A Beginner's Guide to Grand Canyon Rafting: What to Expect

A Beginner Guide to Grand Canyon Rafting: What to Expect

A Grand Canyon rafting experience is an activity you want to add to your bucket list trip, not just for its unique whitewater rapids but for its solitude, breathtaking beauty, and exquisite experience it promises just by being there.

The Grand Canyon is so vast that you could spend a week exploring its immense landscape without completing a rim. And it isn't designed to be a solitary experience. Grand Canyon rafting can be a unique experience for you and your group or family. 

Your Colorado river trip will allow you to experience wildlife, waterfalls, and sand beaches, swim in turquoise waters and river beaches, see towering cliffs, do hikes to Ancestral Puebloan sites and remnants of ancient indigenous places, and see much more beautiful scenery.

The Grand Canyon follows the southwest course of the Colorado River for some 277 miles. It is well known for its overwhelming size and colorful beauty. Although this may sound a bit overwhelming, we have prepared a simple guide to preparing you for the journey. We will discuss where the Grand Canyon begins and ends, the boats you can use, what you need for your rafting trip and the best times for your rafting adventure.

Places for Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

Places for Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

The Grand Canyon has an abundance of beautiful places you can explore. Here are just a few of them:

Lee's Ferry: Ground Zero

Tour guides also call Lees Ferry Mile Zero because many see it as the beginning of the Grand Canyon, where most river trips begin. Here, you will find a campground and other breathtaking sites.

Upper Canyon: Phantom Ranch

Many tourists walk or use a mule to get to Phantom Ranch, although you can also use a boat. Many tour guides call this raft trip the lower half of the Grand Canyon's west side. The upper canyon lies between Lees Ferry and Phantom Ranch- a long journey that'll take several days to complete. There is the centrally developed part of the Grand Canyon National Park, which is the South Rim. It is where the Bright Angel Trail connects to Phantom Ranch. There, you will find some food for yourself and your group.

Whitmore Wash

Brace yourself to experience some pretty intense rapids extending from the Phantom Ranch to the Whitmore Wash at river mile 187. Since Whitmore has no roads, you will use a helipad to reach the North Rim. The helicopter pad will also take you to either Las Vegas, NV, or Page, AZ.

Diamond Creek

There are also trips starting at Diamond Creek for those with short time to spare. This route is usually short and may not give you the best experience you'd like. It is the next access point at Colorado River Mile 226. It is a good exit for non-motorized trips but the beginning of whitewater day trips. The diamond creek is a 26-mile dirt road requiring a high clearance vehicle on Hualapai Tribal Lands. Although the National Park Services will charge you a toll fee at the gate, you do not have to worry about that if you are using an outfitter.

Pearce Ferry

Your trip ends at Pearce Ferry at Mile 281. Aside from the Pearce Ferry Rapid, about one mile downstream, there is just a ramp and rough parking area at Pearce Ferry. From here, your tour guide will drive you to Flagstaff, AZ, or Las Vegas. There is a level of unpredictability beyond Pearce Ferry due to the fluctuating levels of the lake.

Colorado River Raft Choices

Colorado River Raft Choices

Most commercial trips offer different boat choices depending on what you want.

Paddle Trips

You use paddle boats on this trip. You and your team will work your way and paddle with your strength. Each individual will get a paddle and some instructions from the guide.

Non-Motorized Rafting Trips

A single guide or boatman pilots non-motorized rafting or oar trips using small rafts. Each boat can convey about four passengers.

Motorized Rafting Trips

If you want to see much of the Grand Canyon in a limited time, you should try motorized rafts. The motorized rafter can carry up to 10 or even more passengers with the crew and pilot. It is an exciting ride for most passengers as they can get a good canyon view, albeit at high speed.

Motorized Trips VS Oar Trips

Oar raft side trips give you more closeness and intimacy to the river. Though it is more expensive than motorized trips, experiencing exciting whitewater on oar boats will give you a more memorable experience to talk about for a long time. However, some companies support those who want to go on paddle trips.

The Temperature on the Grand Canyon

The Colorado River's temperature ranges between 45-60 degrees, usually cold. You need personal floatation devices because if you happen to fall into the river, you only have about 10 minutes of muscle activity. 

In contrast, the sun could feel quite hot, making it easy to dehydrate. Just ensure you bring adequate drinking water to keep you hydrated.

Things to Consider While Planning your Trip

Things to Consider While Planning your Trip

Here are some important details to pay attention to while planning your trip:

Your Outfit

First, talk to your outfitter about what temperature to expect during the trip. Generally, when preparing for any rafting tour, it is best to plan with the worst-case scenario in mind. However, you won't need much for your Grand Canyon trips. You can bring some long pants, tennis shoes or water shoes, T-shirts, a towel, rain gear, a jacket or sweater, toiletries, a hat, and other necessary things. 

