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Conditions in the Grand Canyon can change rapidly. Be prepared. (Photo: grand canyon image by Mariusz Blach from Fotolia.com )
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Watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon is the kind of moment that makes you glad to be alive. It really is one of the most spectacular locales in the world, but it can be dangerous if you venture in without the proper supplies, and you can be uncomfortable if you don’t dress appropriately. Even if you plan to enjoy the views from the safety of an overlook, pack clothing that’s comfortable enough to move around in. The Grand Canyon is in a remote part of Arizona, and if you leave something essential at home, you might not be able to pick up a replacement easily.
Load up on Casual Activewear
The Grand Canyon can be beautiful in winter, but most travelers visit when the weather is warm. Plan to do some walking on uneven terrain; even in the most populated areas, like the South Rim, the ground can be rocky. If you plan to hike at the Grand Canyon, your clothing and footwear choices are especially important. Pack sturdy sneakers and thin, synthetic socks. If you plan to hike down into the Canyon, bring hiking boots that offer ankle support. The steep trails call for such stable and protective footwear. Break in your shoes or boots before wearing them.
Wear performance fabrics that wick away moisture, like those you would wear to the gym. In summer, average temperatures range from the 70s (on the North Rim) to the high 90s and low 100s (near Phantom Ranch so you can’t go wrong by wearing shorts and a tank top or T-shirt for sightseeing each day. Don’t forget to pack a hooded rain jacket. Spring and fall temperatures can range from the 50s to the 90s, depending on the month and area. The best bet is to pack plenty of light layers so you can tailor your outfit to the specific weather each day. Select a mix of shorts and pants, plus short- and long-sleeved T-shirts, long underwear and a warm coat.
In winter, only experienced hikers should explore the trails of the Grand Canyon. Other visitors should plan to stick close to the visitor centers and see the sights via car or tour bus. Pack warm clothing, including long underwear, jeans, sweaters, hat, scarf, gloves and a parka. Bring warm boots with rubber soles.
Add Sun and Insect Protection
The Grand Canyon offers little shade, and it’s possible to get seriously sunburned very quickly. Pack a brimmed hat, sunglasses and a few bandanas. On hot days, soak them in cool water and wear them as headbands or around your neck for added protection. Water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with SPF are also essentials. The trails can be buggy, so pack insect repellent spray or wipes.
Consider Activity-Specific Gear
If you plan to do some light hiking on one of the Grand Canyon’s paved trails, you shouldn’t need much more than good walking shoes, comfortable clothes, sun protection, a bottle of water and a few snacks. But adventurers require specialized gear, so plot out your itinerary before packing. If you plan to do any rafting or other watersports, pack water shoes and waterproof bags. For a bird-watching trip, have those binoculars ready to go.
If you plan to camp or do any backcountry hiking, you’ll need – in addition to camping gear like a tent – a lot of supplies, including multiple water containers, nonperishable food, a headlamp, a whistle, first-aid supplies and several layers of warm, protective clothing. Hiking and camping in the Grand Canyon can be risky if you don’t know what you’re doing, so stick to popular trails and established campgrounds like Mather Campground unless you have extensive experience navigating backcountry.
4/25/2017 — By The Budget Travel Editors
The Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly majestic when viewed from the National Park’s popular South Rim or the more off-the-beaten path North Rim. But to truly enjoy its natural splendor, you’ll want to head straight down into its beating heart—the thrilling (and chilling) whitewater rapids of the Colorado River.
WHEN SHOULD I GO?
Thanks to its desert location and dramatic changes in elevation, Grand Canyon National Park is a veritable climate roller coaster, with recorded temperatures spanning from winter lows of -22ºF to summer highs of 120ºF. Amazingly, these shifts have no impact on water temperature: Because the Colorado River is dam-released from the bottom of the country’s second-largest man-made reservoir, Lake Powell, waters remain at or near a brisk 46ºF, even during the blazing summers. While you’re welcome to raft year-round, keep in mind that each season offers a markedly different experience. May through September is the most crowded, when the summer sun offers a welcome respite from the chilling rapids. But consider the less crowded months of April and October, when you’ll practically have the river (and the limited campsites) all to yourself. Plus, spring and fall come with their own natural perks. April is peak wildflower season in the canyon, while October brings about the so-called “yellow” season, when golden plants all seem to miraculously blossom at the same time.
