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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.