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Grand Canyon Rafting – Expert Guide To Rafting A Wonder Of The World

Grand Canyon Rafting

With more than 20,000 people choosing the thrill of Grand Canyon rafting each year, the National Park Service has had to keep a tight rain on the number of launches and people making use of the river to limit congestion as well as potential accidents.

Gone are the days when you can just run up with a boat and a backpack and chance your arm or leg on the rapids. Today the river is closely monitored and regulated for both commercial and private use.

On this page we provide a complete to rafting the Grand Canyon, including answers to all frequently asked questions.

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Important Note: National Park Service

The national park service monitors the canyon and the river and can provide assistance in the case of an emergency. They do operate a helicopter in the canyon, but this is strictly for life or death situations. There is a cost to enter the national park and see the grand canyon. To see the most up to date prices visit the Grand Canyon National Park website.

Guide To Rafting The Grand Canyon

What are the main sections and rapids?

The canyon is one of the natural wonders of the world. Most scientists believe the canyon began to be carved by what is now known as the Colorado River between 5 and 6 million years ago.

Today the canyon is enjoyed by thousands of tourists and locals each year. The canyon is open to the public for about 9 months of the year but mostly closed for the winter as snows and ice, close off roads and make it unpleasant.

Grand canyon rafting is one of the main ways people choose to enjoy all the canyon has to offer. Trips can last anywhere from 1 day to a few weeks, allowing rafters to camp and enjoy the rugged beauty of the countryside.

Considering the length of the river, it is usually divided into three sections.

Grand Canyon Rating Information

The width of the river averages about 90m (300ft), with its narrowest point in Marble Canyon, 28m, (76ft). The river reaches an average depth of 12m (40ft), with its deepest point being 25.5m (85ft)

The river boasts more than 80 rapids that range in speed, difficulty, and velocity. The Grand Canyon rapids follow a different rating system to those used by other rivers. Instead of following the international rating system of class I to VI, Or Level 1 to 6, the canyon’s rapids are rated from 1 to 10.

The reason for the different grading system is simple. The river is long and varied and so has many types of rapids that are above and below the international rating system.  The Grand Canyon rating of 10 is equivalent to the international grading of class V, or level 5.

See our brief guide on the Grand Canyon rapid classification.

The Upper Canyon 

Grand Canyon Rafting

This section starts at Lee’s Ferry, (river mile 0), in Marble Canyon and runs down to about Phantom Ranch (River Mile 88). Once you have disembarked there is a 9 mile, 4400 vertical foot hike to get out of the canyon.

Running this stretch of the river can take about 3 days in a motorized raft and anywhere between 5 to 6 days if you choose to go with ore’s

Upper Canyon Rapids

Grand Canyon Rating

River Mile

Cathedral Wash

2

Mile 2.8

Badger Creek Rapid

4-6

Mile 8.0

Soap Creek Rapid

5-6

Mile 11.4

Brown's Riffle

2

Mile 12.1

Sheer Wall Rapid 

2-3

Mile 14.5

House Rock Rapid

4-7

Mile 17.1

Redneck Rapid

3

Mile 17.7

North Canyon Rapid

4-5

Mile 20.7

21 Mile Rapid

4-5

Mile 21.4

23 Mile Rapid

4

Mile 23.2

23.5 Mile Rapid

4

Mile 23.5

Georgie Rapid

3-7

Mile 24.4

24.5 Mile Rapid

5-6

Mile 24.7

Hansbrough-Richards Rapid

6

Mile 25.1

Cave Springs Rapid

5

Mile 25.7

Tiger Wash Rapid

5

Mile 26.8

29 Mile Rapid

3

Mile 29.4

36 Mile Rapid

4

Mile 36.3

President Harding Rapid

4

Mile 44.0

Nankoweap Rapid

1-3

Mile 52.4

Kwagunt Rapid

4-6

Mile 56.3

60 Mile Rapid

4

Mile 60.1

Lava Canyon

2-4

Mile 65.9

Tanner Rapid

2-4

Mile 69.0

Basalt Rapid

2

Mile 69.9

Unkar Rapid

4-7

Mile 72.9

73.6 Mile Riffle

2

Mile 73.6

Nevills Rapid

4-7

Mile 75.8

Hance Rapid

7-8

Mile 77.1

Sockdolager Rapid

5-7

Mile 79.1

Grapevine Rapid 

6-7

Mile 82.1

83 Mile Rapid

3-6

Mile 84.1

Zoroaster Rapid

4-5

Mile 85.3

85 Mile Rapid

3

Mile 85.8

The Lower Canyon

Grand Canyon Rafting | Lava Falls

This second section, generally known as the lower canyon, which runs from Phantom Ranch (River Mile 88) and requires you to hike in. This part of the river runs down to Whitmore (river mile 188) 

Traveling the lower canyon by oar’s can take somewhere between 6 and 10 days, or up to 6 days with a motorized raft.