You might say rafting the Colorado River is like Choose Your Own Adventure: It’s an infinitely customizable trip that you can cater to your skill level, stamina, and schedule. The easiest option is a half-day, “smooth water” raft trip with Colorado River Discovery (raftthecanyon.com, from $87 plus $6 river-use fee). You’ll start at the base of the 700-foot-tall Glen Canyon Dam, near the town of Page, Ariz., and encounter no rapids along the way. The most hardcore trips, which require expertise and months to years of planning, are the 12- to 25-day self-guided journeys, which take rafters from Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek—a whopping 225 miles.
HOW EARLY SHOULD I START PLANNING?
Your planning schedule will all depend on the length of your trip and whether or not it’s professionally guided. For quick day tours, you can book online, often at the last minute. But most other options require months to years of planning. For overnight self-guided trips, you’ll need a permit from the National Park Service. Only two raft groups can disembark each day, so you should have a date in mind and pounce on the
slot when it becomes available a year in advance. Longer guided trips can be booked with one of the park’s approved tour outfitters, and many fill up two years early. Finally, if you’re hoping to set out on a large-scale, self-guided river trip (12 to 25 days), it’s all about luck: To receive a permit, you’ll need to enter a weighted lottery system (nps.gov/grca). Names are drawn and launch dates are assigned each February, but keep in mind that it can take years to have your name selected, so be open to other types of trips as a backup plan.
WHY SHOULD I CONSIDER A PROFESSIONAL OUTFITTER?
Unless you have experience with whitewater rafting, you’ll definitely want to use one of the National Park Service’s approved tour vendors. While the river may look peaceful from up above, it can actually be rather treacherous for amateurs. The most intense rapids—labeled either Class V on a standard river scale or size 10 on the Grand Canyon’s unique ranking system—can include enormous waves, steep drops, waterfalls, and extremely narrow passageways between dangerous cliffs. But it’s notjust safety that makes outfitters so great:
They also, quite simply, make planning infinitely easier. Most tour companies will provide rafts and oars (as well as auxiliary watercraft, such as kayaks and stand-up paddleboards), helmets and life jackets, sleeping accommodations (such as sleeping bags, mattress pads, or tents), food, and, perhaps most importantly, bathroom accommodations. In addition, tour operators will shuttle guests down to the river, which can often be an adventure in its own right for travelers going it alone.
WHAT ELSE WILL I DO ON THE TRIP?
The river may be the focus of your rafting adventure, but it’s also a fantastic delivery device, connecting the canyon’s many diverse activities. During layover days and meal breaks, you might find yourself rock climbing, bird watching, swimming along the banks, cliff jumping, searching for hidden waterfalls and grottoes, or touring ancient Anasazi granaries and dwellings. Rafting offers a serious upper-body workout, so consider a hike to get your legs moving. By heading into one of the many narrow limestone slot canyons and going up in elevation, you’ll find a totally different view of the river—an outstanding perspective on how far you’ve traveled and how much river is still left to conquer.
WHAT WILL I SEE ON THE JOURNEY?
- Bald eagles spend winters along the Colorado River, stocking up on trout.
- Bighorn sheep can be seen negotiating the steep cliffs leading down to the water.
- Eight species of bats live in the desert uplands, but feed on bugs right along the river.
- Arizona’s state mammal, the raccoon-like ringtail, is a nocturnal hunter, frequently seen scavenging around campsites.
- The rare California condor can often be glimpsed circling on thermal wind currents high overhead.
WHAT SHOULD I PACK?
- L.L. Bean Neoprene Paddling Gloves: The Colorado River remains at or near a chilly 46°F, even in the summer. Neoprene gloves are a lifesaver, and these come with a Sharkskin grip so you won’t drop your paddle (llbean.com).
- Pelican iPhone Case: Professional photographers swear by Pelican’s heavy-duty camera cases, but you’ll love its water-resistant, crush-proof iPhone covers, which are O-ring sealed and include an attached carabiner (cabelas.com).
- Outdoor Research Bug Bivy: River banks can be notoriously buggy, so campers swear by this affordable sleeping sack that comes complete with a protective layer of mosquito netting (rei.com).
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Obtaining a permit to raft in the Grand Canyon is not easy. (Photo: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images )
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Rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is an adventure like no other. The icy water winds through the canyon at a swift pace. Throughout the Grand Canyon are places where water has washed rocks into the river, causing rough rapids that make for an exciting ride. If you want to raft the Grand Canyon, you can choose to take a trip that lasts as short as a single day or as long as 21 days. You may also choose to hire a commercial company to guide you down the river or to raft with a private group.
