Thinking about going on a grand adventure trip with nature? If you want to experience a slice of something iconic, you can't get more iconic than the Grand Canyon rafting. Often featured in many postcards, the Grand Canyon home to the Colorado River where most of the river trip adventure happens. If you're planning a trip to this amazing National Park location, here's what you need to know.
Grand Canyon River Adventure Trips
The Colorado River itself measures 1450 miles. Note though - that doesn't mean you can raft through all those miles. Remember, the Grand Canyon itself measures just 277 miles, which means that if you're rafting through it, you'll cover no more than 277 miles, which means you don't actually have to leave the carve of the Canyon National Park. The actual section of the Colorado River that's navigable by raft and still falls as Grand Canyon Rafting is around 280 miles. If you want the full experience, you need to set aside around 7 days for your Canyon rafting trip.
Trip Through More than One Section of the Colorado Canyon
Grand Canyon rafting Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch is simply one phase of a 3-phase Grand Canyon experience. If you're wondering - that's 88 miles worth of rapids with Lees Ferry as the starting point. Now, this is actually the smoothest portion of the whole river through the Grand Canyon. It's a smooth sail and shouldn't take you long to traverse. In fact, this Canyon rafting trip can take less than a day of a river trip.
To be fair, however, we're going to tackle the other section of the Colorado river as defined by sections. Obviously, there's the Grand Canyon rafting Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch trip, but what else?
From Phantom Ranch, there's the Whitmore Wash landmark which ends at the 188-mile mark. Hence, this is actually a 100-mile river trip that's slightly longer than the first phase. From Whitmore Wash, you will land on the Grand Wash Cliffs which is mile 188. For most, this is a good place to stop for the navigable part of the Colorado River trip. If you're taking the full trip, however, you'll want to go all the way to Lake Mead which is actually mile 277. Getting there, you'd go on a trip to Diamond Creek and then Separation Canyon before finally landing on the end of the trip.
Just the First 88 Miles of Grand Canyon Rafting Trip
If you're under some time constraints during your trip, it makes sense to just take the first 88 miles with Grand Canyon rafting Less Ferry to Phantom Ranch. On your way to Phantom Ranch, you'll be passing through several aptly named sections of the Colorado River: The House Rock rapid, the rapids of the Roaring 20s, the peaceful Marble Canyon, and the picture perfect Vasey's Paradise. There's also the Redwall Cavern, the Little Colorado River, the Nankoweap Anasazi Granaries, the Hance Rapid, and the Great Unconformity. Note, those are just few of the rapids you'll be encountering during the river trip!
Here's a little bit of what you can expect during this trip with each section of the Colorado River.
You're starting your river adventure at Lees Ferry, but it would a shame if you don't appreciate this portion of the Grand Canyon National Park. It actually goes by multiple names such as Saints Ferry or Little Colorado Station. As a jump-off point of the trip, Lees Ferry is wonderfully ideal because it can be used as an access point on both sides. In fact, history shows that this is exactly how the area is used during the 19th century. Once you step in Lees Ferry, understand that this is the official starting point of park service. This is where all of the Canyon traffic converges so be prepared for the influx of tons of people on their way to their own white water trips. Note that for Canyon rafting, Lees Ferry is the perfect starting point. For a hike, however, many people use this area as the end-marker of their trip.
No, there are no actual marbles here. However, the name was coined because the limestone that marks the area looks a lot like marble polished to perfection. It's the first stop for a river trip during such time, you'll be treated to medium rapids and amazing scenery. This area borders the Navajo Nation and is home to the Marble Canyon National Monument which also forms part of the national park of the Grand Canyon. From here, you should be able to take a good look at the Navajo Bridge which is another landmark of the rafting trip.