You can, of course, choose to do both sections, providing the tour company you choose offers this as an option. For a more specific time. You will need to consult your tour operator.

Lower Canyon Rapids

Grand Canyon Rating

River Mile

Bright Angel Rapid 

3

Mile 88.3

Pipe Creek Rapid

3

Mile 89.5

Horn Creek Rapid

7-9

Mile 90.8

Salt Creek Rapid

3

Mile 93.1

Granite Rapid

7-8

Mile 93.9

Hermit Rapid

7-8

Mile 95.5

Boucher Rapid

4-5

Mile 97.1

Crystal Rapid

7-10

Mile 98.2

Tuna Creek Rapid

5-7

Mile 99.7

Lower Tuna Willie's Necktie Rapid

4

Mile 100.0

Agate Rapid

3

Mile 101.1

Sapphire Rapid

6

Mile 101.8

Turquoise Rapid

2-4

Mile 102.6

Emerald Rapid

5

Mile 104.5

Ruby Rapid

4-5

Mile 105.2

Serpentine Rapid

6-7

Mile 106.5

Bass Rapid

3

Mile 108.4

Shinumo Rapid 

2-3

Mile 109.3

109 Mile Rapid

2

Mile 109.6

110 Mile Rapid

2-3

Mile 110.0

Hakatai Rapid

2-3

Mile 111.4

Walthenberg Rapid

3-6

Mile 112.8

113 Mile Rock

2

Mile 113.6

119 Mile Rapid

2

Mile 119.3

Blacktail Rapid

3

Mile 120.6

Mile 122 Rapid

4

Mile 122.2

Forster Rapid

3-6

Mile 123.3

Fossil Rapid

3-6

Mile 125.5

127 Mile Rapid

3

Mile 127.5

128 Mile Rapid

4

Mile 129.2

Specter Rapid

6

Mile 129.7

Bedrock Rapid

6-8

Mile 131.1

Deubendorff Rapid

5-8

Mile 132.3

Tapeats Rapid

4-5

Mile 134.3

Helicopter Eddy Rapid

3

Mile 135.4

Doris Rapid

4

Mile 138.4

138.5 Mile Rapid

3

Mile 139.2

Fishtail Rapid

4

Mile 139.7

141 Mile Rapid

2

Mile 141.7

Kanab Rapid

2-5

Mile 144.0

Matkatamiba Rapid

2

Mile 148.4

Upset Rapid

7-8

Mile 150.2

Sinyala Rapid

1-2

Mile 154.0

164 Mile Rapid

2

Mile 165.0

National Rapid

2

Mile 167.0

Fern Glen Rapid

2

Mile 168.5

Gateway Rapid

3

Mile 171.9

Lava Falls Rapid

8-10

Mile 179.7

Lower Lava Rapid

3-4

Mile 180.1

185 Mile Rapid

2

Mile 186.0

Whitmore Rapid

2-3

Mile 188.3

3rd Section Of The River

Grand Canyon Rafting | Bridge Canyon Rapid

Credit to: Gnarlene

This section is used by a lot of the private rafters, although some tour companies offer trips that ill encompasses the entire length of the river.

These trips can last anywhere from 10 days to more than 2 weeks.

3rd Section Rapids

Grand Canyon Rating

River Mile

Kolb Rapid

3-6

Mile 205.6

209 Mile Rapid

3

Mile 209.2

Little Bastard

3

Mile 212.5

Three Springs Rapid

2

Mile 216.0

217 Mile Rapid

4-5

Mile 217.8

Granite Spring Rapid

2

Mile 220.7

224 Mile Rapid

3

Mile 223.7

Diamond Creek Rapid

3-4

Mile 225.9

Travertine Rapid

2

Mile 229.3

231 Mile Rapid

5

Mile 231.2

Killer Fang Falls Rapid

4-7

Mile 232.5

234 Mile Rapid

3-6

Mile 233.9

Bridge Canyon Rapid

3-5

Mile 235.3

Gneiss Canyon Rapid

5

Mile 236.0

What are the Grand Canyon Rapid Classifications?

Class I, Level 1 - Simple and Easy

Class II, Level 2 - Can be handled with a novice level of experience.

Class III, Level 3 - More suited to an intermediate rafter

Class IV, Level 4 - Suited for the more advanced

Class V, Level 5 - For the experienced

Class VI, Level 6 - Not to be attempted often deemed illegal

Can I raft the Grand Canyon Without A Guide?