Decide on the length of your trip, and what part of the Colorado River along the Grand Canyon you want to see. Some parts of the river, such as the upper river between the Glen Canyon Dam and Lee’s Ferry, are very smooth. A trip along this stretch may be completed in a half or full day. The stretch of the river between Diamond Creek and Lake Mead is filled with whitewater and may be completed between two and five days. Longer trips may stretch up to 21 days and may travel any or all sections of the river from the Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead.
Determine if you want to hire an experienced rafting outfit company to raft through the Grand Canyon or if you want to take a noncommercial trip with a private group. Commercial rafting companies typically pilot motor-driven or oar-driven rubber rafts, while groups participating in noncommercial trips have the option of paddling a rubber raft instead.
Set a budget for your trip. If you are traveling with a commercial rafting company, all fees for permits will be included in the cost of the trip. If you are traveling with a noncommercial group, you will have to pay for backcountry passes that allow you to spend the night below the rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as any fees that cover the cost of traveling through the Hualapai Reservation.
Contact a commercial rafting company to book a date for your trip and leave a deposit. Many commercial companies offer rafting dates up to two years in advance, and require one-third of their fee as a deposit. Scheduled rafting dates fill up quickly. The National Park Service maintains a list of commercial rafting companies.
Request a noncommercial river permit from the National Park Service. Permits for two- to five-day noncommercial trips are granted on a first-come first-serve basis and are available starting a year prior to the date of the trip. You can download the application by going to the National Park Service’s website (nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/whitewater-rafting.htm). Permits for longer trips are given away through a lottery system. To enter the lottery, fill out the information at the Grand Canyon Weighted Lottery website (nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/weightedlottery.htm), and pay a $25 fee. Choose the primary and alternate dates that you wish to win for the lottery carefully. If you win a pass for a specific date, you will not be able to change it.
Coordinate with your group so that you know what to pack for your trip. If you are traveling with a commercial guide, you may only need to pack the clothing, toiletries and hiking gear. If you are traveling with a noncommercial group, you may need to pack oars, your boat, life jackets, wet suits or dry suits, and any food you will need. Your group may hire an outfitter to supply you for your trip, but the company cannot guide you. The National Parks Service maintains a list of outfitters who can supply you for your trip.
Make arrangements to get out of the Grand Canyon once your trip has ended. If you hire an outfitter, you can arrange for the company to shuttle you back to your car. You can also hire an independent shuttle service. The National Parks Service maintains a listing of shuttle service vendors on its website.
The Colorado River cuts through the Grand Canyon for 280 miles (Photo: Colorado River image by TurboJJJ from Fotolia.com )
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The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon and offers a variety of rapids and intimate views of the wilderness. White water rapids are mixed with passages of calm water and the absolute quiet of a national park. The challenge is also the canyon itself, as a hike out of it can take eight hours or more so you cannot quit at any time and drag your gear out. The river runs 280 miles from Lees Ferry to the end of the canyon at Lake Mead, so you must be committed to rafting a planned route. If you have your own equipment and are experienced, you may go on your own, otherwise outdoor adventure companies offer guided rafting and river excursions through the Grand Canyon.
Items you will need
- River permit
- Raft or boat
- Life jackets/helmets
- Camping gear
- Waterproof bags
- Protective clothing
- Sun hat
- Hiking shoes
Plan your ideal dates well in advance. Most people raft during the summer, when the canyon can get very hot. The river water will help everyone cool off, but hiking will be limited to shady areas in side canyons. Spring is cooler for hiking and seeing the trees and flowers bloom, but the temperature is cooler especially at night. In autumn the canyon is quieter, and there are less tourists, but the days are also shorter and nights are cold.
Obtain a non-commercial river trip permit from the National Park, if you are going on your own. The park service does not charge for permits, but only gives out a certain number each day for different areas of the river. A two to five day trip down the Lower Gorge starts at Diamond Creek, and ends 52 miles downstream after impressive views of the canyon interior, but only two permits are given out for each day, and these can be reserved a year or more in advance.
Decide on the length of your trip and read all web guidelines carefully. Single day commercial trips are offered, as well as three to 18 day trips down river with a guide. The company will handle all necessary permits, equipment and route information. The park service website has a complete list of approved rafting tour operators. Be aware that many trips are reserved a year or even two years in advance, because of regulations concerning the number of people in the canyon and the effect on the environment.
Join the weighted lottery in February, organized to award permits for the next year’s launch dates, if you want to navigate the full length of the river yourself. Permits are given for non-commercial trips of between 12 to 25 days. At least one member of the trip must meet the park services requirements for rafting experience to qualify.
