An epic introduction to rafting the Colorado River through Grand Canyon with big to even bigger whitewater, unparalleled views, and a challenging 7.7-mile hike up and out of the canyon on the last day.
The first 88-mile section of the Colorado River is an excellent introduction to the majesty of Grand Canyon. Floating downriver, the canyon walls rise higher and higher and the whitewater progresses from moderate to extra large, culminating in a series of drenching rapids.
Our trip includes visits to Redwall Cavern, an ancient fossil site in Nautiloid Canyon, and Ancestral Puebloan granaries at Nankoweap. If we’re lucky, we may also have the chance to swim in the turquoise-blue Little Colorado.
After a week of floating, hiking, and camping, this Grand Canyon adventure concludes with a dramatic hike, ascending almost 4,500 feet in elevation, up to the South Rim.
If you are not already a backpacker or frequent hiker this trip may not be right for you. To adequately prepare for this demanding experience, please carefully review our guide to hiking the Bright Angel Trail.
What to Expect
Itinerary & Map
Itinerary at a Glance
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every Grand Canyon rafting trip with OARS is different depending upon the group, other trips on the water, camp locations, and sometimes the weather. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like:
The Day Before Your Trip
The evening before your trip, we’ll meet for a pre-trip meeting in Flagstaff, AZ. This is an opportunity to meet your fellow travelers and trip leader and ask any last-minute questions.
The first morning of the trip starts with a 2 1/2-hour drive to our put-in at Lees Ferry. Once at the river, we’ll load boats, give a river safety talk, and fit you with a personal flotation device (PFD) before launching.
Within the first few miles of the trip, the first signs of Grand Canyon’s fascinating geology make their appearance in Marble Canyon with some of the most striking and vibrantly-colored limestone cliffs. Any apprehensions are soon converted to exhilaration in Badger and Soap Creek Rapids. The desert’s warmth quickly dries us again before we reach camp.
Ideally, we reach camp each day with plenty of time to relax, play beach games, or chat with new friends as the guides prepare a delicious meal. After a fulfilling day in the canyon, we stretch out in our sleeping bags to drift off to sleep under a starry sky.
Days 2–5 or 6 (depending on trip length)
The river twists between rising cliffs, offering new vistas at every bend. At North Canyon, we walk across folded layers of sedimentary rock which leads to a pool trickling down from the polished funneled canyon. Later, the rapids of the “Roaring Twenties” liven up our afternoon of lazy drifting.
The Canyon’s walls tower overhead as we continue our float past the fern-fringed springs of Vasey’s Paradise for a stop at Redwall Cavern. This vast, half-circular chamber carved out by the river, offers a cool recess to rest. A few miles downriver we scramble over short, steep rock formations into Nautiloid Canyon. Here, there’s a unique display of fossils exposed in the smooth rock canyon floor.
Relaxed drifting occupies much of the day interspersed by a few good rapids. A stop at Nankoweap Canyon gives us an opportunity to climb to the Ancestral Puebloan granaries that rest high on the cliff overlooking the Colorado River. If we are lucky, the Little Colorado will be flowing with opaque turquoise (instead of muddy brown) water, which will invite us to stop for a swim.
For a few miles, the canyon opens up before we head into the Granite Gorge where we’re drenched by the big waves of challenging rapids like Unkar, Nevills, Hance, Sockdolager, and Grapevine.
Day 6 or 7
On the final day, we’ll rise early to get an early start on the trail. We’ll then head downstream to Pipe Creek, about a mile past Phantom Ranch, where you will start the strenuous backpacking trek out of the canyon with all of your gear (expect to haul 20-30 pounds on your back).
The hike to the rim generally takes six to nine hours and may be one of the most physically demanding endeavors you will undertake in your life.