When deciding to raft the grand canyon, there are two options open to you. Going the commercial route, (through a private company), or privately (on your own or with a group). 

There are many commercial companies that offer motorized or are powered rafting adventures down the river. Over the years, and certainly, with the motorized rafting option becoming available, the river has become increasingly popular.

If you wish to go on a trip, expect to have to wait in excess of 18 months from booking to launch date.

The commercial companies have the right to operate from Lee’s Ferry at river mile 0 and can travel the full length of the river. Noncommercial rafters are encouraged to put in at Diamond Creek (river mile 225).

If you do wish to try the river solo or with a group you first have to prove to the National Park Service that you or at least one of your group has the necessary level of experience and skill to handle the technicalities of the river. If you can’t prove this you won’t be issued a permit. You can’t hire a guide either. For a private group permit to be issued the group must be self-guided.

What Types Of Rafts Can I Use On The River?

Grand Canyon Rafting | Manual Rafting
Grand Canyon Rafting | Motorised Raft
Grand Canyon Rafting | Whitewater Rafting

There are 2 types of rafts on the river, motorized and muscle-powered. The motorized rafts are usually operated by rafting companies for taking large numbers of customers who wish to enjoy the thrill of the rapids without the strain of having to paddle.

For those who are not afraid to sweat, most companies also offer the more traditional ore powered rafts. Obviously the motorized option is faster and requires less time on the river.

For those choosing to navigate the river privately, canoes, kayaks, and the more traditional white water rafts are also allowed on the river. Although these types of craft will allow you to experience the full thrill of the river it does mean you will have to have the necessary experience required by the National park Service to be allowed a permit.

Although it’s not a hard and fast rule. Some rafting companies will allow you to bring along a kayak or inflatable raft to try your hand at various rapids solo. That is dependant on your level of experience of course. Be sure to check with the company you are booking with first before bringing along your boat.

Important: Permits and Permit Lottery!

Regardless if you go with a company or a private group, you will need a permit from the National Park Service to be allowed on the river. If you go through a company they will handle the paperwork for you, but if you chose to do this your self there are a lot of hoops to jump through.

No person may raft the river between Lee’s Ferry and Diamond Creek more than once in a year. No matter what permits the person has been on previously.

The National Parks Service holds the main lottery at the end of every February to determine who will be allocated launch dates for the next year. You are able to submit your permit application during the first three weeks of February.

There are other lotteries held during the course of the year to reassign launch dates that have been canceled. These lotteries run from Tuesday to Thursday Montana time.

As the river is tightly monitored and access is controlled, you won’t be able to raft without a permit. Once you have won a permit through the lottery you are obligated to launch on the date specified on the permit. 

You cant change or modify the permit in any way. If you can’t make the date on the permit you will have to forfeit your launch date and reenter the lottery.

Because of the large volume of river traffic, the National Park Service usually only issues 2 permits per day, for private launches from Diamond Creek. Groups can consist from 1 to a maximum of 16 people.

If you do decide to go privately, you will have to cross Hualapai tribal land in order to launch your crafts. The Hualapai charges a fee for people and vehicles. This fee is outside of the National Parks Control, so make sure you have an idea of how much they will charge you before you go.

You MUST get your permit from Hualapai Game and Fish before you arrive at the Grand Canyon. To do this contact Hualapai Game and Fish, PO Box 249, 863 Hwy 66, Peach Springs, AZ 86434, (928)769-2227.

Grand Canyon FAQ's

Do I Need To Be Able To Swim?

Yes! Although falling is greatly reduced by the competent guides, there is always the chance that you will need to swim. This is especially true if you are going as part of a private group.

What Gear Will I Need?

No matter what season you go, you need a good set of rain gear. Both pants and jacket. If you are going with a tour group the company will issue you with a list of the things you need to bring. Invariably they will provide all safety equipment and won’t allow you to use your won. This does include life jackets.

Will I Fall In The Water?

If you go with a tour company and follow their instructions, hold onto the indicated ropes, it is very unlikely you will fall in, but this is not a guarantee.

How Long Will It Be From Booking To Launch Date?

If you go as a private group you will need to enter the lottery to get a launch date.  The main lottery happens in February each year, with smaller lotteries for candled bookings each week on a Thursday.

If you go with a commercial company be prepared to wait at least 18 months from booking to launch date.  Your tour operator will be able to give you more accurate times.

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About the Author Brad Pickering-Dunn

Hey, I'm Brad - the founder and editor of Watercraft Watch. My love for boating is what prompted me to start WatercraftWatch.com – helping people find the right equipment and supplies so they can enjoy their time on the water. I hope you find the articles on the site useful, and share in my love for boating.

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