Rent or organize the necessary equipment for your trip. Small rafts are typically around 18 feet long and hold four to five people plus an experienced rower to guide the raft through the rapids. Paddle rafts are smaller but allow everyone to work together paddling through the white water, with the experienced member giving instructions from the stern. The national park service website also lists local suppliers renting fully rigged boats and rafts, as well as any extra equipment your own boat might need.
Study a map of the river where major rapids are described and create a general outline for each day on the river. Determine how far the group can go each day, which spots are good for picnic breaks, short hiking trips and overnight camping. Check that you will have enough food and water and space to store it, and be sure everyone is aware of the plan is case of emergencies, such as capsizing or personal injuries. Being ready in advance will make the trip less stressful and enjoyable.
Rafting through the Grand Canyon is a once in a lifetime experience where you will enjoy views of soaring canyon walls, historic Indian ruins, wildlife, astonishing side canyon hikes and the world’s most famous white water. It is the iconic American Adventure and should top out on any adventurers bucket list.
If rafting the Grand Canyon is not towards the top of your bucket list, make room. There are only so many experiences that are so incredible and grand that they can humble, amaze, and awe you day after day during, as well as for the years that follow. This adventure has the ability to strip a person to their bare bones, allowing the wilderness to work its magic on the soul. Cheesy as it sounds, this is one of those life-changing events.
There are only 2 ways to raft through the Grand Canyon: A professionally guided (commercial) tour or win the weighted lottery and run it as a private trip. This trip log will just be giving an overview of a trip that took place from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek totaling 225 river miles over 22 days. The internet is loaded with different companies offering assorted length and styled trips as well as tips to better your chances of winning the lottery.
The Grand Canyon uses a unique river rating scale. The rapids in the Canyon are technically rated (1 – 10) to accommodate such a wide variety of rapids and river variances. You will run the full lot on your trip, from fun mini ripple wave rides to check-your-wetsuit, gut-wrenching whitewater chaos. Depending on the time of year, the temperatures can range between the low 40s and into the triple digits. On our trip in late April, we had both through the course of the canyon.
Your days will vary between long, calm water floats and pulling over at scouting points to try to decipher the best line down one of 42 major rapids rated above a 5 on the GC scale. There are loads of scenic pullouts, waterfalls, historical markers and canyons to explore each day – each one more majestic than the last. The canyon walls grow taller as you slip further down the river, the features grow more magnificent and the beauty shows no signs of letting up.
Words fall short as to the beauty and wander that the river and the canyon will amply give to you and yours in abundance.
Aside from the natural sounds of the wild and the river, there is a silence that overtakes the canyon when sunset moves in. Oars are laid easy, backs and arms take rest, and jaws hurt from silly childish grinning among all in attendance. The light dances on the river as it scales its way up the walls, creating deep hues of reds, purples and oranges overtaking the canyon.
By night, expect the most pristine and beautiful campsites tucked away on sandy beaches surrounded by canyon trails and falls. It’s highly recommended to ditch the tent and sleep under the star: cot and sleeping bag only. If you are on a guided trip, expect amazing food to be prepared for you as you are making memories around the campfire. On a private trip, invite a chef and keep them happy as they prep your night’s cuisine – there’s no need to skimp on food and supplies while running the river – some of my best meals were had on that river.
In summary, rafting the Colorado through the canyon was the most terrifying and rewarding experience I have ever had in my life. It challenged me in ways I could never have been prepared for and by the support of new life-long friends, I persevered and came out a stronger person on the other end. Each person that shared the river with me on that trip has spoke of similar experiences and growth. The river provides.
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What time of year to plan a Grand Canyon rafting trip
The best time to raft Grand Canyon combines a balance between weather conditions and personal preference. Travelling down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon is amazing any time of year. Commercial rafting trips in Grand Canyon are offered from April through October, and within this time frame you will find “mini seasons”. To best ensure your experience closely matches your expectations, you will want to consider weather conditions and evaluate what best fits your preferences when planning your Grand Canyon rafting vacation.
April and October are considered cooler months for Colorado River trips. The average highs range between 82-85 degrees Fahrenheit. The average lows range between 52-55 degrees Fahrenheit. Traveling in April presents the option to experience some of the spring wild flowers that cover the vast landscape of the Canyon. Traveling in October may also present flora rich in color, after a wet monsoon season. These months provide the highest chances of seeing California Condors and Bald Eagles in the Canyon. The Colorado River is typically running clear or green in color April and October, and travelers need to be prepared to come with both cool weather and warm weather gear, as you can experience late spring/early fall storms. If you are interested in spending extra time in Grand Canyon, April and October trips tend to be longer in length for two reasons: 1. Park Service Regulations permit extended travel times, 2. The sun sets earlier each night this time of year resulting in less river miles being traveled each day.
