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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Badger Creek Rapid
Soap Creek Rapid
Sheer Wall Rapid
House Rock Rapid
North Canyon Rapid
21 Mile Rapid
23 Mile Rapid
23.5 Mile Rapid
24.5 Mile Rapid
Cave Springs Rapid
Tiger Wash Rapid
29 Mile Rapid
36 Mile Rapid
President Harding Rapid
60 Mile Rapid
73.6 Mile Riffle
83 Mile Rapid
85 Mile Rapid
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
Bright Angel Rapid
Pipe Creek Rapid
Horn Creek Rapid
Salt Creek Rapid
Tuna Creek Rapid
Lower Tuna Willie's Necktie Rapid
109 Mile Rapid
110 Mile Rapid
113 Mile Rock
119 Mile Rapid
Mile 122 Rapid
127 Mile Rapid
128 Mile Rapid
Helicopter Eddy Rapid
138.5 Mile Rapid
141 Mile Rapid
164 Mile Rapid
Fern Glen Rapid
Lava Falls Rapid
Lower Lava Rapid
185 Mile Rapid
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
209 Mile Rapid
Three Springs Rapid
217 Mile Rapid
Granite Spring Rapid
224 Mile Rapid
Diamond Creek Rapid
231 Mile Rapid
Killer Fang Falls Rapid
234 Mile Rapid
Bridge Canyon Rapid
Gneiss Canyon Rapid
This type of rapid is mainly just fast flowing water with easy navigation for beginners novices.
The waves are more active, but waves above three feet are rarely encountered. The routes can be traversed without prior scouting for difficult or tricky sections. You will need to use your paddles in some cases to avoid obstacles, but this should be accomplished easily.
The waves are active and unpredictable. If you are in an open canoe or kayak you run the risk of being swamped. The water is very fast and obstacles are much harder to avoid. You will need to have full control of your craft and be able to react quickly to ever changing conditions.
These rapids should be scouted ahead of time and require navigation to be experienced rafters. The water is very fast and the turns are sharp and tricky.
This class is a great expression of the previous 4 classes or levels combined. Expect tighter turns, more gushing water and your heart rate to soar and adrenaline to spike.
This is the highest international classification for a rapper. These rapids are not to be attempted as they are far too dangerous. You will not find a class IV or level 6 rapid in the grand canyon.
An example of one of these dangerous rapids is Celestial Falls, Oregon
This is the highest international classification for a rapid. These are not to be attempted as they are far too dangerous. You will not find a class IV or level 6 rapid in the grand canyon.
An example of one of these dangerous rapids is Celestial Falls, Oregon
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.