This is the cat's meow as far as Southwestern river trips are concerned, offering adventure, exploration, and discovery. You travel though time on this stretch of the Colorado River, back a billion or so years into prehistory. You can touch and climb rocks millions of years old and visit prehistoric Indian sites. Watch for the wildlife such as bighorn sheep, deer, birds, and reptiles, along with contrasts in vegetation, from desert cacti on precipitous canyon slopes to cottonwoods and thirsty ferns near waterfalls. Retrace the steps of explorers and challenge the rapids.
Just about all the arizona vacation experts agree that the best times of year for the Grand Canyon are April, May, September and October. Be aware that on partial canyon trips, put-in or take-out will require hiking a 5,000-foot-deep trail. Sometimes arrangements can be made for mule-back transportation and there are several guided trips offering helicopter transportation. To facilitate cooperative scheduling, arrangements should be made through your outfitter
Only concessionaires licensed by the National Park Service are allowed to run trips through the canyon. A number of tour operators offer Grand Canyon trips, but these are operated through licensed arizona lodging experts.
It probably pays to shop around for the trip that best suits your interests. Outfitted trips are run in paddle- or oar-powered rafts, motorized rafts, and wooden dories. Their duration ranges from day-trips to three-week expeditions.
The main boat launching area for Grand Canyon river trips is at Lees Ferry, northeast of the National Park. The boat ramp there also provides access to the trophy rainbow trout fishing waters between Lees Ferry and the Glen Canyon Dam.
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For additional information or reservations for any Grand Canyon river trips, contact the River Subdistrict Office, Grand Canyon National Park, PO Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.
Rivers & Oceans, PO Box 40321, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, Tel. 520/525-4575 520/525-4575 or 800/473-4576 800/473-4576 , is also a central reservation office for Grand Canyon river trips.
For experienced river runners, it is possible to create your own private river trip through the canyon, but start planning early. There is quite a bit of Park Service bureaucracy to wade through for the appropriate permit, and the current wait for private permits is six to eight years. For information, phone the River Permits office, Tel. 520/638-7843 520/638-7843 .
The following outfitters offer a variety of river running options through the Grand Canyon:
O.A.R.S. Inc., Box 67, Angel's Camp, CA 95222, 209/736-4677 209/736-4677 , fax 209/736-2902, runs five- to 15-day river trips from April to October in wooden dories, oar-powered rafts, paddle-boats, or inflatable kayaks.
Colorado River & Trail Expeditions, PO Box 57575, Salt Lake City, UT 84157-0575, Tel. 801/261-1789 801/261-1789 or 800/253-7328 800/253-7328 , fax 801/268-1193, offers rowing through the canyon in April or August and motorized trips of four, six, or nine days from May to September. All trips include opportunities for off-river hiking explorations.
ARAs Wilderness River Adventures, PO Box 717, Page, AZ 86040, Tel. 520/645-3296 520/645-3296 or 800/992-8022 800/992-8022 , offers motorized and oar-powered trips through the canyon. Itineraries include four- or six-day trips from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch, five or seven days from Phantom Ranch to Bar 10 Ranch, or seven or 14 days from Lees Ferry to Bar 10 Ranch. Also available are one-day float trips from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. Customized trips and charters are also offered.
Arizona Raft Adventures, 4050 East Huntington Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, Tel. 520/526-8200 520/526-8200 or 800/786-7238 800/786-7238 , fax 520/526-8246, runs river trips with participant involvement in rowing and paddling. The trips include hiking, swimming the small rapids, helping in the kitchen, learning the natural history, or flat-out relaxing; you can do as much or as little as you want. Trips scheduled from April to October begin and end in Flagstaff and include eight-day itineraries in motorized rafts, or six- to 14-day trips with a choice of vessels.
Special interest excursions include a Natural History Lab trip, emphasizing geology, origins, botany, climate, and environmental impacts of the Glen Canyon Dam. Also offered are professional seminars and psychologist-led outdoor retreats. Two- to six-day trips are offered from April to September on the San Juan River in Utah. Customized special interest trips may be arranged for groups of 16 or more.
