Grand Canyon Rafting Tips

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Can I hike down to meet a Grand Canyon rafting trip and continue on down the river?

Hiking and Rafting the Grand Canyon

For the ultimate Grand Canyon experience, many Grand Canyon rafting trips combine the total thrill of Grand Canyon whitewater rafting with hiking in or out of the canyon.

Rafters can choose to meet a trip at Phantom Ranch by hiking down the South Kaibab or Bright Angel Trail, meeting up with the rafting group, and continuing down the River. They can leave the trip at Phantom Ranch and hike out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim, too.

For visitors who want to experience as much of the Grand Canyon as they possibly can, this provides a unique way to see all the environments the canyon has to offer. Not all companies offer this type of Grand Canyon rafting trip, so you may have to shop around to find the one that's just right for you.

What kinds of boats do river runners use in the Grand Canyon?

Know Your Boats on the River

There are several different types of boats available for your Grand Canyon rafting tour. They include:
• Oar Boats. These can be rafts or other types of boats that are powered primarily by the guide, leaving the guests free to enjoy the thrills of the river.
• Paddle Boats. Usually large, pontoon-type rafts where the guests provide paddle power along with the guide.
• Oar Boats with Paddles. Guests can provide additional power on these boats, while the guide does most of the work.
• Dories. These are wooden craft powered by the guide. Many people feel dories offer a more intimate and exciting Grand Canyon rafting tour experience.
• Motorized Rafts. Many tourists prefer these craft because they provide a quicker tour of the river.

Know what type of boat you'd like to experience before you book your rafting tour, because some of these boats are only used on particular tours through the Grand Canyon.

How and why are rivers rated for their whitewater?

In a Class All its Own

For many, a Grand Canyon rafting trip is their ultimate whitewater dream. That's because all rivers are rated on a scale of I-V according to the intensity and difficulty of their rapids. This helps river runners know what to expect before they run a particular river.

However, the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is so technically diverse and difficult in places that it is rated on its own system of 1-10. For whitewater experts, this running or riding this river is what dreams are made of.

Because Grand Canyon rafting trips are limited to a certain number each year, just having the opportunity to take a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon is a privilege that many will never have the opportunity to enjoy.

Who was Major John Wesley Powell, and why is he important to the Grand Canyon?

John Wesley Powell, Grand Canyon Explorer

Major John Wesley Powell, a well known veteran who lost an arm during the Civil War, was the first known white man to explore the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In 1869, Powell and a group of nine other men left Green River, Wyoming and began a journey that would lead to the Colorado.

In essence, Powell's trip was the first Grand Canyon whitewater rafting expedition, although he had no idea of what he would face at the time. He and his men used large, wooden boats with keels that were entirely unsuited for the rapids of the Colorado. They suffered many hazards, including loss of supplies, boats, and crew members, but five men including Powell did make it thorough the canyon to the Virgin River at the mouth of the canyon.

Today, Grand Canyon rafting trips have come a long way from the trials Powell and his men faced. However, Powell's account of his adventures along the Colorado raised public interest in the area, and ultimately led to the throngs of people anxious to experience Grand Canyon whitewater rafting today.

What should I bring with me on my Grand Canyon river rafting trip?

What to Bring on Your Raft Trip

Each Grand Canyon river rafting company is different, but most will tell you there are certain items to bring with you on your river rafting trip, and some to leave at home.

Of course you'll need to bring clothing such as shorts, t-shirts, and a bathing suit. Most companies recommend at least one change of shoes (that can get wet), a jacket or sweatshirt, and rain gear. Some require hats, sunscreen, and your own towel and biodegradable soap.

Most companies supply all the food, non-alcoholic drinks, tents, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags. Others require you to provide some of your own gear. Some supply limited alcoholic beverages, while others require you to buy your own and bring them along; they will simply transport them for you.

Companies will also supply you dry bags for your gear, and a dry box for camera equipment and other items. Most companies also send out detailed packets of information with their particular requirements as soon as you book your Grand Canyon river rafting adventure.

How do I apply for a non-commercial rafting permit in the Grand Canyon?

Non-Commercial River Trips

If you're an experienced river runner and you've always wanted to tackle the whitewater of the Grand Canyon, you can apply for a private, non-commercial rafting tour permit with the National Park Service. The permits are issued under a complex lottery system, and the price is $100 per person traveling in the boat.

There are a limited number of permits available, and the lottery only occurs once per year, in mid-summer, for the following year. For example, the August 2006 lottery will award launch dates for the 2007 calendar year. This gives the public the chance to create the ultimate Grand Canyon rafting tour of their dreams, without a tour operator or other middle man in the way.

You must be at least 18 to lead a trip, and several other restrictions apply. You must supply your own equipment too, including safety equipment, and you cannot swap dates once you have a date for your trip.

I don't think I'm up for Grand Canyon white water rafting, is there another alternative?

A Little Leery of a White Water Raft Trip?

If you're a bit afraid of experiencing Grand Canyon white water rafting, or simply don't have time for a multi-day adventure, you can still experience a Grand Canyon raft trip. Lots of companies offer alternatives that will fit your time frame and fear factor.

Smooth-water trips from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry take only 1/2 a day, but will give you an introduction to float trips and rafting in general. These trips are usually leisurely, kick-back excursions that anyone of any age can enjoy.

One day Grand Canyon white water rafting trips are available, too. Some of them combine a helicopter trip to the launch site, (usually in Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Indian lands), and a day-long adventure on some moderate white water rapids.

Are there specialty Grand Canyon rafting trips available?

Many Options for River Trips

Grand Canyon rafting has become so incredibly popular that many tour companies are adding a wide variety of options to meet the demand by discerning tourists. Everything from fly-in to hike-in options can be found in your search for the perfect Grand Canyon rafting experience.

Some companies offer the ability to customize your Grand Canyon rafting adventure to your own needs and desires. Others specialize in trips highlighting the natural history of the canyon, while some hone in on photographic opportunities. Many offer special family packages.

What can I see from the Colorado River that I might not see from the rim of the Grand Canyon?

Exploring the Wonders of the Colorado River

A Grand Canyon river rafting adventure is unique in many ways. During the trip you'll pass numerous wonders that are simply not accessible except by river, so only a handful of park visitors ever have the opportunity to see them.

Redwall Cavern is just one of those spots. The cavern is a favorite stop for lunch for many a Grand Canyon raft trip and the cavern's immensity only comes through if you experience it for yourself. You'll also see abundant wildlife you wouldn't see on the rim, such as blue herons and even an occasional desert bighorn sheep.

The world of the inner gorge is a trip back in time, where you can view the oldest exposed rocks on the planet. This Vishnu Schist along the river past Phantom Ranch is also only accessible by river, too, and an added attraction for anyone enjoying a Grand Canyon raft trip.

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Sherril Steele-Carlin
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