Grand Canyon Quick Links: Whitewater Rafting | Dory Trips | Hiking Adventures

Note: Starting in 2021, we’ve changed the names of some of our Grand Canyon trips to more accurately reflect their beginning and end points. River trips that formerly referenced Phantom Ranch have been updated to reflect our meeting/ending location at Pipe Creek and trips that formerly referenced Lake Mead have been updated to reflect our take out at Pearce Ferry.


 

Experience unparalleled adventure and life-long memories within the most legendary and spectacular of American landscapes.

It is said that experience is the best teacher. That’s why when it comes to experiencing—not just seeing—Grand Canyon and the Colorado River in Arizona, no one does it better than OARS. George Wendt, the company’s late founder, first rafted through this renowned American landscape over five decades ago. Back in 1969, George was granted the first exclusively non-motorized Grand Canyon rafting outfitting license, and to this day OARS proudly remains a renowned authorized concessioner of Grand Canyon National Park.

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Grand Canyon Rafting

Over the last fifty-plus years, OARS has gained more experience conducting non-motorized rafting trips down Grand Canyon’s lifeblood, the Colorado River, than any other Grand Canyon rafting company. And there’s never been a rush. Compared to most other outfitters, OARS Grand Canyon trips offer the option of long itineraries and a laid-back pace that allows time to soak up the unparalleled enormity of the Canyon’s character. And there’s never a crowd. Like the rest of our many other whitewater rafting and adventure trips, our guide-to-guest ratio is the best in the business. We limit our Grand Canyon rafting trips to consistently fewer passengers than any other outfitter so that you can experience the best possible, least crowded river adventure.

Grand Canyon Dories

What’s more, our means to these incredible ends are unlike most other Grand Canyon rafting experiences. By raft or dory, OARS and Grand Canyon Dories represent a legendary fixture in Arizona river running. Our dories navigate the river in the finest of styles, slipping through rapids and drops as effortlessly as they do silent, still eddies —a unique mode of navigation, renowned as much for stalwart capability as for elegance.

Dory in Havasu

Grand Canyon Hiking

Grand Canyon Hiking

Not sure you’re ready for a week or more of rafting and camping in Grand Canyon? OARS brings the same level of excellence and expertise to our lodge-based Grand Canyon hiking trips. These trips include expert guides, hiking on some of the most iconic hiking trails in Grand Canyon, and 3 or 4 nights of comfortable lodging, including a night or two at Phantom Ranch 5,800 feet below the rim!

THE FACTS

Stretching 277 miles across northern Arizona, Grand Canyon ranges in elevation from 2,400 feet to over 7,000 feet above sea level. In places, it is up to one mile deep and over 18 miles wide, while some of the canyon’s majestic plateaus in the north rise to 9,000 feet above sea level. Due to gigantic shifts in the region’s landmass, portions of the canyon’s North Rim are more than 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim.

Details to Help You Compare Your Grand Canyon Trip Options

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. At OARS, we offer a greater variety of river trip options than any other outfitter, with a choice of dory or raft expeditions, ranging from our shortest trips of five days to our full canyon trips of 14-18 days.

Raft or Dory?

Our expeditions on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon use two different types of oar-powered boats: inflatable self-bailing rafts or hard-hulled dories. Both vessels hold four passengers plus a guide who pilots the boat with a long pair of oars. They each provide an exciting adventure, with some particular differences to consider. Because rafts are inflatable, they ride on top of the water and have a certain amount of “give.” Therefore, in big whitewater, they tend to flex a little and plow through the tops of waves. They are self-bailing boats, meaning all the water that splashes in drains out through holes between the inflatable floor and the side tubes, no bailing required. The dories are sleek, double-ended boats made of fiberglass, wood and foam. Being a hard-hulled boat, a dory has no “give,” so when a large wave hits it, it is lifted, providing a somewhat more pronounced, up-and-down ride through the rapids. As a passenger in a dory, you will assist in bailing the water out of the boat using a handheld bucket, and you need to be agile enough to quickly shift your weight to the “high side” of the boat when called upon by the guide, to help keep the boat from tipping over. The dory itineraries tend to run a day or two longer than the raft itineraries, which allows for extra time for hiking.

