Grand Canyon Whitewater Rafting, All You Ever Wanted To Know!

Grand Canyon—The World Class River Trip

River running has changed a lot since John Wesley Powell first explored the Colorado River through Grand Canyon in 1869. Powell was a Civil War officer who later became a professor of geology at Illinois, Wesleyan University, and later worked for the U.S. Geologic Survey. Almost a century and one half later, the Grand Canyon remains an awe-inspiring place, beckoning visitors to come and explore her reaches!

A Grand Canyon River Trip is the ultimate vacation get-a-way! The scenery is spectacular. There are great side canyon hikes, ancient Indian ruins, splendid waterfalls, terrific gourmet meals, and top notch, professional guides. Throughout the trip, guides present a wonderful program covering the Canyon’s history, geology, archaeology, plant and animal life, and a lot of great tall tales!

On a full Grand Canyon river trip you will run over a hundred rapids. Each day is filled with new activities as you explore hidden side canyons with extraordinary geologic formations, blue green pools that invite you to take a swim, pictographs, petroglyphs and fossils that tell ancient stories, huge caves that invite exploration, and thundering waterfalls that are a beauty to behold. Each night your guides will set up camp on big sandy beaches, and you will be treated to a night sky like no other! You will see the milky way, more constellations than you can name, and shooting stars too many to count.

Professional, fun loving guides, take care of your comfort, and safety, and provide you with the highest quality trip possible. Around the turn of the century Grand Canyon was inhabited by some very colorful frontier-type characters. Professional river guides can tell you about those pioneers, and before your trip is over, you may suspect that some of today’s guides are some of today’s, and maybe tomorrow’s—canyon characters.

Seeing the Grand Canyon from the rim is not the same as experiencing it from the river. Rafting the Canyon is dramatic. The canyon walls rise incredibly above, as you look up a vertical mile to the rim, knowing there are people up there looking down. But those people don’t have a view that changes with every bend of the river. They can’t touch the rocks that are two billion years old—half as old as Earth itself. You can! But do as much, or as little, geologizing as you want. You don’t have to study old rocks to feel awed, and a little superior to the folks who were only at the canyon, not in it.

Commercially guided Grand Canyon river trips are available from March through October. The various outfitters set their own age requirements, but on average, trips are suitable for ages 8 through 80. Rowing trips may set higher minimum ages. Most companies can accommodate passengers with special needs if you let them know in advance. Trips are comprised of singles, couples, families, groups, and clubs of all kinds. Most companies offer charter trips if you reserve far enough in advance. People come from throughout the United States, and from around the world, to experience the wonders of the Grand Canyon by raft.

There are 17 Grand Canyon companies licensed by the National Park Service to provide commercially guided trips on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. All but one are family owned, and operated, and have very long histories guiding whitewater trips in Grand Canyon. You can easily access each outfitter’s offerings by going to the Grand Canyon River Outfitter’s Association website at All 17 companies are represented on this website. This is a great way to compare and contrast the different offerings of each company, whether you are looking for a motorized, or rowing trip, full canyon, or partial canyon trip. After researching what is available, I recommend contacting each outfitter, that interests you, directly, to get all of your specific questions answered. All companies have toll free numbers, and staff able to tell you about their company’s offerings.

Trips that are truly in Grand Canyon proper range from 3 to 19 days. The shorter trips require hiking into or out of the canyon. Some companies include pre, and post trip transportation via jet boat, motor coach, helicopter, and/or fixed wing aircraft; some include pre, and/or post trip lodging and meals; some package with an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of Grand Canyon in the National park, and others have trips that include a stay at the Bar ten Ranch at the lower end of the Canyon trip. Most trips start in Flagstaff, AZ, the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park, Page, AZ, Marble Canyon, AZ or Las Vegas, NV. Most companies return you to your starting point. Some companies include this in the published fare, and others may charge extra for the service.

Many people are confused as to the difference between the upper canyon and lower canyon trip. Basically, the upper canyon is the first 86 river miles from Lees Ferry (where all Grand Canyon whitewater trips launch) to Bright Angel Beach, or Pipe Springs.

Grand Canyon’s rapids are rated on a scale from 1-10. The upper section of the river has over 31 rapids, including some of the Canyon’s most challenging: Badger Rapid (rated 5-8), Soap Creek Rapid (rated 5-6) Houserock Rapid (rated 7-9) Sockdolager (rated 8-9) and Hance Rapid (rated 10).

The upper portion covers most of the Grand Canyon geology, starting with the Moenkopi Formation that you can see at Lees Ferry, laid down in the Triassic period, down to the Hakatai Shale, created during the Precambrian period.

On the upper portion of the river trip you will see some wonderful sites and side canyons, and be able to see places like the Anasazi granaries, Redwall Caverns, and the Little Colorado River.

If you take the upper canyon trip you, will be hiking out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail—about a 9 mile hike, up a maintained trail, to the south rim village of Grand Canyon National Park. Unless you spend your first night off the river at Phantom Ranch, your outfitter will provide a guide for your hike out of the Canyon.

Some companies package their trips with an overnight stay at the historic Phantom Ranch the night you get off the river, so that you can hike out early the following morning. If the trip does not include a Phantom Ranch stay, then you will be hiking out from the canyon the same day you get off the river.

The lower canyon portion of the river trip begins where the upper portion leaves off, at about river mile 86, and goes down to river mile 226 for companies who take out at Diamond Creek, and to river mile 278 for companies who take out at South Cove on upper Lake Mead.

