Rafting Grand Canyon | What First Timers Can Expect

Rafting Grand Canyon is an experience not like any other and one that will undoubtedly stay with you long after you leave.

So come join Ro Vaselaar on this amazing journey of discovery and adventure through the Grand Canyon.

You’ll learn what to expect from a Grand Canyon river trip as you savor the sights and sounds of this natural wonderland and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Table of Contents

Pinterest graphic with text: Rafting grand Canyon and 4 images: the first of two people standing under a water fall, second, two women sitting in raft looking up at canyon walls, third, women loading huge white raft with supplies on beach, fourth, raft charging through immense rapids that swallow blue raft
Huge backrollers of red Colorado River water cover a blue raft that is barely seen trying to bob out of the churning and spraying waters while rafting Grand Canyon
Motorized raft in Hermit Rapid (Mile 95.5) | Photo by Tom Martin via Wikipedia

Bouncing around in the Grand Canyon’s Class 10 rapid, Lava Falls Rapid, I remember feeling like a dinghy in a hurricane trying to hang on to a bucking bronco. Such was the exhilaration as the river drops 38 feet in a matter of seconds. This, but one of 80 odd rapids we traversed during our nine days of rafting Grand Canyon, left a lasting impression on this neophyte rafter.

Experiencing Splendor While Rafting Grand Canyon

aerial shot looking down on a huge canyon of layers of red rock, there is a crooked river at the bottom reflecting the pink colors of the setting or rising sun
Lava Falls from afar View Looking west (downstream) from the Toroweap outlook in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, You can see Lava Falls | Photo by John Fowler via Flickr

Experiencing its splendor while rafting the Grand Canyon offers an entirely different perspective from gazing at the vast vistas from atop. Periods of total tranquility broken only by bird calls and buzzing insects alternate with crashing, tumbling waters as the Colorado River drops some 2000 feet on our journey from Lee’s Ferry to Lake Mead. See a list of major rapids and other notable features on this stretch of the Colorado River at the end of this article.

Ever-Changing Water Highway Challenges River Runners

churning water sprays up white droplets of water while rafting grand Canyon
The river churns in the formidable rapids while Grand Canyon rafting | Photo by Oona Ahonen via Unsplash

Every day includes multiple rapids to cut through, ranging from Class 4s to Class 10s. Our boatmen explain that each rapid has its own ever-changing micro highway—the challenge is to find it.

As your boat approaches the rapid, the water picks up speed, so it’s a matter of seconds, not minutes, to identify that micro highway and then maneuver onto it.

As one of our fellow passengers explained to me going into my first Class 8, “if he does this right, it will seem very easy…but if he does it wrong, people die!” Our boatmen exuded confidence and competence so that I was never once fearful.

Each rapid provides an exhilarating adrenalin rush

Rather, each rapid provided an exhilarating adrenalin rush and a most welcome cool-down. Not much beats a cold shower on a hot day. Intense rapids are followed immediately by an eddy cushion, an area where the current stills, allowing everyone to catch their breath and still their heartbeat.

Read this story written by a woman river runner

Hiking, an Integral Part of Rafting Grand Canyon

sandy canyon floor with small figure that appears to be a hiker in the midground, canyon walls rise up in background dwarfing all
Blacktail Canyon: The name comes from mule deer inhabiting the high plateau north of the Canyon. Mule deer have big ears and primarily white or tan tails with black tips | NPS photo

The rapids served as punctuation marks to our many hikes, where we explored one of the world’s seven wonders. We were able to get up close and personal with the Canyon’s unique scenery and fascinating geology.

For example, In Blacktail Canyon, a very narrow slot canyon, you see and touch what geologists call the Great Unconformity. It’s tangible evidence of about 1.2 billion years of Earth’s formation.

Merely touching this beyond-ancient place evokes a desire to pause and reflect on where and how we fit into Earth’s destiny.

A bit further downriver, we drifted peacefully through the Upper Granite Gorge, where the river has carved a mere 75-foot-wide crevice. It’s as if we’re in the womb of the Earth.

Sheer walls of shiny black, Vishnu Shist laced with ribbons of granite tower some 6000 feet above us. This magnificent rock comes from the very core of the Earth. Geologists tell us it is 1.7 billion years old. It feels as if we’re rafting through the beginning of time.

Hygiene While Rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

two adults in swimming suits stand under water fall in a niche on the red canyon walls while rafting grand Canyon

Emerging from Earth’s womb, we’re met by the thundering Deer Creek Falls, a 125-foot cascade tumbling into the river. We’ve encountered several falls like this while rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

We have discovered they provide a most suitable shower down here where there are no man-made facilities of any kind. Can’t use any soap in these slot canyon falls, but the force of the water pounding away the sweat and sand suffices.

