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Little Colorado River, Arizona
Report by Marc W. McCord

Cameron to Colorado River
~ 51 Miles

EXPERT KAYAKERS ONLY!

General Description

Between Cameron and the Colorado River the Little Colorado River is not really that "little". It pales in comparison to the length of the mainstream, but its big Class V to VI drops are every bit as technical and challenging as anything you will find on just about any other river. This 51 mile reach begins and ends on the Navajo Reservation in the Painted Desert in Cococino County of northcentral Arizona, then cuts its way to Desert View below Marble Canyon, skirting the northeast boundry of Kanab National Forest, joining the Colorado River at the top of the Grand Canyon. In high water conditions it is a solid Class V+ to VI run, but it always has those consequences because of its remoteness and the deep, steep canyon through which it flows. The drops are as awesome as the majestic canyons and magnificent scenery along the way. Between huge boulder garden rapids, steep waterfall drops and dead-fallen tree strainers there are plenty of places for boaters to get into serious trouble. This is a run for expert whitewater kayakers ONLY! Once you depart Cameron there is no turning back unless you are prepared to climb steep canyon walls, then hike across miles of open desert where sidewinder and western diamondback rattlesnakes make their homes. Do this one ONLY if you truly have "the right stuff" to survive a hairboat run that few will ever experience.

Location

Central Cococino County in northcentral Arizona near the top of the Grand Canyon. There are no major cities anywhere near this run, which is on the Navajo Reservation and just west of the Hopi Reservation.

Distance from major cities

Phoenix 185 miles; Flagstaff 47 miles; Tucson 302 miles; Albuquerque 373 miles; Durango 343 miles; Grand Junction 513 miles; Denver 702 miles; Salt Lake City 468 miles; Oklahoma City 916 miles; Dallas 1,087 miles; Austin 1,077 miles; San Antonio 1,107 miles; Houston 1,364 miles; Little Rock 1,255 miles; Kansas City 1,241 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally good to very good, though not drinkable without purification. Dead-fall debris frequently clogs drops and rapids. Flow is very seasonal, usually limited to late-winter through early-spring months.

Best time to go

February through April is usually the most likely time to find sufficient flows for running the Little Colorado River, but seasonal rainstorms can produce adequate flows anytime of the year. Beware of high flows, when the remote, deep canyon offers no safe haven and no easy way out.

Permit requirements

Permits are required for all trips on the Little Colorado River. River permits are issued only to those whose names are already on the waiting list for Grand Canyon trips, and awarded according to the same process as for the Grand Canyon. Additionally, a Navajo Nation permit is required to traverse tribal lands to access the river. See the Grand Canyon Non-commercial Guidelines for complete details.

Hazards to navigation

The entire run should be considered a major hazard because of the potential for serious injury or death. Boulder garden rapids are huge, with large holes that can trash a kayaker, and are often clogged with dead-fallen trees and tree debris. Steep drops into uncertain landing zones present potential peril where getting outside assistance is not going to be possible. Standing waves and strong cross currents rebounding off the canyon walls make for tricky control maneuvering. This is an expert whitewater kayaker run only, and even they should try to run it with an experience paddler who knows this reach whenever possible.

River Access Points

Put in off US Highway 89 near Cameron at 0.0 miles; Take out at Desert View near the Colorado River confluence at about 51.0 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Little Colorado River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds along this run. Abundant natural campsites can be found along teh river, but be sure to camp high off the water in case the river flashes overnight. Beware of rattlesnakes and aggressive animals that may be waiting for you to spatter on the rocks. Take only photographs - leave only footprints.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or shuttle services on the Little Colorado River. Bring everything you need, including plenty of drinking water, and run your own (very long) shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

If I were a hairboat kayaker, then I would live for the day when the Little Colorado River flows so I could test my courage and skill against one really challenging and beautiful river. This one is not for the faint of heart. This is a hairboat run for expert whitewater kayakers ONLY! Anybody else, or anybody paddling anything other than a whitewater kayak, is asking for serious trouble, and will probably get it. Make this run with somebody who has been there before and who can show you the safest way to negotiate the river based upon conditions at the time of your trip.

Technical Data
Class Rating V to VI
Length 51 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Cameron
Lat/Long 35.8764 / -111.4097977
Last Take-out Colorado River
Lat/Long 36.1911087 / -111.8030624
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 09402000 (Cameron)
Boats EXPERT KAYAKERS ONLY!
Season Typically, February through April
Permits Yes. See "Permit Requirements" at left.


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

Central Arizona Paddlers Club

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 ] [ Glen Canyon Dam to Lee's Ferry ] [ 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 ]

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

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Last updated August 5, 2011

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