From the Marble Canyon, you'll reach the Roaring's 20s which is when you'll encounter most of the action during these trips. If you opted for a paddle raft trip, then this is where things get exciting. Now, the Roaring 20s is named such because of the various rapids you'll encounter along the way. It all starts with the North Canyon Rapid followed by the 21 Mile Rapid. These have a 12 feet drop with waves that are rated around 4 or 5 depending on the season. You'll also encounter the 23 Mile Rapid, the 23 1/2 Mile Rapid, The 24 1/2 Mile Rapid, and the Georgia Rapid.
In case you haven't figured it out, the name's of the waves here are all a variation of the word "20", hence the collective name of "Roaring 20s" for the collection. It doesn't stop with 24 though! Next, you can look forward to the 25 Mile Rapid, the 27 Mile Rapid, Cave Springs Rapid, and lastly - the 29 Mile Rapid. Once you're past this point of the trip, the water becomes a bit kinder and you can take a break from the padding.
A stopover will be had at Stanton's Cave which is just a small opening on the rock wall beside the river trip. Note that as one of the side trips through the river, your guide might encourage you to look at the cave - but not really go inside it. This is because the cave is home to big-eared bats that are protected by the national government. Of course, with the installation of a gate in 1997, looters aren't really able to walk inside anymore, but there's enough space for the bats to go in and out of their habitat. If you're going to learn anything from your many trips through the river, it's that it makes sense to preserve these wonderful lives of nature! During hike explorations, stick figurines were also found on the site which dates back to 4,000 years old.
Trips to the Grand Canyon are never complete if you're not visiting Vasey's Paradise. Any rafting trip that covers this area will make a slight stop in order for you to take in the beauty of the literal oasis. It's home to several small waterfalls and is considered a semi-desert installation. Note though that this area of the national park is home to endangered species so disturbing the location is not advisable. To illustrate - it is home to the Kanab amber snail which only has two known habitats as is listed as critically endangered.
No water rapid here that you have to fight with - but the sites are amazing! The Redwall Cavern is aptly named because of its ginormous cave-like structure that you'll pass through during the river trip. For leisurely rides, it's not surprising for guides to let you get off the raft and take your pictures alongside this cavern. As the name further suggests - the cavern is fully red and makes for the perfect social media profile picture. It looks really small as you approach from your raft, but once you get into it, you'd realize just how big it is. A lot like an amphitheater, old travelers once estimated that the Redwall Cavern can hold as much as fifty thousand people at the same time. Of course, that's impossible to test given the limitations of a Grand Canyon rafting trip. However, it's fairly amazing that this carving occurred thanks to the natural movement of water over millions of years. Along with the Marble Canyon, this is definitely one of the more amazing sites to be seen during your adventure.
Bridge of Sighs
Don't be confused, especially if you've gone to several Venice trips. Bridge of Sighs is a well-known landmark in Venice but in the Grand Canyon, it's actually an arch of the Canyon itself that can be seen from the river. Remember, there's a 7,000 feet drop from the rim to the river, which means it very difficult to properly appreciate the arches during your rafting trips. Once you hit this portion of the river, however, you'd be able to really see the bend of the Grand Canyon and realize just how big this natural wonder stands even as you continue rafting through it.
This deserves special mention because the Nankoweap Rapid derives from the Nankoweap Creek which is a popular camping spot for many rafting trip enthusiasts. You might find yourself taking a quick stop in this area before proceeding to the rest of the Grand Canyon adventure. It's also interesting to note that close by is the Nankoweap Trail which is a favorite among experienced hikers. Again - you have to be experienced for this trail since it's considered to be one of the hardest ones in the North Rim.
Little Colorado River
Right before reaching the Bright Angel trail, you'll be encountering the waters of the Little Colorado River. Here, you can relax a little as the turbulence of the water slows down and the guides get a bit of rest as they navigate you through the water. One thing you should remember when reaching this area is that this is just a small portion of the whole Little Colorado River. Most parts of this section are unexplored and have a very little human footprint. The area you do encounter however are rich in both fauna and flora - so make sure to take in the river adventure as much as you can before heading on to the other spots.
