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Colorado River, Arizona
Report and Photos by Craig Maxwell

Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's Ferry
~ 15.6 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Colorado River is a major water source for the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada, draining a significant amount of snowmelt water all along the western half of Colorado. The river begins at an elevation of about 10,000 feet msl in the Rocky Mountains of Grand County, Colorado near Silver Creek on the western edge of Arapaho National Recreation Area northwest of Denver. From its headwaters the Colorado River flows west through Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, into Utah then down to Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border, where it begins to cut the Grand Canyon. The river then flows through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border before heading south along the Arizona-California border to its mouth at the Sea of Cortez. Along the way, the Colorado River flows more than 1,400 miles, mostly through three deserts.

This trip begins at Lee's Ferry, Arizona with a power boat ride for you and your boat upriver to Glenn Canyon Dam. (WARNING: do not paddle too close to the dam - signs have been posted since 9-11 restricting this; it is rumored that since 9-11, snipers are hidden in the canyon and around the dam to protect it from potential terrorists getting too close.) From there, it's about 15.6 miles of flat water floating with amazing and wonderous views of the canyons' red sandstone walls rising up to 1,800 ft over your head and hanging gardens of flora. You can also stop to view the ancient Anasazi rock art or enjoy the sandy beaches. There are California condors, swifts, swallows and eagles. If you like to paddle a lot, the trip back to Lee's Ferry can be done in one day. If you like to relax and enjoy the incredible sceenery, this a 2 day float with one night of primitive camping at the rivers edge at Horseshoe Bend - this is the recommended option.

No river permits are needed, no 7 year waiting list and no death-defying rapids to deal with, perfect for the recreational boater, sightseer, naturalist or anyone of any age who enjoys a relaxing float through the upper section of the Grand Canyon with amazing views, wildlife, flora, and pulling up to the shore and going for a quick hike to see a waterfall or some ancient Indian petroglyphs. The stars at night are absolutely STUNNING! Even if you are not a hardcore kayaker, maybe just considering getting into the sport, this is perfect for you.

This section of river is frequented by several rafting companies, so if you were to somehow get into trouble then someone will be along shortly. There are porta-potties located along the river at the common places these outfitters stop for sightseeing. Look for the sandy beaches and "step stools" those rafting companies use to off-load tourists... it's worth your time to stop at these places. A short walk is all you need to see some ancient Indian petroglyphs and other cool things.

I call this a "bucket list" trip - DON'T MISS IT!


The Glenn Canyon trip begins and ends at Lee's Ferry, just south of Lake Lowell (Page, Arizona.) Catch a power boat ride from Lee's Ferry upriver to Glen Canyon Dam where you get dropped off to begin your float trip 15.6 miles downriver back to Lee's Ferry. Follow US Highway 89 North out of Flagstaff, Arizona, stay left at the fork in Bitter Springs towards Lee's Ferry, take a right turn onto Lee's Ferry Road just after crossing the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River. Stop at the electronic kiosk and pay the entrance fee, continue 5.5 miles to the parking lot at the boat ramp where you catch your shuttle boat. Lee's Ferry Road from US Highway 89 to the parking area at the boat ramp is paved, there are modern bathroom facilities at the bottom and drinkable city water also.

Distance from major cities

Page 40 miles; Flagstaff 124 miles; Phoenix 268 miles; Las Vegas, NV 267 miles; Grand Canyon Village 128 miles; Tucson 385 miles; Durango 285 miles; Grand Junction 460 miles; Denver 624 miles; Salt Lake City 275 miles; Albuquerque 415 miles; Oklahoma City 957 miles; Dallas 1,083 miles; Austin 1,118 miles; San Antonio 1,145 miles; Houston 1,304 miles; Little Rock 1,296 miles; Kansas City 1,192 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Grand Canyon water usually flows clean, clear of debris and cold from Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell. Minimum suggested flow is about 4,000 cfs. Maximum suggested flow is about 100,000 cfs. The river water is NOT suitable for drinking or cooking. ALWAYS carry plenty of drinking water when adventuring in the Desert Southwest.

Best time to go

The primary season is from April 16 through October 15. It can get hot in the canyon this time of year, so prepare for daytime temps in the high 90's to low 100's, but hey, it's a "Dry Heat." The secondary season is from October 16 through April 15. It can get cold in the canyon this time of year with cold water and night time temps into the upper 30's to low 40's. ALWAYS carry plenty of drinking water and sunscreen, even in the winter and on overcast days.

Permit requirements

No river permits are needed for this reach of the Colorado River. However, you will need to hitch a ride with a commercial river company that usually picks up sighseers at Lee's Ferry and takes them to the bottom of the Dam. Arrange this water taxi ahead of time. If you don't feel like paying for the shuttle boat, or you are training for the kayak world championships, you can always paddle the 17 miles upstream against the current, then float back down... but this is NOT for the faint of heart. There is no camping fee or permit required to camp on the river. However, entrance fees apply; a 1-7 Day Vehicle Pass is $15, or a 1-7 Day Individual Permit is $7 per person. These fees can be paid at the automated fee machine at the entrance to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. You may camp at one location for up to 14 days at a time.

