized raft trips through the Grand Canyon's westernmost section are available through Hualapai River Runners (tel. 888/255-9550; www.hualapaitourism.com). This is the only 1-day whitewater rafting trip on the Colorado River. Riders begin at Diamond Creek's rapids and finish at Grand Canyon West (where a visit to the Skywalk can be added for $54). Time spent on the river is about 5 1/2 hours and includes multiple cluster rapids. At the end of the day (weather permitting), participants are helicoptered off the river. Meeting time is 7:30am at Hualapai Lodge, on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in Peach Springs, and return time is between 6 and 7pm that same day. Lunch is included, and participants should bring a change of clothes, since they will get wet. These guided trips cost $355 per person and run from mid-March through October. The Hualapai Indian Reservation is about a 2-hour drive from Grand Canyon Village.
Motorized -- Guided motorized trips are fastest, often covering the 277 miles from Lees Ferry (above the canyon) to South Cove (in Lake Mead) in 6 to 8 days, compared to as many as 18 days for nonmotorized trips. The motorized trips use wide pontoon boats (known colloquially as "bologna boats") that almost never capsize, making them slightly safer. Also, it's easier to move about on these solid-framed boats than on oar or paddleboats, a plus for people who lack mobility. Because of the speed, however, there's less time for hiking or resting in camp. If motorized trips are for you, consider using Moki Mac River Expeditions (tel. 800/284-7280; www.mokimac.com) or Wilderness River Adventures (tel. 800/992-8022; www.riveradventures.com).
Nonmotorized -- For mobile people who want to bask in the canyon's beauty, I strongly recommend guided nonmotorized trips, even if it means seeing half the canyon instead of it all. A motorless raft glides at close to the water's pace, giving passengers time to observe subtle, enticing patterns -- swirls of water in eddies; the play of shadow and light as the sun moves across rock layers; each side canyon's opening, unfolding, and gradual closing. Without motors running, the river's sound provides a dreamlike backdrop to the journey.
There are two types of nonmotorized boats: paddleboats and oar boats. Oar boats are wooden dories or rubber rafts, each of which holds four or five passengers and a guide who does most or all of the rowing. If a guide is highly skilled, passengers on an oar-powered trip have an excellent chance of floating the entire river without having to swim in the 45°F (7°C) rapids. (The latest statistics on river-related deaths show commercial river trips to be as dangerous as playing golf. Far more people get hurt in camp than on the river.) If an oar-powered company appeals to you, I recommend O.A.R.S. (tel. 800/346-6277 or 209/736-4677), which has some of the most experienced guides on the river.
In a paddleboat, six passengers paddle, assisted by a guide who instructs and helps steer. This experience is ideal for fit people who want to be involved at all times. However, because of the participants' inexperience, paddleboats are probably more likely to capsize than oar boats or motorized rigs. And paddling can become burdensome during the long, slow-water stretches, especially when a headwind blows. Canyon Explorations/Expeditions (tel. 800/654-0723 or 928/774-4559; www.canyonexplorations.com) and Outdoors Unlimited (tel. 800/637-7238 or 928/526-4511; www.outdoorsunlimited.com) both have excellent reputations for paddle trips.
Another factor to consider before scheduling your trip is the season. In April, the cacti bloom in the lower canyon, splashing bright colors across the hillsides, and the river is relatively uncrowded. However, cold weather can occasionally make these trips a test of the spirit. In May, the weather is usually splendid, but the river is at its most crowded. June and July can be oppressively hot. In August, monsoons break the heat and may generate additional waterfalls along the river. From September 15 to the end of October, no motorized rigs cruise the river, so the canyon is quiet, though cold weather can be a problem.
River Rafting Companies
Sixteen companies are authorized to provide rafting trips in the Grand Canyon. For a comprehensive list, visit the "River Trips" section of www.nps.gov/grca by first clicking "Plan Your Visit" and then "Things to Do."
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.