Rafts and dory in the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Waterfall

Side Canyon Hikes

Each day varies, but on an average we spend 3-5 hours per day on the boats actually going downstream, with the rest of the time hiking and exploring side canyons and points of interest, eating, or just relaxing in camp. The easiest hikes are no more difficult than negotiating a few yards of beach sand or stepping over a few rocks. Others may go for several miles or more over a rough trail, climb steeply up a hot hillside, require use of both hands to ascend over cliff edges or boulders, and demand caution as you totter on a narrow trail above a steep cliff. Our guides are happy to help novices with hand- and foot-holds and reassurance. Many times their helpfulness enables the timid and inexperienced to get to special places that the other groups pass by. All hikes are optional.

Whitewater Classifications and Conditions

The whitewater varies in intensity from mild to wild. Whitewater in Grand Canyon is rated on a scale of 1-10 (unlike most rivers, which generally utilize a scale of I-VI). In Grand Canyon, a “1” is flat water and a “10” is the most difficult rapid still considered runnable. The water levels are regulated by releases from Glen Canyon Dam, and variability in those releases means the height of the river can fluctuate up and down several feet within the day. Because the flow is dam regulated, the water levels remain fairly consistent, even in a drought year, with the higher flows coinciding with summer temperatures and the resulting increase in demand for hydro-electricity. Water releases are pulled from the bottom of Lake Powell, meaning the water temperature in Grand Canyon stays cold year-round at close to 50°F.

Grand Canyon Trip Options

 LEES FERRY TO PIPE CREEK (AB): 6-8 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Transport by van from Flagstaff to put-in at Lees Ferry (approx. 2½ hrs).

Trip Ends: Pipe Creek, about a mile below Phantom Ranch, where a 7.7 mile hike to the South Rim begins. Many people prefer to overnight at the South Rim before taking a van shuttle to Flagstaff.

Please Note: This trip requires backpacking your gear (20-30 lbs.) from the river to the South Rim.

Whitewater: 19 major rapids rated 5 or above.

Itinerary: This 88-mile section of river is an excellent introduction to the canyon. The rapids start out moderate and grow larger each day, allowing you to become familiar with the boat’s movement through the whitewater. Even though the biggest rapids in the canyon are below Pipe Creek, this section has more fast-moving water overall. The cliffs and rock layers rise at a rate of 50-100 feet per mile, ending at Pipe Creek in the deepest part of the canyon. Our adventure includes the vibrant colored limestone cliffs of Marble Canyon, visits to Native American ruins, ancient fossils, Redwall Cavern, and the Little Colorado. On the final morning, have an early breakfast and finish packing your backpack. Then float down to Pipe Creek to start backpacking up the canyon to the South Rim. Our guides will provide a trail lunch for you. Please read the section below: “Hiking In or Out of Grand Canyon.”


LEES FERRY TO WHITMORE WASH (AC): 12-15 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Transport by van from Flagstaff to put-in at Lees Ferry (approx. 2½ hrs).

Trip Ends: Take-out at Whitmore Wash, by helicopter to the rim, then small-plane flight to Las Vegas, continuing by van to the Las Vegas McCarran Airport, arriving between 1-3:00 PM.

Whitewater: 38 major rapids rated 5 or above, along with two monsters, Crystal and Lava Falls, rated 8-10.

Itinerary: We spend our first week on the river covering the same highlights as our Lees Ferry to Pipe Creek trip (see above) until we meet up with the big whitewater below, including the infamous Crystal Rapid and Lava Falls. This section combines the scenic wonders of the Upper Canyon’s vibrant limestone cliffs, Pre-Puebloan ruins, Nautiloid fossils, stream-carved alcoves, and petroglyphs, with the Lower Canyon’s crystalline waterfalls, fern-covered fairylands, layers of rock rising and falling, and turquoise pools.


LEES FERRY TO PEARCE FERRY – Full Canyon (AD): 14-18 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Transport by van from Flagstaff to put-in at Lees Ferry (approx. 2½ hrs).

Trip Ends: Take-out at Pearce Ferry and return by van to Flagstaff (4 hrs), arriving approximately 3-4:00 PM

Whitewater: 47 major rapids rated 5 or above including Crystal and Lava Falls, rated 8-10.

Itinerary: It’s all here—the glories of Marble Canyon, the mysteries of the Inner Gorge, terrific side hikes, and Native American ruins, crystalline creeks and waterfalls, cactus gardens, and whitewater galore. For nearly three-hundred miles, the river has cut a chasm over a mile deep through a rainbow of ancient rock. Nowhere on earth is there a more complete or dramatic geologic storybook. This full canyon trip gives you time to stop, to look, to listen, and explore the treasures this wonderland has to offer. You won’t be “seeing the Grand Canyon”—you’ll be living it. Your guides enrich your experience with tales of geologic wonders, natural history, and Canyon folklore. You’re also likely to encounter bighorn sheep, deer, ringtail cats, coyote, and a large variety of birds from raptors to water fowl.