Even if you don't go all the way to Lake Mead, you should be amazed at the many man-made structures you'll see on the way to mile 88 of the Grand Canyon Rafting trip. One of those areas is the Kaibab Bridge also known as the Black Suspension Bridge. This is actually the bridge used by hikers to get to Phantom Ranch, often a trail way for mules bringing with them tourists and baggage. If you plan to do some hiking on the side, the Kaibab Bridge is definitely an area you'll see and cross along the rim. During the Grand Canyon Rafting trip, however, you'll be passing through this monstrous structure and be amazed at how it was made. Aside from this bridge, the only other bridge bypassing the river is the Silver Bridge.
The Phantom Ranch is where the first phase of the Grand Canyon trip ends. This is actually a lodge and sits right by the Bright Angel Creek. The site itself was used by Native Americans and is currently home to numerous artifacts dating as far as 4000 years old. Park service in the area is superb as rafting parties can proceed to other adventure trips from this area. Do you want to start a hike or do you want to explore other portions of the Bright Angel Creek? Note though - the Phantom Ranch may be a hotel, but it's not the kind you can just walk into. It's actually considered as one of the toughest hotels to get reservations for, primarily because of the influx of people every year. As a jumping-off point to get out of the Grand Canyon and hike your way out via the South Rim, however, it's just perfect.
Note that all the stops mentioned here are just an overview of the actual trip. Did you really think that's all you'll be getting during this trip? Of course not! Trips include tons of rapids, many of which are given names - such as President Harding rapid.
Rating Rapids of the Grand Canyon National - Is It a Safe Trip?
Grand Canyon rafting Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch are often the best options for beginners because it offers very friendly waters. As someone who's completely new to the process, you'll find that Lee's Ferry to Marble Canyon will give you just enough time to enjoy the surroundings before kicking it up with the exciting movement of the river. The question is - is the trip safe?
The short and simple answer to that is - YES. In fact, park service classifies the rafting trip through the first 88 miles as anywhere between 4 and 5 in terms of intensity. This means that your guide wouldn't have problems maneuvering and maintaining control over the whole Grand Canyon rafting trip. This also translates to very little risk on your part and for additional security, all rafting trip participants are equipped with life vests.
Different Grand Canyon River Rafts for Trips
There are at least five different types of river rafts you can use on the Grand Canyon river. Your choice really depends on how fast you want to go on the trip and the people you're taking the adventure with. The good news is that rafting Lees Ferry is a fairly smooth ride so kids and seniors are actually welcome on the trip.
Motorized Raft Trip.
The most popular option for rafting to the Phantom Ranch, a motorized raft lets you speed the process of travel from one section of the river to another. They're very quiet and good for families with little kids as there's really no responsibility for movement on your part. The guide will handle the navigation and leave you to simply enjoy the surroundings. Since the motor is amazingly quiet, you can take in the different sights and sounds of the fauna as you stop on crucial parts of the river. It's also pretty big, which means that it can accommodate several people at the same time. Note - there's a minimum age requirement of 8 years old for motorized raft trips.
Paddle Raft Trip
Not really ideal if you're not used to motor rafting on a trip. As the name implies, this means you'll be holding a small paddle to assist with the movement and navigation of the raft. While the guide takes most of the work, you still need to know what you're doing in order to handle the principal rapids of the Grand Canyon. Paddle rafts are also a tad smaller, which means you'll feel every shake and stop of the vessel. It has a minimum age requirement of 12 years old. In terms of speed, however, you'll be glad to know that there's enough time to enjoy the scenery with the paddle raft. With the vessel primarily propelled by the water, you'll hit all the important places within a decent amount of time. Remember though - it can be very tiring for the arms. Fortunately, the cold water of the Grand Canyon will keep you feeling fresh during the trips.
As opposed to paddle rafts, Canyon rafting with an oar-powered vessel means there will only be two people manning the navigation. That's because there will be two oars attached to the side-center of the raft and everyone else will be sitting out the hard arm workout. Since the raft themselves are small and can accommodate only 6 people, you'll be able to feel every bump and shake as the vessel flows through the river. It's a little slower though so you'd want to make sure you have the time in your trip when taking this option. Like the paddle raft, the oar-powered raft can be problematic for little kids. Ideally, anyone under the age of 10 should not be allowed on this kind of vessel.
