Grand Canyon Rapids - Everything You Need to Know

One of the top holiday spots in the United States, Grand Canyon National Park is also one of the world’s most famous destinations for white water rafting. To help you prepare and plan for your next rafting adventure, we’ve taken a deep dive into everything you need to know about the Grand Canyon’s world-famous rapids.

How Many Rapids Are in the Grand Canyon?

According to most estimates, the Grand Canyon is home to at least 80 big water rapids. While by no means exhaustive, the following list covers most of the major rapids (and some common put-in and take-out points) that can be found within the Grand Canyon's idyllic slice of the Colorado River.

  • Mile 0.0 – Lees Ferry
  • Mile 14.5 – Sheer Wall Rapid
  • Mile 17.1 – House Rock Rapid
  • Mile 17.7 – Redneck Rapid
  • Mile 20.7 – North Canyon Rapid
  • Mile 21.4 – 21 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 23.2 – 23 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 23.5 – 23.5 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 24.4 – Georgie Rapid
  • Mile 25.7 – Cave Springs Rapid
  • Mile 26.8 – Tiger Wash Rapid
  • Mile 29.4 – 29 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 36.3 – 36 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 44.0 – President Harding Rapid
  • Mile 52.4 – Nankoweap Rapid
  • Mile 56.3 – Kwagunt Rapid
  • Mile 60.1 – 60 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 65.9 – Lava Canyon (Chuar) Rapid
  • Mile 69.0 – Tanner Rapid
  • Mile 69.9 – Basalt Rapid
  • Mile 72.9 – Unkar Rapid
  • Mile 73.6 – 73.6 Mile Riffle
  • Mile 75.8 – Nevills Rapid
  • Mile 77.1 – Hance Rapid
  • Mile 79.1 – Sockdolager Rapid
  • Mile 82.1 – Grapevine Rapid
  • Mile 84.1 – 83 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 85.3 – Zoroaster Rapid
  • Mile 85.8 – 85 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 88.1 – Phantom Ranch (optional put-in or take-out point)
  • Mile 89.5 – Pipe Creek Rapid
  • Mile 90.8 – Horn Creek Rapid
  • Mile 93.1 – Salt Creek Rapid
  • Mile 93.9 – Granite Rapid
  • Mile 95.5 – Hermit Rapid
  • Mile 97.1 – Boucher Rapid
  • Mile 98.2 – Crystal Rapid
  • Mile 100.0 – Lower Tuna Rapid
  • Mile 101.1 – Agate Rapid
  • Mile 101.8 – Sapphire Rapid
  • Mile 102.6 – Turquoise Rapid
  • Mile 104.5 – Emerald Rapid
  • Mile 105.2 – Ruby Rapid
  • Mile 106.5 – Serpentine Rapid
  • Mile 108.4 – Bass Rapid
  • Mile 109.3 – Shinumo Rapid
  • Mile 109.6 – 109 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 110.0 – 110 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 111.4 – Hakatai Rapid
  • Mile 112.8 – Walthenberg Rapid
  • Mile 113.6 – 113 Mile Rock
  • Mile 119.3 – 119 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 120.6 – Blacktail Rapid
  • Mile 122.2 – Mile 122 Rapid
  • Mile 123.3 – Forster Rapid
  • Mile 125.5 – Fossil Rapid
  • Mile 127.5 – 127 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 129.2 – 128 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 129.7 – Specter Rapid
  • Mile 131.1 – Bedrock Rapid
  • Mile 132.3 – Dubendorff Rapid
  • Mile 134.3 – Tapeats Rapid
  • Mile 135.4 – 135 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 138.4 – Doris Rapid
  • Mile 139.2 – 138.5 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 139.7 – Fishtail Rapid
  • Mile 141.7 – 141 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 144.0 – Kanab Rapid
  • Mile 148.4 – Matkatamiba Rapid
  • Mile 150.2 – Upset Rapid
  • Mile 154.0 – Sinyala Rapid
  • Mile 165.0 – 164 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 167.0 – National Rapid
  • Mile 168.5 – Fern Glen Rapid
  • Mile 171.9 – Gateway Rapid
  • Mile 179.7 – Lava Falls Rapid
  • Mile 180.1 – Lower Lava Rapid
  • Mile 186.0 – 185 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 188.3 – Whitmore Rapid
  • Mile 205.6 – Kolb Rapid
  • Mile 209.2 – 209 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 212.5 – Little Bastard Rapid
  • Mile 216.0 – Three Springs Rapid
  • Mile 217.8 – 217 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 219.6 – Trail Canyon Rapid
  • Mile 220.7 – Granite Spring Rapid
  • Mile 222 – Whitmore Wash (optional take-out point)
  • Mile 223.7 – 224 Mile Rapid
  • Mile 240.0 – Lake Mead (optional take-out point)
  • Mile 279.0 – Pearce Ferry Rapid

How Are Rapids Rated in the Grand Canyon?