Meeting Time & Place
6:30 PM, the evening before your trip
South Rim of Grand Canyon – After hiking out of the canyon
Dates & Prices
|May 3, 30||$3,899|
|June 2, 9, 23, 29||$3,899|
|July 6, 21, 28||$3,899|
|April 7, 28||$4,049|
|September 8, 15||$4,049|
• First deposit: $1000 per person (due at the time of booking)
• Second deposit: $500 per person (due by November 1 of the year before your trip)
• $20 GCNP Entrance Fee
• Sleep kit and tent rental included
*Prices subject to National Park Service review
The Need-to-Know Info
Included in Your Trip Cost
Not Included in Your Trip Cost
- Pre- and post-trip transportation, accommodations, and meals
- Grand Canyon National Park Entrance Fee
- Insurance of any kind, including a travel protection plan
- Alcoholic beverages
- Items of a personal nature
On our Grand Canyon trips, we use inflatable oar rafts, the most stable of whitewater craft, which are rowed from the center of the boat by your guide. Our rafts carry four passengers and a guide, plus gear. We travel in a flotilla with a maximum group size of 16-20 passengers.
After each active day on the river, we pull ashore to camp for the night. Our first task is to unload the boats using a bag line of crew and passengers to expedite the process. Individuals then collect their waterproof bags and locate an area on the beach to camp for the night.
On the first night in camp, a crew member will give a demonstration on setting up a tent, which you’ll see is quick and easy. The guides will set up the kitchen and central dining/seating area with camp chairs. They will also locate a secluded area away from camp to set up the portable toilet, where privacy is assured.
As dinner is being prepared by the guides, hors d’oeuvres are served. This is an opportunity to relax, enjoy a drink if you wish, and reflect on the day with your fellow traveling companions.
In the morning, the first wake-up call lets you know that coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, juice, fresh fruit, and cold cereal are ready. You can fill your mug and grab a bite, then begin to pack up your personal belongings and sleep gear as the guides prepare breakfast. After breakfast, the entire camp is broken down and packing will be completed. The guides will then load the gear onto the boats, and we’ll head downstream to see what new adventures await us.
More info about Meals & Dietary Restrictions can be found on our Trip Resources page.
There are no absolutes when talking about the weather in Grand Canyon. Temperatures and weather can fluctuate greatly throughout the day. It can be clear, dry, and hot, and in the next moment, it can be cool and rainy. These conditions can manifest in any month. The descriptions and chart below list average weather conditions, maximum and minimum temperatures, and average rainfall. This chart should be used only as a general guide.
April: Cooler temperatures. Can expect a variety of weather. Usually peak wildflower bloom. Campfires at night.
May: Weather is moderate and consistent but can be windy at times. The water is very often clear from mid to late May.
June: Early June has hot days and mild nights with temperatures increasing with each day into the month. A very busy time to be in the canyon.
July: Very hot with the chance of some early monsoons. Any and all weather can be experienced at this time
August: Hot and typically monsoon season with thunderstorms. The clouds and showers help lower the temperatures for a period of time.
September: Moderate temperatures, cooling as the month progresses. There is less traffic in the canyon since September 15 is the last launch date for motorized trips.
October: Can be very nice, but always presents a possibility of storms and cooler temperatures. Be prepared for changes in weather conditions. Nice temperatures for side hikes. Campfires at night.
Average Air & Water Temperatures
|Day °F||Night °F||Rainfall|
Summer temperatures (June, July & August): Please note that the average summer temperatures listed can be misleading. These temperatures are recorded in very specific locations and circumstances. In the summer it is not uncommon for the temperature to rise above 110° F. At the same time, temperatures can suddenly plummet with increased cloud cover. The advice is to always be prepared with rain gear and clothing that can be layered.
Temperature at the Rim: The temperature at the rim is generally 20-30 degrees cooler than along the river since the South Rim is around 7,000’ in elevation. Keep this in mind especially if you are on an early spring or late fall trip.
Water Levels & Temperature
The water levels of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon are regulated by the release of water from the Glen Canyon Dam. The Colorado generally fluctuates up and down several feet within the day, based on the time of year and demand for electricity. Because the flow is dam regulated, even in a drought year, the water levels are fairly consistent. The temperature of the river has historically been 48°- 55° F, though it can trend warmer when upstream reservoir levels are lower.