Hybrid Raft Trip
As the name implies, this kind of raft is a combination of two distinct types - specifically the oar raft and the paddle raft. The idea is to switch between two rafts during the river trip, allowing passengers to try their paddling powers but still manage to chill out during certain portions of the adventure. Note though - a hybrid raft is typically used for multi-day rafting trips. If you're just taking the Grand Canyon rafting Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch, then you'll find that this type of raft is not an option for you.
Dory Raft Trip
Finally, there's the Dory Raft which is a very unique way of going through the rapids of this adventure trip. The raft is built of hardwood and fairly small, capable of containing just 6 people at a time. Due to the small size, the raft quickly adjusts to the changing rapids, allowing you to feel every bump and splash of the rapids. It's a bit slower, letting you enjoy the scenery as you go through the different section trips of the river. The minimum age requirement for this raft is 10 years old.
Best Time for a Trip
Grand Canyon rafting is best done from the months of April to October. This is when the weather is at its best so that you can truly enjoy the trip. The water itself is partially controlled by the nearby Glen Canyon Dam so there will always be rapids waiting to be experienced. However, the months we just mentioned will offer you the best surrounding, just hot enough to prevent you from freezing from the water and actually enjoy the splash of the river as you move from one section of the Colorado River to the next. Understand though, these are also the high-tourist months so you'd want to book your adventure trip in advance in order to be assured park service. Don't wait for the last day before booking your rafting Lee's Ferry adventure.
What to Remember for Trips Safety
Being protected by the national government, trips to the park require a level of expertise, permits, and licenses on the part of the people operating them. You'll also be glad to know that park service is available on strategic locations of the trip.
Other things to consider include: your phone, which needs to be fully charged and placed in a waterproof container; the clothes you're wearing, the food you carry with you, and any other protective gear you may be told to bring by your guide.
Getting to Lees Ferry and Climbing Out of Phantom Ranch
Getting to Lees Ferry is perhaps the easiest part of this whole process as there are lots of Canyon trips that will take you directly to this jump-off point. Whether you're coming from Phoenix or from Vegas, you should be able to get there via land travel. As probably mentioned already, a Grand Canyon rafting trip that ends at the ranch usually means you'll be hiking out of the side and to the rim. This hike takes some time to complete and is ideal for younger hikers. Of course, there's also the option of taking a helicopter which is the more convenient option. Those who decide to go as far as Lake Mead will have to tackle the same questions once they hit their final destination. This is because like the ranch, Lake Mead requires some hiking or a chopper ride in order to get you out of the Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Permits for Trips
One day is often enough to complete your river rafting trip from Lees Ferry, the Marble Canyon, and all the way to Phantom Ranch. However, that doesn't mean you're not getting a permit for this adventure. Park Service will require you to pay a set fee. The good news is that this is often part and parcel of the amount you pay for white water Canyon rafting. The coordinator of your adventure should take care of all the red tape so all you have to do is look forward to the rafting trip.
More Trips - Should You Go Further?
So you've done the trip of Grand Canyon rafting Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch! What's next on your trips? Well, depending on your travel plans, you can choose to continue with the rest of the Canyon river or make your way out of the south rim. Some adventure seekers start from Lees Ferry and raft their way all to Lake Mead, which is the endpoint of the whole experience. Now, your choice of going further really depends on how confident you are about the whole experience. Keep in mind that the first 88 miles of the trip is actually the mildest ones. Grand Canyon rafting Lees Ferry is perfect for beginners, but after that, some knowledge of the water is required. One thing you should know - Lake Mead is actually a man-made river with waters that are fairly tame compared to the upper portion of the river.