Grand Canyon Dories, PO Box 216, Altaville, CA 95221, 209/736-0805 209/736-0805 , runs river trips in dories, a compartmentalized, rough-water, motorless boat made of aluminum, fiberglass, or marine plywood. These vessels ride higher and drier than rafts, don't bend or buckle in the waves, and don't get soft when it's cold. A guide travels in each boat, but you can take the oars and learn to run the rapids. Another option is to test your skill in a two-person inflatable kayak.
Groups are limited to a maximum of 20 people per trip. If you're seeking a longer, slower, quieter voyage, as compared with other Grand Canyon river trips, with time to observe, understand and savor the canyon from the water and the land, this is for you. A 277-mile trip takes 16 days. Five- to 11-day trips are also offered from Lees Ferry or Phantom Ranch. You do need to hike in or out of the canyon or arrange for mule-back transportation to participate on a shorter trip. Full-length trips start and end in Flagstaff. Also available: Grand Canyon rafting trips of six, eight or 13 days; six-day trips in June through Desolation and Gray Canyons on the Green River; nine-day trips in June on the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park; eight-day trips on the San Juan River in May or June.
A 47-day trip retracing the complete voyage of John Wesley Powell is offered from Green River, Wyoming to the Virgin River arm of Lake Mead, in Nevada. The Powell trip is divided into four portions of eight, 10, 12 and 17 days that may be taken separately.
Grand Canyon Expeditions, PO Box 0, Kanab, UT 87471, Tel. 801/644-2691 801/644-2691 or 800/544-2691 800/544-2691 , fax 801/644-2699, runs the entire 277-mile length of the Grand Canyon from April to September on eight-day motorized or 14-day oar-powered dory and raft trips. Trips emphasize comfort and safety in negotiating nearly 200 rapids while passing through one of the earth's most spectacular geological exhibits. They've had 25 years to perfect their skills while running specialized trips for the National Geographic Society, Smithsonian Institution, and Cinemax, among others. Scheduled special interest trips highlight canyon history, geology, photography, ecology, archaeology, and astronomy. Trips include round-trip transportation from Las Vegas, sleeping bags and pads, ground cloth and rain shelter, waterproof river bags for sleeping gear, cameras and personal items, all meals on the river, cold beer, soft drinks, wine or champagne with evening meals, and ice is available throughout the trip. Customized charters are available.
Outdoors Unlimited, 6900 Townsend-Winona Road, Flagstaff, AZ 86004, Tel. 520/525-9834 520/525-9834 or 800/637-7238 800/637-7238 , runs trips from May to October in oar- or paddle-powered boats that hold five to six passengers and a guide. Itineraries include 12-day trips from Lees Ferry to Lake Mead, five-day trips from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch, and eight-day trips from Phantom Ranch to Lake Mead. Trips starting at Lees Ferry include overnight accommodations at Marble Canyon. Trips ending at Lake Mead include shuttle service to Las Vegas.
Western River Expeditions, 7258 Racquet Club Drive, Salt Lake City, UT 84121, Tel. 801/942-6669 801/942-6669 or 800/453-7450 800/453-7450 , fax 801/942-8514, offers six-day motorized trips through the Upper Grand Canyon, or three- and four-day trips in the Lower Grand Canyon, including helicopter transfers to or from the Colorado River below Lava Falls. Once a year they run a 12-day rowing trip. Trips are scheduled May to September.
Museum of Northern Arizona Ventures, Route 4, Box 720, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, Tel. 520/774-5211 520/774-5211 , runs Grand Canyon rafting trips.
American River Touring Association, 24000 Casa Loma Road, Groveland, CA 95321, 209/962-7873 209/962-7873 or 800/323-2782 800/323-2782 , runs six-to 13-day Grand Canyon raft trips.
Arizona River Runners, Box 47788, Phoenix, AZ 85068-7788, 602/867-4866 602/867-4866 or 800/477-7238 800/477-7238 , runs three- to eight-day Grand Canyon rafting trips.