Rapids in the Colorado River can be rated according to two different rating systems: the traditional Class I to Class VI International Scale of River Difficulty (ISRD) and the region-specific 1-10 Grand Canyon river scale. To give you a better idea of what these ratings entail, we've listed a brief description of the ISRD classes and how they match up with the 1-10 Grand Canyon river difficulty scale:

Class I: A very relaxed stretch of the Colorado River. Expect occasional waves, minor riffle, and irregular yet easily avoidable obstacles. In the ISRD rating system, Class I is equal to Class 1 and Class 2 on the local Grand Canyon river rating system.

Class II: While still relatively straightforward, small obstacles and sudden waves may necessitate occasional maneuvering of the raft. If white water waves exceed 3 feet, this classification can be updated to a Class II+ scale. Similar to Class I, this level of rapid complexity is roughly equivalent to Class 3 and Class 4 on the Grand Canyon rating system.

Class III: At this level (comparable to Class 5-6 on the Grand Canyon system), rapid waves become larger and more difficult to avoid. Rafters can expect to encounter tight ledges and avoidable rocky outcrops. Depending on the collective competence of your Grand Canyon raft group, your tour guide may need to scout ahead of the group for any constricted sections.

Class IV: Intense and exciting rapids. At this rating (comparable to Class 7-8 on the Grand Canyon system), rapids are powerful yet still predictable. Rafters may need to exploit eddies in the river current to execute sudden maneuvers.

Class V: Analogous to a Class 9-10 rating on the rafting Grand Canyon rating system, Class V rapids are long and unpredictable. The rapids themselves are characterized by steep drops, unavoidable waves, and violent eddies in the river current. Due to the danger of self-rescue, Class V rapids are only suitable for highly experienced river rafting enthusiasts.

Class VI: Rarely attempted, this class of rapids is considerably more complicated, and thus more dangerous, than the previously listed rapid ratings. Featuring gushing water and difficult-to-avoid obstacles, these rapids require precise maneuvering and careful preparation to avoid dangerous mishaps.

Class VII-VIII: Similar to the Class VI rating, these rapid classes are characterized by tight passages, hard river turn maneuvers, and turbulent white water. As a result, Class VII-VIII rapids are only suitable for advanced canyon rafting experts.

Class IX-X: This classification covers the most complex rapids in the National Park. These rapids are not suitable for either amateur or intermediate river rafting. Even expert rafters should think twice before tackling this particular class of rapids. Expect extremely fast water flow and a wide range of underwater and out-of-water obstacles. Depending on dam-controlled water levels along the canyon river, Crystal Rapid and Lava Falls sometimes fall under the IX-X classification.

In some cases, both the ISRD and the Grand Canyon 1-10 rating system have required extensive revisions to factor in the dynamic development of new river channels. In a recent example, the Pearce Ferry Rapid had to be reclassified as a formidable Class VI rapid. The reclassification was spurred by the drought-induced retreat of Lake Mead around Pearce Ferry and the subsequent formation of turbulent new rapids around newly uncovered rocky outcrops.

Planning a Grand Canyon Rapids Adventure

If you’re ready to begin rafting in Grand Canyon National Park, all that’s left to do is to get in touch with an outfitter that accommodates your preferred route and raft type. To help you get a head start on organizing your trip, we’ve put together a 3-step guide to planning and booking a Grand Canyon raft adventure.

Step 1: Deciding on Your Route and Trip Length

Full Canyon

The full Grand Canyon route begins at Lees Ferry and ends at either Whitmore Wash, Diamond Creek, or Lake Mead. Over the course of this rafting trip, rafters will experience the full range of rapid systems in the Grand Canyon.