Just be sure to bring things that feel comfortable and dry quickly. Long pants protect your legs from the blowing sand and the chill of the temperature. Carry along a down parka and some insulating layer under your raincoat if the weather is intensely cold. You would want to capture the moments, so do not forget to carry a camera and a waterproof bag. For ease, you can put all of these in a backpack and bring them with you.

Cost of a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

All trips by commercial outfitters are regulated and authorized by Grand Canyon National Park. In addition, they only allow a fixed number of visitors yearly. The trip's cost largely depends on the boat type, the group size, and trip lengths. It could also depend on whether you choose a day or multi-day trip. 

Inquire about payment policies, age limits, fitness requirements, rapids, and any other detail depending on your circumstances. With this information, you can contact your rafting outfitter for further details. Generally, rafting trips could range from 400 dollars for a day trip to 6,700 dollars for an 18-21 days trip through the Grand Canyon. You will also have to consider what mode of travel you want to use, either motorized or non-motorized rafting. 

Best Time to Raft the Grand Canyon

Many people love being on the river during summer, which is why there is a rafting peak from June to August. These periods are excellent for people aiming for a more physical and mental challenge. But note that these periods come with hot temperatures in the Grand Canyon. 

If you are looking to avoid the crowds and the heat, then going in the spring would be your best. Remember that motorized trips run from April to September, and multi-day commercial tours are available from April to October. 

You can go for your trips in the winter period if you are not afraid of the cold. From July to August, the Grand Canyon experiences thunderstorms, making it difficult for your guide to show you everything you need to see in Marble Canyon. In addition, it becomes less picturesque when it rains because the river becomes brown and thick with sediment.

You can always have your private trips whenever you choose. Although, you might want to go for a non-motorized commercial trip in late September to October as there won't be any motor trips during the commercial rafting season. 

Length of the Trip

The length of your trip depends on the time of year you decided to take it, the company you choose to travel with, and the type of trip. If you want to get the best out of your adventure, you need at least three days. If you are taking a non-motorized trip, you are looking at a minimum of five days. A motorized trip through the canyon will take at least three days. 

Your Trip Options

You would have to add the trip option that is right for your group into consideration. If you have close relatives as your group members, you may want to consider the family boating trip. This kind of trip has different enjoyable activities for all ages.

You can try out the Royal Gorge, which allows you to explore historical places like the zip lines and the train; you also choose between the upper and lower Grand Canyon. While both trips are great, the upper rafting of the Grand Canyon (upper trips) seems busier and easier to enter, making it great for group tours and people of all ages. But then, the lower canyon rafting trips are longer and have more rapids.

Rafting Route

The Grand Canyon is split into the Upper, Lower, Western, and Full Canyons, stretching over 300 miles. All Canyon sections are defined by their put-in and take-out, where they begin and end. The upper and lower canyon involves both motorized and non-motorized trips. 

While the upper canyon requires an average of 3 to 4 days for motorized trips and 5-8 days for non-motorized trips, the lower canyon takes 4 to 6 days for motorized trips and 7 to 12 days for non-motorized trips. The route you take is inconsequential as the trip promises beautiful scenery, memorable times, hiking, and whitewater rafting

Safety on Grand Canyon Rafting Trips

As a rule, you must always put on an approved personal floatation device so you do not have to worry if you don't know how to swim. Like every other outdoor activity, unforeseen circumstances such as injury or death may occur, although such incidents aren't frequent on the Grand Canyon. Good outfitters will provide you with experienced tour guides who are expertly trained and excellent at their job. They have impeccable safety records and are there to keep you safe throughout your rafting trip.

Rafting permit for the Grand Canyon

If you are going on this trip on a personal level, you would need a permit from the National Park Service or the Hualapai tribe. You can obtain a permit from this tribe because most of this Canyon's lower Grand Canyon rafting section is on their land where the Hualapai meets the Colorado River.

To get your permit from the National Park Service, you must create a user account and fill in the lottery application once you log in. The application is open in February, and winners are notified in late February via mail. Don't forget to include the trip leader and the Potential Alternate Trip leader, as they both need an account in the system for you to process your application to be processed.

However, if you are on a guided commercial trip, you would not have to worry about getting a permit. You need at least one person with good experience in rafting or boat operation. 


Rafting is an enjoyable adventure that you can share with family and friends. Get fully prepared before the journey so you'll enjoy your trip. While on it, you can protect your skin from heat and the sun by applying some lotion and sunscreen to prevent it from cracking and drying out. While hiking, wear dry shoes and socks and keep your feet as dry as possible. You can carry more things than you think are needed. It is all about the fun and the memories, so make sure to have a lot of it.

Contact Advantage Grand Canyon today to search for your perfect Grand Canyon rafting trip from all the top 15 outfitters in one place and book your dream rafting trip.