May and September exhibit comparable weather conditions on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. You will find that the temperatures start to warm up significantly in Grand Canyon the first two weeks of May, or cool down the first two weeks of September. The average highs in early May and late September range between 92-95 degree Fahrenheit. By the last two weeks of May, or the first two weeks of September it is not uncommon for the average highs to break 100 degrees. The average lows are more consistent, ranging between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Many travelers prefer these two months in the Canyon, as the milder temperatures are still warm enough to enjoy the frigid Colorado River (flowing between 48-55 degrees Fahrenheit), but cool enough to hike throughout the day. Wildlife becomes more prevalent this time of year. In May, the potholes in side Canyons start to dry up, forcing animals to come to the Colorado River for water. In September, the Desert Big Horn Sheep are in rut, and lucky travelers get to experience rams jousting for their ewes.
June tends to be very hot in the Canyon. The average highs range between 103-105 degrees Fahrenheit and the lows range from 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit. June typically has a lower risk of experiencing any type of storms while in the Canyon. However, with milder weather patterns comes extreme heat. The lack of cloud coverage creates the perfect opportunity for the hottest “feels like” temperature in the Canyon. For this reason, river guides consider June to be the hottest month in the Canyon. If you are sensitive to heat, it is not recommended to travel this time of year. With that being said, many travelers love June for the clear or green water and the opportunity to swim and take “wet” hikes to the many beautiful waterfalls in the Grand Canyon. June is also the start of the high water season in Grand Canyon. The hotter temperatures of the
Southwest create increased hydroelectric needs, therefore allowing the Colorado River Management Plan to release higher water flows in June, July and August. Travelers hoping for big water will want to consider traveling during these months. It is also important to note that big water does not necessarily mean ‘better’ rapids as some tend to have more energy in low water while others in high water.
July and August are monsoon season in the Canyon. The Colorado River water is being released at the highest water level to accommodate the southwest electricity demands. The average highs break 105 degrees Fahrenheit and the lows range between 75-77 degrees Fahrenheit. With monsoon season comes cloud coverage and a cooler “feels like” temperature. On a typical monsoon season day, cloud coverage rolls in mid afternoon and small storm bursts release some moisture into the air generally lasting 15 minutes to an hour. Every monsoon season there are times when storms blow into Grand Canyon lasting multiple days. Travelers who experience these storms often say that they are the highlight of their trip; however those who do not like rain, or do not want to experience rain on their trip will want to consider traveling a different time of year. With the first monsoon storm of the season, as the rain water coats the side canyons, the Colorado River becomes sediment filled, turning to its natural state of a reddish brown color. Photographers often find this to be their preferred travel time, as the dramatic colors and cloud coverage create dynamic photos.
It should be noted that regardless of the month, temperatures will most likely be cooler the further east or closer to river mile 0, at the start of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, and slowly increase in temperature as one travels downriver towards the west.
When checking real time temperatures, please note that there could be a 20 degree or more fluctuation between temperatures at the top of the rim and at the river. For accurate weather conditions at Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) where many of the partial canyon trips begin with a hike in via the Bright Angel Trail, visit the National Weather Service. For accurate weather conditions at the bottom of the canyon, visit Phantom Ranch weather which is located at river mile 88. If interested in rafting November through March, private permits are available through Grand Canyon National Park Service via a weighted lottery system. However, permits are very limited and difficult to obtain, with most people waiting between 1 to 5 years to secure a date. The more common method to raft Grand Canyon is to go on a fully supported, guided tour with one of the sixteen outfitters.
It’s impossible not to enjoy rafting in one of the best places in the world
River Rafting Featured in
The Grand Canyon is glorified as one of the world’s most beautiful places and has to be discovered from every possible angle. One of the best options is rafting down the Colorado River. Rafters are driven to the canyon to see the legendary Lava Falls and Crystal Rapids. Moreover, the scenic water route overlooks enormous sandstone cliffs with numerous waterfalls and pools hidden along the way. Apart from gorgeous landscapes, you are sure to encounter local wildlife. The area is rich with birds, such as elusive Blue Herons, hawks and eagles. Big Horn sheep also appear to be a frequent sighting.
Various options include both commercial and private river trips. Your rafting experience may be designed for a one-day or a multi-day adventure depending on your preferences. Be aware of the fact that rafting tours are booked long in advance, often a year or even more.
The rafting season in Grand Canyon runs from April to October. Take into account, the months of April and October might be rather cold. May to September is the most visited period, even though June tends to be extremely hot, and July and August are the monsoon season.