Upper Canyon

Starting at Lees Ferry and terminating at Phantom Ranch, the Upper Canyon section of the Grand Canyon river twists and turns for almost 90 miles. In addition to traversing a diverse collection of rapid systems, the Upper Canyon route will also provide you with plenty of opportunities to explore side canyons and admire ancient Grand Canyon geological formations. After taking out your raft at Phantom Ranch, Upper Canyon adventurers will need to exit the canyon floor by hiking up the 9.5-mile Bright Angel Trail.

Lower Canyon

One of the most popular stretches of Grand Canyon river rafting, the Lower Canyon begins at Phantom Ranch and ends at Whitmore Wash, Diamond Creek, or Lake Mead. Running for more than 192 miles. The Lower Canyon not only boasts the highest concentration of Class IV rapids, but it also includes Lava Falls and Crystal Rapid, the two highest-rated rapids in the Colorado River.

Western Canyon

The westernmost section of the Grand Canyon begins at Whitmore Wash and ends at Leak Mead. For expert rafters, the highlight of the Western Canyon route is the dynamic canyon river system around Pearce Ferry Rapid.

Step 2: Selecting Your Raft

Motorized Raft

One of the most popular raft types in the Grand Canyon, motorized rafts are a quick, comfortable, and stable way to traverse Grand Canyon river. If you're short on time and want to explore as much of the National Park as possible, motorized river rafting trips are probably your best bet.

Oar-Powered Raft

As you might expect, oar-powered rafts are steered and propelled by a pair of long oars. As they're moderately slower than a motorized raft, oar-powered rafts are a great option for adventurers looking for slower-paced river rafting. Another benefit of oar-powered rafting trips is that passengers tend to get a more intimate 'feel' for how the Colorado River ebbs and flows.

Paddle Raft

One of the most physically intensive ways to experience the Grand Canyon, paddle rafting trips typically run with 6-8 passengers. Unlike motor and oar rafts, these passengers are given small paddles to help steer and propel their raft through the water.

Dory Raft

While motorized, oar-powered, and paddle rafts use a heavy rubberized inflatable design, dory rafts use a rigid canoe-style design. While traditionally made from wood, dory raft frames are now built with fiberglass or closed-cell foam. Because of their narrower profile, dory rafts cannot hold as many passengers as motor, oar, or paddle rafts. However, thanks to their more streamlined design, dory rafts are considerably more maneuverable when traversing Grand Canyon river rapids. In addition to making the float and rapids sections more comfortable, this agility makes it easier for dory raft passengers to ‘feel’ the ebb and flow of the Colorado River.

Hybrid Raft

Unlike the previously listed trip options, hybrid raft tours consist of more than one type of raft. In most cases, hybrid Grand Canyon rafting trips are run with 1-2 paddle rafts and 5-6 oar-powered rafts. The main benefit of having a varied assortment of raft types is that it gives hybrid tour passengers the chance to experience both the relaxed atmosphere of oar rafting as well as the exhilarating rush of paddle rafting.

Please note, when you’re considering raft options, the range of rafts on offer will vary depending on your route and trip length selection. For example, if you plan on attending a 12-18 day full Grand Canyon rapids trip, your raft selection will almost always be restricted to non-motorized raft types. Check out our 2-step trip planning tool for a more detailed breakdown of route-specific raft offerings.

Step 3: Choosing an Outfitter

During the Grand Canyon rafting season in the Grand Canyon, there are only 16 companies (commonly referred to as river outfitters) that are allowed to run multi-day Grand Canyon rafting trips. These outfitters are licensed and regulated by the Grand Canyon National Park Service and provided with formal tour operator concession contracts. Different outfitters support trips in different sections of the Grand Canyon, so it's important to choose an outfitter that can service your canyon river route and raft type preferences.

Your outfitter will also supply you and your raft mates with a professional tour guide. Grand Canyon rafting guides take the stress out of river rafting trips, from handling trip logistics to providing and cooking all meals, snacks, and beverages. Although specific packing requirements may vary, outfitters can almost always be relied upon to provide basic camping and bedding equipment.

If you're thinking of rafting Grand Canyon National Park, Advantage Grand Canyon can help! We offer comprehensive advice and trip support for all 16 outfitters currently operating along the Colorado River. With the help of our trip finder database, you can search, categorize, and compare trip options across all 16 canyon rafting outfitters.

Top 5 FAQ: Grand Canyon Rapids