Quite refreshing on a hot August day and yet another incredible rafting Grand Canyon experience.

Overnight Colorado River Rafting in the Grand Canyon

The number of rafts on the river is tightly controlled, so there is sufficient space each evening for every party to claim a campsite. They are all the epitome of primitive.

Though the boatmen do off-load and set up a “honey pot” each night which is properly disposed of at journey’s end.

Some nights you’re sleeping on a sandy beach…though pay attention to whether the river might rise during the night. Another night you might be sleeping on a rock ledge—part of an outcropping that gets you up off the ground.

But, of course, no two nights of Colorado River rafting in the Grand Canyon will be the same. And you’ll be cohabitating with critters who’ve called this home for thousands of years.

Loveliest Spot: Rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon

man jumps from rocky ledge inside a crack (chasm) in the red rock wall - below him is blue-green waters of a pool with a light spray of water falling from above
Elves Chasm is one of the loveliest spots in Grand Canyon National Park | Photo by Nancy Bené

Our morning hike back into Elves Chasm is often described as “the most beautiful spot in the Canyon.” No argument from me.

The one-mile hike has you scrabbling up some 200 feet, oftentimes over large boulders. However, the destination is definitely worth the effort when rafting on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

Once you reach this quiet, fern-lined grotto, fed by a cascading waterfall, you’re ready for its reward. The adventurous can hike thru the tunnel behind the fall and then make their way over a huge moss-covered boulder for a high-dive jump from the waterfall’s top.

The emerald waters below cool the skin as well as the soul. The rest can simply step into the pool to cool off and cheer on the jumpers. Either way, you’ll be mighty glad you made the trek back here.

More Adventures You Can Expect on Grand Canyon Raft Trips

Photo framed by sides of swerving slot canyon with a peek at the blue skies above, green vegetation is evidence of water trickling from the red rock
Deer Creek hike is another favorite that offers a great reward | Photo by Nancy Bené

Another favorite that offers a great reward is the hike up Deer Creek. Deer Creek Falls tumbles over 100 feet right into the river.

We climb to the top and pause to take in the phenomenal views. Continuing on upstream demands guts and absolute focus.

At one point, we shinny across the side of a sheer cliff using only hand holes and a very narrow ledge as anchors.

You can occasionally make out the handprints of the ancient Puebloans or Paiutes who chipped out these small holes so they could navigate across this precarious drop of several hundred feet [don’t look down] and reach a little piece of paradise, now dubbed “The Patio.”

It truly is a glorious, peaceful spot to recoup, cool off in the small waterfall, or stretch out on one of the large flat rocks and have a little snooze.

However, before dozing off, one must take time to contemplate the ancient natives who were so adept at living in this massive terrain we call the Grand Canyon. Their spiritual presence can be felt throughout one’s time here.

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water cascades ove red rock ledge on a side canyon of the Grand Canyon
A little piece of paradise experienced whilst rafting Grand Canyon, now dubbed “The Patio” | Photo by Nancy Bené

Grand Canyon Tours Rafting: What to Expect

The only way to Matkat Canyon is by rafting Grand Canyon | Photo courtesy of Ro Vaselaar

Our days were filled with once-in-a-lifetime experiences while rafting Grand Canyon. Each offering spectacular scenery with varied geology to marvel over.

But our stop at Matkatamiba [Matkat] Canyon offered another special surprise—our own private concert.

First, we follow the twisty stream bed that sculpted this narrow slot canyon, its towering walls within arm’s reach on either side. Then, less than a mile in, the walls end abruptly, opening into a large amphitheater hollowed out by Mother Nature.

The hypnotic sounds of a lone violin welcome us into this bastion of peace and tranquility. We join 15-20 other adventurers for a lovely respite. Does life get any better??

What Do You Eat When Rafting Grand Canyon?

Picnic lunches during our rafting Grand Canyon daily routines included fresh-made sandwiches | Photo courtesy of Ro Vaselaar

Days filled with hikes and the exhilaration of rafting Grand Canyon leave everyone ravenous. It’s impossible to overstate the quality of our food. Yet another reason to make sure you travel with a reputable outfitter. 

Hot Breakfast

Every morning we were greeted with a full hot breakfast—bacon or sausage, eggs, pancakes, and toast. Also available were cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit and plenty of piping hot coffee.