Canyoneers, Inc., Box 2997, Flagstaff, AZ 86003, Tel. 520/526-0924 520/526-0924 or 800/525-0924 800/525-0924 , runs two- to 14-day Grand Canyon trips in motorized rafts or rowboats. Seven-day, six-night trips in powered pontoon boats cover the whole 277 miles from Lees Ferry to Pierce Ferry. Two-day, two-night trips in the same motorized vessels cover 89 miles from Lees Ferry to Bright Angel Beach, near Phantom Ranch. A 14-day, 13-night paddle-powered trip covers 225 miles from Lees Ferry to Pierce Ferry and includes round-trip transportation from Flagstaff.
Canyoneers also operates the Kaibab Lodge on AZ 67 north of the North Rim. Among a variety of tours they offer are winter cross-country ski trips.
Canyon Explorations, Box 310, Flagstaff, AZ 86002, 800/654-0723 800/654-0723 , runs six- to 15-day Grand Canyon raft trips.
Diamond River Adventures, Box 1316, Page, AZ 86040, Tel. 520/645-8866 520/645-8866 or 800/343-3121 800/343-3121 , runs four- to 12-day motorized and oar-powered river trips through the Grand Canyon.
Expeditions, Inc., RR 4, Box 755, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, Tel. 520/774-8176 520/774-8176 or Tel. 602/779-3769 602/779-3769 , runs five- to 18-day Grand Canyon river trips. Five- to six-day trips cover 87 miles and entail a nine-mile hike out of the canyon at the end. Eight- to nine-day trips cover the second portion of the Grand Canyon for 139 miles and require a seven-mile hike to the put-in spot. Twelve- to 18-day trips cover 226 miles on the river
Trips are in oar-powered rafts with options available for those who prefer paddle boats or kayaks. All trips include leisure time and hiking time for exploring side canyons. Also included is transportation from Flagstaff to Lees Ferry or the Grand Canyon, depending on the put-in point. Return transportation from Diamond Creek is provided at the end of the full Grand Canyon trip to Flagstaff. All trips include a sleeping bag and foam pad, vehicle and valuables storage at a Flagstaff warehouse, all meals, plus hotel and motel pick-up in Flagstaff.
Complete outfitting services, tent and pack rentals, and shuttle services for vehicles to the South Rim or Diamond Creek are available. Customized trips for special interests, such as kayaking clinics, management training seminars, art and photography workshops, and experiential education programs are also offered.
Georgia's Royal River Rats, Box 12057, Las Vegas, NV 89112, 702/798-0602 702/798-0602 , runs three- to eight-day Grand Canyon river trips.
Moki Mac River Expeditions, Box 21242, Salt Lake City, UT 84121, Tel. 801/268-6667 801/268-6667 or 800/268-6667 800/268-6667 , runs six- to 14-day Grand Canyon oar-powered raft trips, or eight-day motorized raft trips.
Sleight Expeditions, Box 40, St. George, UT 84770, Tel. 801/673-1200 801/673-1200 , offers five- to 12-day Grand Canyon raft trips.
Ted Hatch River Expeditions, Box 1200, Vernal, UT 84078, 801/789-3813 801/789-3813 , or 800/433-8966 800/433-8966 , offers seven-day Grand Canyon rafting trips.
Tours West, Inc., Box 333, Orem, UT 84059, Tel. 801/225-0755 801/225-0755 or 800/453-9107 800/453-9107 , offers three- to 12-day Grand Canyon rafting trips.
Wild & Scenic, Inc., Box 460, Flagstaff, AZ 86002, Tel. 520/774-7343 520/774-7343 , or 800/231-1963 800/231-1963 , runs trips of a half-day to 13 days in rafts or sportyaks on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Hualapai Tribal River Trips & Tours, PO Box 246, Peach Springs, AZ 84634, Tel. 520/769-2219 520/769-2219 or Tel. 602/769-2210 602/769-2210 , runs one-or two-day raft trips from Diamond Creek on the Colorado to Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead. Two-day trips include one day of rapids.
If the number of rafting tour operators on the Grand Canyon seems daunting, a one-stop free booking service known as River Travel Center, 800/882-RAFT, represents 16 Grand Canyon river outfitters with three- to 18-day itineraries in oar, paddle or motor rafts. The service can provide information, brochures and confirm reservations for a variety of departure dates. Also available: Utah river trips.
The national park's River Permit Office (520/638-7843 520/638-7843 ) can provide a complete list of licensed river concessionaires.