Floating The Colorado - River Trip Options At Grand Canyon National Park

A commercial raft trip on the Colorado River passes Cardenas Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Michael Quinn.

A Colorado River trip at Grand Canyon National Park can be a truly memorable experience, and depending upon the type of trip you choose, it can require anywhere from a few hours to several weeks. Yesterday on the Traveler we discussed the most ambitious option--major private river trips that cover 226 miles from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek, and which take from 12 to 25 days. Today we'll explore other ways to see the Canyon from the river.

A long private river trip that requires considerable skill and advance planning doesn't appeal to everyone, and if that's your situation, there are several other ways to experience a float trip in the Canyon.

Shorter Private River Trips on the Lower End of the Canyon

If a shorter private trip appeals to you because you want to avoid the investment in time and dollars required to run the majority of the Canyon--or if you weren't lucky enough to snag one of those prized permits--you might consider a shorter self-guided trip in the lower end of the Canyon.

These trips take from two to five days, and cover the section of river from Diamond Creek downstream to the upper end of Lake Mead. Diamond Creek is the take-out point for the majority of longer trips that begin at Lees Ferry.

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The lower sections of the Canyon include a combination of fine scenery, more open terrain, and some power boats from Lake Mead. NPS image.

According to the park, "This unique section of the Colorado River is located at the west end of Grand Canyon National Park and is often referred to as the Lower Gorge. It includes 52 river miles of smooth and white water, with many dramatic and colorful views."

All of the terrain on this section of river may not be quite as dramatic as that seen on the longer trips, and there aren't as many rapids, but experience and planning are still necessary.

This short video offers a fine overview of these trips, and also includes some very important information if you're considering floating this section of the Canyon. As the video explains, some sections of river included on these trips are accessible to power boats coming upstream from Lake Mead, which gives these trips an entirely different character than longer trips in the heart of the Canyon.

Unlike the lottery system for longer trips described in yesterday's story, permits for these lower canyon whitewater trips are available to the public starting one year in advance of the trip's starting date, and are distributed on a first-come first-served basis. You'll find more details about the permits and this trip on this webpage.

Many of us lack the skills for a self-guided trip on the Colorado, even a short one, or we don't want to deal with the not-inconsiderable logistics and planning involved for such a trip. If that's your situation, you might be interested in one of two types of guided commercial river trips.

Guided Commercial River Trips Range From a Half Day to Over Two Weeks

For a brief introduction to the river, half-day "smooth water" trips via motorized rafts are available from just below Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. These trips begin at Page, Arizona, which is 140 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Click here for more information on these short float trips.

Longer guided commercial trips run from three to eighteen days, and cover all or part of the river from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek (226 river miles). Various trips employ a variety of craft, including large motorized rafts, oared rafts, paddle rafts, and dories, so read the descriptions carefully before making a choice.

Motorized trips usually take a minimum of 7 days to reach Diamond Creek; rowing trips will take longer. Half-trip options are available for those who wish to hike in or out of the Canyon at Phantom Ranch. Just keep in mind that this is not an easy hike, unless you're in good shape and properly prepared; don't choose this option casually.

The following video offers one visitor's six-minute recap of his guided commercial trip in 2011, with emphasis on the scenery and wildlife he observed.

Many of these commercial trips are reserved from one to two years in advance, so it's important to plan ahead. You'll find a list of companies which are authorized by the park to offer these trips at this link.