Onboard snacks during our early days rafting Grand Canyon included a variety of fresh fruits. During the latter part of our trip, the fruit gave way to nuts or crackers and always plenty of lemonade and cold water. Dehydration avoidance made easy!

Delicious Picnic Lunches

Daily picnic lunches included fresh-made sandwiches from cold meats early on, which gave way to sandwich spreads, peanut butter, sardines and the like. Always accompanied by a host of condiments and garnishes and, of course, cookies.

Gourmet Campfire Dinners

Dinners, always cooked over a campfire, were nothing short of amazing, including entrees like steak, fresh fish—salmon, halibut—chicken, pork chops, chicken fajitas, etc.

Dessert one night was a fresh, warm chocolate cake cooked in a cast-iron Dutch oven on the campfire.  

Considering that ALL this food was packed the day before we launched at Lee’s Ferry, and there’s no shopping at the Canyon’s bottom, the biggest surprise came on day #9—our last night.

We had a fresh salad using the tail end of all fresh veggies and romaine lettuce that I would have sworn was purchased that morning. Testimony to a reputable outfitter indeed.

Rafting Grand Canyon Can Be Addictive

The adrenylin rush of plunging over radpids like these can make rafting Grand Canyon addictive | Photo courtesy of Ro Vaselaar

The siren-call of the rapids calls many back repeatedly. The exhilaration felt while rafting Grand Canyon can be addictive. For others, the indelible memories of one trip will follow you for years. Either way, definitely a trip not to be missed.

These highlights of our 10-day, 9-night rafting experience thru Arizona’s Grand Canyon are accessible to rafters.*

It has taken the Colorado River millions and millions of years to sculpt this magnificent place. Yet, we are blessed to live close enough to gaze upon its splendor often.

But the wonders we’ve seen from the river are not visible from the top—reminding me that we must always look within to truly know what is real. You will likely leave part of your soul down here, but beyond that, remember to leave only your footprints for others to find.

Ro Vaselaar is an independent writing and editing professional living in Arizona. The avid traveler served as Marketing Director for the City of Flagstaff Tourism Office from 1994-1999. She retired as an adjunct professor from the School of Hotel & Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

Did you enjoy Ro’s story about rafting Grand Canyon? Then please head down below to leave a comment:

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*For those who’d like to try rafting Grand Canyon before committing to a full nine days, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey recommends this shorter 2-day excursion as a sampler.

“I’ve experienced both the nine-day motorized trip and a sampler trip from Diamond Creek. Of course, you can’t beat nine days in the Canyon. But if you don’t have the time, the two-day excursion out of Las Vegas is thrilling, too. You’ll ride nine rapids, including a Class 7 rapid,” says Stacey.

Book your two-day rafting Grand Canyon trip here on Viator.

“Another option is a one-day trip out of Las Vegas by helicopter. I loved the helicopter ride over the Hoover Dam to Grand Canyon West. From there, your guides take you on a kayak or rafting Grand Canyon excursion down the Colorado River,” Stacey reports. 

You can book your one-day trip from Las Vegas here on Viator.