LEES FERRY TO DIAMOND CREEK – Full Canyon (AD): 13-18 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Transport by van from Flagstaff to put-in at Lees Ferry (approx. 2½ hrs).

Trip Ends: Take-out at Diamond Creek and return by van to Flagstaff (2½ hrs.), arriving approximately 2-3:00 PM.

Whitewater: 42 major rapids rated 5 or above and Crystal and Lava Falls, rated 8-10.

Itinerary: Covering 225 river miles, this trip offers all the scenery, side canyons and whitewater excitement of our full canyon trip. We take-out at Diamond Creek, just a few rapids short of our Lees Ferry to Pearce Ferry trip, making for a shorter drive back to Flagstaff.


PIPE CREEK TO WHITMORE WASH (BC): 7-8 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Hike 7.7 miles into the canyon from the South Rim, meeting at the river at 1:00 PM

Please Note: This trip requires backpacking your gear (20-30 lbs.) from the South Rim to the river.

Trip Ends: Take-out at Whitmore Wash, by helicopter to the rim, then small-plane flight to Las Vegas, continuing by van to the Las Vegas McCarran Airport, arriving between 1-3:00 PM.

Whitewater: 19 major rapids rated 5 or above including Crystal and Lava Falls, rated 8-10.

Itinerary: Beginning at the South Rim, your hike will cover 7.7 miles into the canyon down the beautiful Bright Angel Trail. The hike is on a well-traveled and well-defined trail with water, shade, and restroom stops along the way. The river guides meet you at the river’s edge. After repacking your gear, we immediately head straight into some of the most celebrated rapids: Horn Creek, Granite, Hermit, and Crystal are all packed into the first two exciting days. Spectacular side hikes pierce the shadows of the deep Inner Gorge: the emerald paradise of Elves Chasm, the 100-foot drop of Deer Creek Falls, limestone chutes of Matkatamiba Canyon, blue-green pools and numerous waterfalls of Havasu Canyon, and many others. We finish off by running the notorious Lava Falls—North America’s most renowned big drop. Please read the section below: “Hiking In or Out of Grand Canyon.”


PIPE CREEK TO PEARCE FERRY (BD): 10-13 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Hike 7.7 miles into the canyon from the South Rim, meeting at the river at 1:00 PM

Please Note: This trip requires backpacking your gear (20-30 lbs.) from the South Rim to the river.

Trip Ends: Take-out at Pearce Ferry and return by van to Flagstaff (4 hrs.), arriving approximately 3-4:00 PM.

Whitewater: 28 major rapids rated 5 or above including two monsters, Crystal and Lava Falls, rated 8-10.

Itinerary: After hiking into the canyon from the South Rim, we go straight into the biggest rapids of all to finish the Upper Granite Gorge (see above, Pipe Creek to Whitmore Wash). Incredible scenery and plenty of other rapids fill the 191 miles of the “lower half” section of the canyon. Below Lava Falls, the canyon narrows one last time as we enter the Lower Granite Gorge. A jet boat meets us on our last day to take us to Pearce Ferry and our van back to Flagstaff. Please read the section below: “Hiking In or Out of Grand Canyon.”


PIPE CREEK TO DIAMOND CREEK (BD): 10-12 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Hike 7.7 miles into the canyon from the South Rim, meeting at the river at 1:00 PM

Please Note: This trip requires backpacking your gear (20-30 lbs.) from the South Rim to the river.

Trip Ends: Take-out at Diamond Creek and return by van to Flagstaff (2½ hrs), arriving approximately 2-3:00 PM.

Whitewater: 23 major rapids rated 5 or above including Crystal and Lava Falls, rated 8-10.

Itinerary: Just as on our Pipe Creek to Pearce Ferry trip, we conquer all the famed rapids, discover secluded canyons and linger in quiet oases. Our take-out point is Diamond Creek, just a few rapids short of our Pipe Creek to Pearce Ferry trip, making for a shorter drive back to Flagstaff. Please read the section below: “Hiking In or Out of Grand Canyon.”