Side Hikes and Trips You Might Want to Try Out
Once you land at Phantom Ranch, it's time to step out of the rafting trip and set out to the edge of the Canyon for a long walk to freedom. Of course, most people who have time to burn and what to have the full experience choose to do other activities within the vicinity of Phantom Ranch. This includes side hikes along the Bright Angel Trail which will give you a different vantage point of the Canyon. The Bright Angel Trail will also give you access to certain attractions that you won't be able to see any other way.
This should take you just 1.5 miles worth of side hikes, forming part of the Bright Angel Trail. It's the kind of hike best done right before night time so you'll be able to really appreciate the moon over the reflection of the water. From here, you'll be encountering the Black Bridge and the Silver Bridge which will let you do a complete loop, allowing you to go back to where you started. There are both uphill and downhill climbs here, but not too much that you won't be able to enjoy the Bright Angel Trail. If at all, it will help loosen your muscles from any cramps you might have had during the river trip.
Phantom Overlook Side Trip
Another remarkable Bright Angel Trail would be the Overlook which will take you a quarter of a mile from Phantom Ranch. It's a well-used trail, but be careful with the signage as they're not very easy to spot. If you follow this hike, you should be able to see a rise that lets you enjoy a view of the Phantom Ranch as well as the Bright Angel area. Walk a bit more and you'll find a picturesque view of the Canyon itself, the South Kaibab Trail, and even the Silver Bridge.
In case you miss the water after all that hike, one great side hike would be the Ribbon Falls. To get here, just take the North Kaibab Trail. Note that you'll definitely want to see water at the end of this hike because it requires you to walk around 5.5 miles from the ranch. Note that the trail could be quite hot so if you're taking this trip during the summer, you'd want to make sure you have ample supply of water with you.
Now, you might think that the Grand Canyon rafting trip is everything you need to feel and experience in the Grand Canyon for a memorable adventure. Keep in mind though, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles worth of natural formation with a depth of 7000 to 8000 feet, depending on whether you're standing on the north rim or the south rim. Hence, rest assured there is something more this Grand Canyon National park has to offer that goes beyond you getting wet.
Once you leave the river trip, there are other portions of the National Park trips you can enjoy before heading off to Las Vegas. Here's just an overview.
The South Rim is where all the adventure happens. This section of the Colorado River offers a splendid view of the Grand Canyon. In fact, if you came to the Grand Canyon because of a magazine picture you saw, chances are this picture was taken right on the South Rim of the National Park. From this vantage, you literally have close to a dozen possible positions to enjoy the view. Since it's also the most accessible area of the Canyon National Park, this is where more river trips start. From Las Vegas, you'll be arriving here before taking a hike or riding a chopper down to the inner portion
The North Rim is really ideal if you just want a quick look. It offers three different vantage points of the Grand Canyon and will offer you an unobstructed view of how wide this National Park really is. In terms of adventure, however, you're better off going to the South Rim for trips through the river and ending in Lake Mead.
Just as amazing as the rest of the Grand Canyon rafting trip, the East Rim is home to the Horseshoe Bend which has gained quite some popularity among rafters. The vantage point from the East Rim is such that you'd actually think you're on the South Rim - but with much fewer people to deal with during the trip.
The Western Canyon of the Grand Canyon is NOT part of the park. However, it is home to the Grand Canyon Skywalk which gives you an amazing view of the canyon drop from a terrifying viewpoint. It's quite an experience and if you only have a few minutes, this is a good place to go. The drawback here is that your entrance for the West Rim is only that - all other parts of the park require a different entrance fee. This is because the West Rim actually forms part of the tribal land of the Hualapai Indians.
Wrapping Up Your Trips
A one day Grand Canyon rafting trip is more than possible if you choose to explore only one of the many stages of this natural wonder. Don't be too hard on yourself if you don't get to explore the full canyon or go on a hike and side trips because even just a small slice of this Park Service is enough to keep you motivated and fulfilled. Understand, each part of the park offers something unique and different - plus, you can always go back next year for more extensive trips, hike, and camping spots of the area.
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