List of Major Rapids and Notable Features While Rafting Grand Canyon

Settled in for the night after a day of rafting Grand Canyon | Ro Vaselaar photo

Here’s a handy list of major rapids and notable features while rafting Grand Canyon on this stretch of the Colorado River. Thanks to Wikipedia for this list with the ratings of the rapids in parenthesis. The rating system used in the Grand Canyon is a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult.
Mile 0.0 – Lee’s Ferry
Mile 0.2 – Paria River Riffle (1)
Mile 2.8 – Cathedral Wash (2)
Mile 4.2 – Navajo Bridges
Mile 8.0 – Badger Creek Rapid (5) –Marble Canyon’s first significant rapid in with a large pour-over in the center-right.
Mile 11.4 – Soap Creek Rapid (5)
Mile 12.1 – Brown’s Riffle (2) Named for the President of the Denver, Colorado Canyon and Pacific Railroad, Frank Mason Brown, who drowned at this point when his boat capsized on July 9, 1889. He was not wearing a life jacket.
Mile 14.5 – Sheer Wall Rapid (2)
Mile 17.1 – House Rock Rapid (7)
Mile 17.7 – Redneck Rapid (3)
Mile 20.7 – North Canyon Rapid (5) Starts the “Roaring 20s”
Mile 21.4 – 21 Mile Rapid (5)
Mile 23.2 – 23 Mile Rapid (4) Many rafts have flipped here.
Mile 23.5 – 23.5 Mile Rapid (4)
Mile 24.4 – 24 Mile (Georgie) Rapid (6)
Mile 24.7 – 24.5 Mile Rapid (6) 79-year-old Bert Loper had a heart attack and died while rowing his boat here in July 8, 1949.
Mile 25.1 – 25 Mile (Hansbrough-Richards) Rapid (6) Named for Peter Hansbrough and Henry Richards, also not wearing life jackets, who drowned here on Monday, July 15, 1889.
Mile 25.7 – Cave Springs Rapid (5)
Mile 26.8 – 27 Mile (Tiger Wash) Rapid (5)
Mile 29.4 – 29 Mile Rapid (2), Shinumo Wash Camp and the Silver Grotto
Mile 30.4 – Fence Fault Rapid (3)
Mile 32.0 – Stanton’s Cave
Mile 32.2 – Vasey’s Paradise
Mile 33.2 – Site of the proposed Redwall Dam
Mile 33.3 – Redwall Cavern – A huge alcove in the Redwall Sandstone at river level.
Mile 35.0 – Nautiloid Canyon
Mile 36.0 – The Bridge of Sighs; one of few geologic arches visible from the river.
Mile 36.3 – 36 Mile Rapid (4)
Mile 39.7 – Site of the proposed Marble Canyon Dam.
Mile 43.3 – Anasazi Bridge – a prehistoric bridge spans a a gap in the cliffs
Mile 44.0 – President Harding Rapid (4) –A boulder in the middle of the river splits the current.
Mile 52.4 – Nankoweap Rapid (3) A steep trail up a talus slope leads to a view of cliffside Ancestral Puebloan granaries.
Mile 56.3 – Kwagunt Rapid (5)
Mile 60.1 – 60 Mile Rapid (4)
Mile 61.7 – Little Colorado River Confluence.
Mile 65.1 – Carbon Creek
Mile 65.9 – Lava Canyon (Chuar) Rapid (4)
Mile 69.0 – Tanner Rapid (6), the terminus of the Tanner Trail and the Tanner Graben
Mile 69.9 – Basalt Rapid (6) During low water, there is a sharp pour-over on the left.
Mile 72.9 – Unkar Rapid (6)
Mile 73.6 – 73.6 Mile Riffle (4)
Mile 75.3 – Escalante Creek Rapid (4)
Mile 75.8 – 75 Mile (Nevills) Rapid (4)
Mile 77.1 – Hance Rapid (8) – Large boulders constrict the channel, forming powerful hydraulics.
Mile 79.1 – Sockdolager Rapid (7) – Named for an old boxing term for a knockout or finnishing blow.
Mile 82.1 – Grapevine Rapid (7)
Mile 84.1 – 83 Mile Rapid (4)
Mile 85.3 – Zoroaster Rapid (5)
Mile 85.8 – 85 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 88.1 – Kaibab Bridge AKA Black Suspension Bridge and the Phantom Ranch boat beach, where the South Kaibab Trail crosses the Colorado River
Mile 88.3 – Bright Angel Rapid (3) and Bright Angel Bridge, the beginning of the River Trail.
Mile 89.5 – Pipe Creek Rapid (3), the River Trail ends here continuing as the Bright Angel Trail
Mile 90.8 – Horn Creek Rapid (8) – Vast waves and hydraulics make this one of the most challenging rapids in the Canyon.
Mile 93.1 – Salt Creek Rapid (3)
Mile 93.9 – Granite Rapid (8) – Another difficult rapids with strong hydraulics that push to the canyon wall on the right.
Mile 95.5 – Hermit Rapid (8) – Arguably the strongest hydraulics and most giant waves in the Canyon; terminus of the Hermit Trail
Mile 97.1 – Boucher Rapid (4)
Mile 98.2 – Crystal Rapid (8) – [1] Several huge holes followed by a dangerous rock garden mid-channel at the bottom of the rapids. This begins of a series of rapids called “The Gems.”
Mile 99.7 – Tuna Creek Rapid (6)
Mile 100.0 – Lower Tuna (Willie’s Necktie) Rapid (4)
Mile 100.4 – Nixon Rock Rapid (3)