If you take this portion of the river trip, you will be hiking into the Canyon, 9 miles, down the Bright Angel Trail to meet your trip at Bright Angel Beach, or Pipe Springs. As with the upper portion, some companies package this trip with a night at Phantom Ranch the night prior to your meeting the trip. If Phantom Ranch is not included in the package, you will be hiking into the Canyon, with a professional guide, the same day you go on the river.

You will run over 80 rapids, including some more challenging rapids such as Horn Creek Rapid (rated 8-10), Granite Falls Rapid (rated 9+), Hermit Rapid (rated 8-9), Deubendorff Rapid (rated 7-9) and two of Grand Canyon’s most famous rapids, Crystal Falls Rapid (rated 9-10) and Lava Falls Rapid (rated 10).

On the lower portion of the river trip you will see some popular attraction sites such as Havasu Falls, Deer Creek Falls, Matkatamiba, Shimuno Creek, Pumpkin Springs, and Travertine Falls.

At the end of the lower portion of the trip, for companies that do not take out at Diamond Creek, you will either continue down to South Cove onboard your raft, or board a jet boat to take you down to South Cove. Some companies take out at Whitmore Wash (river mile 188) by Helicopter.

There are a few companies who start a lower end trip that puts in at Whitmore Wash by helicopter, and runs down to South Cove. Most of these trips depart from Las Vegas, NV, and return you to Las Vegas at the end of the trip.

Whether you select a full canyon trip, or partial canyon trip, whether by motorized raft, or smaller rowing raft, you will have an incredible experience that will create memories to last a lifetime. Marvelous things happen on the river. If you doubt this, just check out my blog at and read about how I met my husband, thirty years ago! While I can’t guarantee the same results for all single passengers, I certainly can guarantee that you will have the time of your life. And if you are like most passengers, you will want to come back with your kids, and your grand kids, to relive the experience with them!

Some people may be used to working with Travel Agencies, but I recommend checking with the outfitter directly if you can, because you may be able to get a lower fare. Outfitters who do work with travel agencies pay them a commission. If they don’t have to pay the commission, some companies may be willing, and able to pass along that saving to the customer. This is not always the case. It’s up to each company. Not all companies work with travel agents because they prefer to deal directly with their customers to be sure folks are properly prepared for the trip, and know exactly what is, and is not, included.

The personal touch is very important to the family owned and operated businesses in Grand Canyon. I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the Grand Canyon companies. If a company you wish to go with is full on the date you wish to take your vacation, most of the companies will refer you to another Grand Canyon company they think may be able to accommodate you. We all know each other, and each other’s launch schedules, and trip types, so it makes it easy for us to make referrals. Many of us have known each other for 30 years or more, so it’s really like recommending you to a friend. We all believe our own company is the best, of course!

River trips in Grand Canyon are heavily regulated by the National Park Service, and as a result the number of participants that may do a river trip (whether privately, or with a commercial outfitter) is limited to a relatively small number. The number of trips to launch each day is restricted, the number of people allowed in a group, the number of people allowed on the river each day, and even the number of miles per day a boat may travel is limited. Because of these restrictions, companies cannot always accommodate your special requests to launch on a different day, go more or less days than their published schedule, or add more people to your group. Nevertheless, within the requirements placed upon us by the National Park Service, we will all do the best we can to accommodate your needs and requests.

Most companies are able to accommodate special dietary needs to some extent, and most companies are also able to handle the needs of special populations. Don’t let the fact that you may be wheelchair bound keep you away from the Grand Canyon river rafting experience. We’ve all taken people with numerous medical conditions down river. We can accommodate, as long as you make us aware of your special needs in advance of your arrival!

The National Park Service inspects its outfitters and guides several times during the season, on river. They, and the health department, inspect our facilities off river. When you go with a professional outfitter and guide approved by the National Park Service, you can rest assured that your guides have the necessary medical credentials to deal with situations that may arise in the Canyon, and they are properly trained in all emergency procedures should the need arise. Your guides will follow the appropriate environmental protocols. Outfitters are adequately insured should there be an injury. Your guides are properly trained, and skilled. Huge, and hearty, outdoor meals will be prepared by your guides following required Health Department standards. And, the equipment used by your outfitter is also inspected by the Park Service prior to every trip launch. Outfitters in Grand Canyon pride themselves on having a very good safety record and very high standards. You are in good hands when you go with an outfitter licensed by the National Park Service.

Trip fares are regulated by the National Park Service. Prices very from company to company based on trip type, length, and pre and post trip amenities. If you’ve ever thought of doing a Grand Canyon river trip, 2009 is the year to go. Because of the slow economy, some companies are offering sizeable discounts.

The Grand Canyon river trip is on everyone’s “to do” list. Shouldn’t it be on yours!

A little about Joy Iris Staveley, the Author of this article:

Joy Iris Staveley is Vice President, and Co-owner, with her husband Gaylord, of Canyoneers, Inc. Gaylord, a farm kid from Iowa, made his first Grand Canyon river trip in 1957 with Mexican Hat Expeditions. A year later he had the chance to purchase the company. In 1970 Gaylord incorporated and changed the company name to the present day Canyoneers, Inc. Joy, previously a Vice President, Escrow Officer, and Branch Manager for Coldwell Banker Escrow, Beverly Hills, CA, made her first Grand Canyon river trip in 1978. She met Gaylord on that river trip, and they were married a month later. Joy learned the river business from the ground up. Both she, and Gaylord, are hands on managers involved in all aspects of the business, on a full time basis.

The Staveleys live in Flagstaff Arizona, the base of their river trip operation. Canyoneers runs both motorized, and rowing trips on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.

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