Hazards to navigation

This is a Class I, relaxing, river trip with a few sections of easy swiftwater suitable for any river-ready kayak, canoe or raft and any boating skill level. You don't even need to be a strong paddler. You can just sit back and relax as the current carries you downriver while you take pictures and enjoy the incredible views. If you are looking for a white-knuckle thrill ride, look elsewhere. Carry plenty of drinking water and sunscreen, watch out for common desert creatures that call this place home: rattlesnakes, scorpions, fire ants, mountainlions, etc. Once in the canyon the only way out is the river or a rescue helicopter.

River Access Points

Lee's Ferry at 0.0 miles is the starting and ending point for this trip. There are no other access points. Options include taking a water taxi ride from Lee's Ferry up to just below Glen Canyon Dam and then paddling back to Lee's Ferry, or else paddling upriver and then back to Lee's Ferry, which is the traditional starting point for Grand Canyon river trips. Paddling below Lee's Ferry requires a permit from Grand Canyon National Park without which the paddler will be, upon being caught, arrested and cited with fines ranging in the hundreds to thousands of dollars and the possibility of a jail sentence.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There is a few natural, primitive campsites all along the Colorado River through the upper Grand Canyon National Park. These are Ropes Trail campsite on right right at about 1.5 miles below Glen Canyon Dam; Ferry Swale Campsite on river left at about 7.5 miles below Glen Canyon Dam; 9 Mile Campsite on river right at about 6.6 miles below Glen Canyon Dam (9 miles above Lee's Ferry); 8 Mile campsite on river right at about 7.6 miles below Glen Canyon Dam (8 miles above Lee's Ferry); 7.5 Mile Campsite on river left at about 8.1 miles below Glen Canyon Dam (7.5 above Lee's Ferry); and 6 Mile Campsite on river right about 9.6 miles below Glen Canyon Dam (about 6 miles above Lee's Ferry.) These campsites cannot be reserved, and are available on a first come basis. There is no camping fee required for use of these camps. Please be considerate of others who are running the river and camping along it. Obey all NPS rules regarding protection of the natural environment, including, but not limited to, collection and proper disposal of all food scraps, garbage, trash and human waste.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There is at least one commercial outfitter offering kayak rentals, guided raft trips and private bopat shuttles on this reach of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. However, many commercial outfitters run guided trips on the river, some of which may be available for trip planning, shuttles or even boat and gear rentals. Contact the NPS for a list of licensed outfitters serving the river.

Reviewer's comments

What needs to be said about the Grand Canyon run? Anybody who has experienced this wonderfully exciting trip already knows about it, and words fail to adequately describe the trip for those who have not yet been fortunate enough to share it. The trip is remote, though you are never alone due to the volume of commercial outfitter traffic you will encounter. The Grand Canyon walls stand over a mile high, and in places are up to 9 miles apart. This trip requires a lot of stamina, excellent planning, an even temperament and teamwork to successfully complete it. Some rapids are best run in rafts or dorries, though expert kayakers may be able to run most of them without swimming. Bring your camera and allow plenty of time to do the section of this run you want to enjoy. George of the Jungle may have had problems with those trees, but it would be nothing compared to climbing out of the Grand Canyon with your boat, gear and supplies!

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 15.6 miles
Minimum Flow 4,000 cfs
Optimum Flow
Maximum Flow 100,000 cfs
First Put-in Lee's Ferry
Lat/Long 36° 51' 56.80" / 111° 35' 11.24"
Last Take-out Lee's Ferry
Lat/Long 36° 51' 56.80" / 111° 35' 11.24"
Elevation 3,140 to 3,102 feet msl
Gradient Av. 2.44 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Lee's Ferry
Boats Rafts, Dorries, Kayaks, Canoes
Season Year round, weather permitting
Permits NO!

Upper Grand Canyon map courtesy Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Upper Grand Canyon map courtesy
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Jetboat ride upriver to Glen Canyon Dam
Jetboat ride upriver to Glen Canyon Dam

Colorado River looking upriver to Glen Canyon Dam
Colorado River looking upriver to Glen Canyon Dam

Colorado River looking downriver from Glen Canyon Dam
Colorado River looking downriver from Glen Canyon Dam

Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River
Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River

Central Arizona Paddlers Club

Canoeman River Guide Services offers river trips, trip planning and instruction on rivers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Colorado River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Colorado River
[ Colorado River Homepage ] [ Grand Canyon ] [ Hoover Dam to Davis Dam ] [ Bullhead City to Topock ]
[ Topock to Lake Havasu S.P. ] [ Parker Dam to East Blythe ] [ East Blythe to Imperial Reservoir ]

Little Colorado River
[ Winslow to Leupp ] [ Leupp to Cameron ] [ Cameron to Colorado River ]

[ Bill Williams River ] [ Santa Maria River ] [ Havasu River ]

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