Mile 101.1 – Agate Rapid (3)
Mile 101.8 – Sapphire Rapid (7)
Mile 102.6 – Turquoise Rapid (3)
Mile 104.5 – Emerald Rapid (5)
Mile 105.2 – Ruby Rapid (5)
Mile 106.5 – Serpentine Rapid (7)
Mile 108.3 – Beach and trailhead for the South Bass Trail.
Mile 108.4 – Bass Rapid (4)
Mile 109.3 – Shinumo Rapid (4)
Mile 109.6 – 109 Mile Rapid (2) This sleeper has sharp schist fins on river right.
Mile 110.0 – 110 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 111.4 – Hakatai Rapid (4)
Mile 112.8 – Walthenberg Rapid (6)
Mile 113.6 – 113 Mile Rock (2)
Mile 117.2 – Elves Chasm – A popular side canyon and clear-flowing stream with waterfalls and multiple pools.
Mile 119.3 – 119 Mile Rapid (2)
Mile 120.6 – Blacktail Rapid (3)
Mile 122.2 – Mile 122 Rapid (4)
Mile 123.3 – Forster Rapid (5)
Mile 124.1 – 124.1 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 125.0 – 125 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 125.5 – Fossil Rapid (5)
Mile 126.4 – 126.4 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 127.5 – 127 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 129.2 – 128 Mile Rapid (4)
Mile 129.7 – Specter Rapid (6)
Mile 131.1 – Bedrock Rapid (7) – A massive rock outcrop splits the river—avoid going left.
Mile 132.3 – Deubendorff Rapid (7)
Mile 134.3 – Tapeats Creek enters from the right.
Mile 134.3 – Tapeats Rapid (5)
Mile 135.4 – 135 Mile (Helicopter Eddy) Rapid (3)
Mile 135.6 – Granite Narrows. The river narrows to 76 feet/ m, the tightest section of the river.
Mile 136.9 – Deer Creek Falls
Mile 138.4 – Doris Rapid (4)
Mile 139.2 – 138.5 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 139.7 – Fishtail Rapid (4)
Mile 141.7 – 141 Mile Rapid (2)
Mile 144.0 – Kanab Rapid (3)
Mile 148.4 – Matkatamiba Rapid (2) Short hike to Matkatamiba Canyon a narrow, winding slot canyon.
Mile 150.2 – Upset Rapid (8)
Mile 154.0 – Sinyala Rapid (2)
Mile 157.3 – Havasu Canyon is an spectacular sidecanyon filled with blue-green water. Havasu Canyon Rapid (3) is immediately downstream.
Mile 165.0 – 164 Mile Rapid (2)
Mile 167.0 – National Rapid (2)
Mile 168.5 – Fern Glen Rapid (2)
Mile 171.9 – Gateway Rapid (3)
Mile 179.7 – Lava Falls Rapid (9) – AKA Vulcan Rapid might well be the most difficult, if short, run while rafting Grand Canyon.
Mile 180.1 – Lower Lava Rapid (4)
Mile 186.0 – 185 Mile Rapid (2)
Mile 187.4 – Whitmore Helipad, where shorter excursions sometimes end their trip by helicopter takeout.
Mile 188.3 – Whitmore Rapid (3)
Mile 205.6 – 205 Mile (Kolb) Rapid (6)
Mile 209.2 – 209 Mile Rapid (5) has a large hole in its middle.
Mile 212.5 – Little Bastard (LB) Rapid (3)
Mile 213.3 – Pumpkin Spring
Mile 216.0 – Three Springs Rapid (2)
Mile 217.8 – 217 Mile Rapid (5)
Mile 219.6 – Trail Canyon (Ducky Eater) Rapid (2) Small inflatable kayaks can flip in cross-river hydraulics here.
Mile 220.7 – Granite Spring Rapid (2)
Mile 223.7 – 224 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 225.9 – Diamond Creek Takeout/Put-in. The first location downriver from Lee’s Ferry, where a road reaches the Colorado River.
Mile 225.9 – Diamond Creek Rapid (4)
Mile 228.2 – 228.2 Mile Rapid (3)
Mile 229.3 – Travertine Rapid (2)
Mile 231.2 – 231 Mile Rapid (5)
Mile 232.5 – 232 Mile (Killer Fang Falls) Rapid (4–7) – This was the last rapid noted by Bessie Hyde, of the 1928 disappearance of Glen and Bessie Hyde, in her journal. Searchrescuers located her diary in the couple’s abandoned sweep scow below this rapid.
Mile 233.9 – 234 Mile Rapid (5)
Mile 235.3 – Bridge Canyon Rapid (4)
Mile 236.0 – Gneiss Canyon Rapid (5)
Mile 239.5 – Separation Rapid (1)

Mile 266 – look up to see the Grand Canyon Skywalk across from Bat Cave 
Mile 280.5 – Pearce Ferry takeout at Lake Mead

UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was NOT provided with accommodations, meals or other compensation for the purpose of this guide. The Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

In addition, this blog, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel, contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, Stacey earns a commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help reduce the costs of keeping this travel blog active. 

Further, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for reading.

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