There are 19 rapids rated 5 or higher on the Lees Ferry to Pipe Creek section. Whitewater in the Canyon is rated on a scale of 1–10 (unlike most western rivers which use the I–VI scale). A “1” is a small riffle, and a “10” is the most difficult rapid still considered runnable. Two of these, Unkar and Nevills produce consistent 6 (sometimes 7) whitewater. Hance, Sockdolager, and Grapevine rapids are always an 8 or 9. The intensity of all rapids naturally depends on the water level, so readings for low and high water levels may vary slightly.
Based on various circumstances, such as water levels and current flow, we on occasion find it necessary to have our passengers walk around certain rapids. The decision is made by the trip leader with the first concern being the safety of each passenger and the second being the ability to run a rapid without damaging the boats. This will give you a great opportunity to take some wonderful photos of the rafts as you watch your guides demonstrate their boating skills. When conditions warrant, you may also be asked by your trip leader to wear a helmet. For your own safety, you may feel more comfortable wearing the helmet even more than specifically requested by the trip leader.
Before booking your trip with OARS, there are a few important considerations we’d like you to know about.
Reservations and Deposits
- A $1000/person deposit is required at the time of reservation for all Grand Canyon trips over five (5) days in length. A second deposit of $500/person is due in our office by November 1 of the year before your trip.
- If you make your reservation after November 1 of the year before your trip, the entire $1500/person deposit is due at the time of reservation.
Deposits may be made by check, money order, or Visa/MasterCard (American Express and Discover incur a 3% processing fee). Prices are in US Dollars, and all payments must be made in US Dollars. Payment of the deposit establishes your acceptance of our complete Terms and Conditions. Individual departures and trip capacity are strictly limited by the managing agency.
Canceling your trip after we process your deposit will incur cancellation fees. OARS has absorbed costs on your behalf and will turn others away who would like to book the spaces we’re holding for you. Final payment is due 90 days before departure. Accounts on which final payment has not been received 80 days before the departure date will be canceled without exception.
Cancellations and Refunds
Your deposit is fully refundable, less a 3% processing fee, for 7 days after you book when you submit a deposit 7 days or more before the final payment due date.
If you must cancel your reservation after the rescission period described above, your cancellation fee will be determined according to the schedule below. We regret we cannot make exceptions to the cancellation policy for any reason, including foul weather, poor air quality, wildfire activity, acts of terrorism, civil unrest, or personal emergencies. There is no refund for arriving late or leaving a trip early. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to consider purchasing a travel protection plan.
|Date of Cancellation||Cancellation Fee|
|180 or more days before your trip||$200/person|
|179 – 120 days before your trip||$400/person|
|119 – 90 days before your trip||$750/person|
|89 days or less before your trip||Full Fare|
Please note that different deposit/cancellation policies may apply for charter groups. Refer to the group organizer’s confirmation email for details.
OARS reserves the right to cancel any trip due to insufficient registration or other factors that make the trip impractical to operate. In such instances, we will inform you at least 45 days before departure. Do not make nonrefundable travel arrangements unless you have spoken to your Adventure Consultant about the status of your trip.
If a trip must be canceled or postponed due to force majeure (factors outside the control of OARS), OARS will provide full credit for payments made toward future travel, or a refund less a 5% service fee plus any nonrefundable payments made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers. OARS will make good faith efforts to recover deposits made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers, however, we can’t guarantee recovery of any or all of the advance payments made. OARS is not responsible for expenses incurred by participants in preparation for a canceled trip.
Because our trips in Grand Canyon are heavily booked or completely sold out 12-18 months in advance, there are limited opportunities to transfer to a new trip. Generally, transfer requests must be treated like a cancellation according to the schedule above. Contact our Grand Canyon reservations department for more information.
O.A.R.S. Grand Canyon, Inc. is an authorized concessioner of Grand Canyon National Park
Ancestral Lands Acknowledgement
We respect and recognize that many of the river canyons on state and federal lands where we operate are the ancestral homes of indigenous communities. Where we operate on the Colorado River between Lees Ferry and Pipe Creek, we acknowledge the territories of the Navajo Nation, the Pueblo of Zuni, Ute, Southern Paiute, Hopi, Hualapai, and Havasupai.
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Adventure Level: Moderate
Minimum Age: 7 (12 – 15 during high water)
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