Rafting the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River

Difficulty: Class IV
Length: 277 miles
Flows: 8,000-50,000 cfs
Gradient: 16 ft/mi
Put-in: Lee’s Ferry
Take-out: Lake Mead
Season: Spring through Fall

A rafting journey through one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is highly coveted and hard to come by. The Grand Canyon is the longest rafting trip in the United States, and definitely one of the most spectacular as well. While thousands of tourists visit the Grand Canyon , and some even venture down the nine steep miles to the Colorado River, it is said that the only way to really experience the Grand Canyon is to float through it.

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With limestone walls rising over 1000 feet from the canyon floor, side hikes to crystal-clear, turquoise swimming holes, incredible wildlife, and house-size rapids, the Grand Canyon is a one-of-a-kind adventure. From relaxation and quiet moments of observation, to heart-pounding, adrenaline saturated drops, such as the most famous rapid, Lava Falls, the river takes its travellers from one extreme to another. Many people say a whitewater vacation on the Grand Canyon is a life-changing experience, and everyone agrees it is definitely the experience of a lifetime.

People can choose to experience the Grand Canyon in a variety of watercraft. For more excitement, opt for a hardshell kayak, inflatble kayak, whitewater canoe, or a rubber raft. Three women even river boarded all 300 miles during the winter and made a film about it, Three Women, Three Hundred Miles. Dories can also be a delightful experience, and are rarely seen on other rivers, so many people say natural wooden dories are their first choice. Large, mortorized rafts are an option for less athletic and less adventureous travellers.

The waiting list for permits is temporarily closed for private boaters and a new system is currently being negotiated. During peak summer dates, there is often a two or three year wait to reserve a spot on a commercial trip. So, if the opportunity arises for you to join a Grand Canyon trip, drop everything you’re doing, pack your bags, and head to Arizona.

For more information about rafting the Grand Canyon, check out allaboutrivers.com’s Colorado River page.


There are several places that private boaters and commercial trips put-in and take-out along the Colorado River. The most popular put-in is Lee’s Ferry. It is also the only place in 700 miles along the Colorado River that you can drive your car right up to the river. Many trips consider Phantom Ranch the easiest half-way point. If there are people looking to leave or join a full-length trip, they can hike in and out of the Grand Canyon on Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim. For a full 277 mile trip, the take-out is Lake Mead.

Directions to Lee’s Ferry Put-In:

From Phoenix – Head east on I-40. Take the Hwy 89 North exit toward Page/ Grand Canyon. Continue 110 miles. Turn left onto Highway 89A toward the North rim of the Grand Canyon and continue for 15 miles. You will cross the Colorado River. Keep going for 9 more miles. Turn into the Glen Canyon/ Lees Ferry Recreational Area.

From Las Vegas – Take I-15 North. Exit on Highway 9 toward Hurricane. In Hurricane, just follow the signs to Lake Powell/ Highway 59. In the town of Colorado City, the highway number changes to Highway 389. Don’t be alarmed! Just continue until you reach Fredonia. Turn right onto Highway 89A. Follow Highway 89A and see directions above.

From Page – Highway 89 South 29 miles. Turn right on Highway 89A and follow the directions from Phoenix.

It is recommended to hire a shuttle service to the Lake Mead Take-out.

Canyon REO is a great shuttle service that offers full-service on your Grand Canyon trip. They can also do food drops and equipment rentals.


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Disclaimer: River descriptions and classifications may change due to natural events that may create new hazards or flows. C-W-R advises that any paddler that uses this site be additionally informed by seeking out local news and updates for changes on this river.

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