 WHITMORE WASH TO PEARCE FERRY (CD): 5 days, by Raft, or by Dory

Trip Begins: Las Vegas McCarran Airport

Trip Ends: Take-out at Pearce Ferry. Return by van to Las Vegas, arriving between 1-3:00 PM.

Whitewater: 5 major rapids rated 5 or above (on the Grand Canyon scale of 1-10).

Itinerary: This 5-day sampler is ideal for those with time constraints who want to “get their feet wet” in the Grand Canyon. We meet you in Las Vegas and transport you by van and small plane to Bar 10 Ranch for an afternoon of ranch activities, including horseback riding, ATV, horseshoe pitching, hiking, skeet shooting, and more, finishing with an evening of country entertainment. The next morning you fly by helicopter into the canyon where your guides await your arrival at Whitmore Wash. Covering 93 river miles in the Lower Grand Canyon, this section offers fantastic scenery, relaxed floating, hiking and some fun whitewater. The trip ends with a jet boat ride to Pearce Ferry followed by van returning to Las Vegas.


Grand Canyon National Park Service regulations prohibit individuals from participating in more than one recreational river trip (commercial or non-commercial) per year on the Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek section of the Colorado River. Because of this regulation, OARS and Grand Canyon Dories cannot accept a reservation from any individual who has or will participate in any other full or partial canyon commercial or non-commercial river trip within the same calendar year. If you have already completed or have plans to participate in any other Grand Canyon river trip during the same year you are traveling with us, and would like to go again, please wait until the following year or later for your next trip. Grand Canyon National Park’s one-trip-per-year rule is strictly enforced by the National Park Service.

What is the minimum age to go on a Grand Canyon trip?

The minimum age is 12 years old for all trip segments except for Whitmore Wash to Pearce Ferry, which has a minimum age of 7 years. Children should be comfortable around water and content to pass time quietly during the long stretches of calm water when we talk and contemplate the grandeur of our surroundings.

Is there a “best” time to go?

There is no “bad” time to be in Grand Canyon. Our early and late trips (April, September, and October) are longer, which allows for a more flexible schedule with possible layover days. The April trips usually catch the peak wildflower and cactus bloom. October is the “yellow” season with numerous yellow plants blooming and oblique lighting ideal for photography. The milder spring and fall temperatures create a comfortable environment for side canyon exploration. Also, in April and October we are sometimes able to have a campfire in the evenings.

Grand Canyon Tranquil River Rafting

Grand Canyon Hiking

The summer months are the hottest and most crowded. Temperatures can soar to over 115 degrees in late June and July. There are likely to be some clouds and thundershowers in July and August (historically known as the monsoon season). During this time, localized thunderstorms can turn the Colorado River muddy and create spectacular red and brown waterfalls.

Hiking In or Out of Grand Canyon (Trips beginning or ending at Pipe Creek)

The hike requires carrying your personal effects in a backpack weighing 20-30 lbs. as you traverse the Bright Angel Trail between the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and the river. The hike is serious, long (7.7 miles) and strenuous. It takes you in or out of one of the deepest canyons in the world with an elevation increase/decrease of more than 4500 feet and may be one of the most physically demanding endeavors you will undertake in your life. It is essential you can comfortably complete the hike carrying a weighted backpack of 20-30 lbs. Temperatures on the trail can easily reach 110 degrees or more during the summer months. The combination of carrying a backpack, the potential for extreme heat and the elevation change of almost one vertical mile makes this an incredibly challenging day.

This hike can be exhausting for even the most physically fit and prepared hiker. When evaluating the prospect of participating in the river trip requiring this hike, be honest with yourself. If you are not already a backpacker or frequent hiker this trip may not be right for you. You must be committed to doing additional training and conditioning before you begin your trip. It’s up to you to carry your backpack. An inability to successfully complete the hike endangers not only yourself, but also the other guests and guides on the trip. The hike down to the river generally takes 4-7 hours, while the hike out to the South Rim generally takes 6-9 hours. As required by the National Park Service, we have a hiking escort accompany our guests on the hike in and out of the canyon.

Please Note: This hike is not recommended for anyone in poor general health, the elderly, those with heart or lung disease, or those who are overweight or not physically fit.

This service is operated by O.A.R.S. Grand Canyon, Inc., a concessioner under contract with the U.S. Government and administered by the National Park Service. The concessioner is responsible for conducting these operations in a satisfactory manner. Prices are approved by the National Park Service.

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Please address comments to:

Superintendent
Grand Canyon National Park
PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023

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