Deciding to take a river trip through the Grand Canyon is easy. Most people with a sense of adventure and a love for the outdoors, dream of such an experience: We imagine clinging to a raft as it bucks and surges its way through wave after wave of frothing brown water; we envision sleeping on a beach surrounded by the canyon's sheer walls with a narrow strip of stars twinkling overhead; or we picture ourselves clamoring over rocks and up around waterfalls through a twisting side canyon? it sounds idyllic. The tricky part is making that dream a reality.
Sixteen companies offer guided trips through Grand Canyon National Park. On average, these companies have been in service for 34 years, so you can't really rule out one for its lack of experience. Furthermore, all licensed outfitters are held to the highest safety and environmental standards by the National Park Service, so you can rest assured that every company will provide you with a safe, environmentally responsible trip.
So how do you decide? You can narrow down your choices by considering what you personally want out of the your experience. You may be interested in the cruising luxury of a motorized-raft trip: the size of these big boats soften the power of the rapids and motors allow you to move faster down the river. Or you may want to get wet and paddle your own craft on a kayak-supported expedition. You can spend as few as three days on the river or as many as 19. Your trip may focus on natural or human history; or you might want to explore the canyon with your camera under the tutelage of a professional photographer. Some companies use wooden dories to navigate the river, others have a flotilla of paddle rafts, oar rigs and inflatable kayaks.
To filter through all your options, the best place to start is at the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association website: www.gcroa.org. This site provides a summary of all the licensed commercial outfitters in the canyon with links to their individual websites, so it's the perfect place to see what kind of trips appeal to your specific goals and needs. Trips fill up quickly so you should try to sign up as early as possible to secure your dates. Sometimes this means more than a year in advance. If you are looking for something sooner, you may be able to fill a spot at the last minute however, so it's worth contacting the outfitters to see if there have been any cancellations.
Trips range in price from $1,135 for Arizona River Rafters, Three-day Escape-- up to $3,900 for a 16-day trip. Each outfitter provides a full list of rates and what they include on their website, so you can shop around to compare prices.
What To Look For:
Type of river craft (motorized rafts, oar-powered rafts, paddle rafts, or kayaks)
Length of trip
Activity focus (hiking intensive?)
Theme (natural history trips, photography, music, geology, etc)
Time of year (weather, water levels, temperatures)
Special considerations (trips for seniors, physically challenged, families, etc.)
Hint: You can take a one-day whitewater rafting trip outside of Grand Canyon National Park that will give you a taste of adventure without the time and cost of a multi-day expedition. If this option appeals to you, check out the Hualapai Nation's Grand Canyon West resort. Grand Canyon West offers rafting trips, as well an opportunity to walk along the famous Skywalk, which juts out over thousands of feet of air, and enjoy a variety of cultural displays that introduces you to the Hualapai people and culture.