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.
The Colorado River flows into Arizona from Glen Canyon Dam at the bottom of Lake Powell just above Page, then flows southwest through Marble Canyon in Cococino County, where it then turns west and flows nearly 300 miles through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas. From there, the river flows out of Hoover Dam southward along the Nevada and California borders with Arizona to Yuma, then on down into Mexico and the Sea of Cortez on the Gulf of California. Grand Canyon trips begin at Lee's Ferry, and long trips end at Diamond Creek, though there are several intermediate hike-in/hike-out access points between the top and bottom of this run. It is possible for boaters to continue across Lake Mead to any of several access points there in the event they did not get enough river time in the preceeding three or more weeks.
The Grand Canyon run is basically a flatwater trip interspersed with rapids, holes, standing waves, strong eddy currents and a relatively flat gradient that peaks at 35 fpm, though it averages only about 9 fpm. Rapids range in difficulty from Class I to V on the International Scale of Difficulty, though many western outfitters use a non-standardized 10-point scale to rate difficulty. The primary craft of choice is large rafts, though the river is frequently paddled by dorries, kayaks and decked canoes with flotation, providing the latter two have raft support to carry all the gear and supplies necessary for long trips. Paddlers can pay exhorbitant rates for commercial guided trips anytime there is adequate water, but private trips require one of the most elusive permits ever to be had, though total trip cost is greatly reduced for those fortunate enough to win a permit lottery. The Grand Canyon Private Boaters' Association may be able to assist in getting coupled with a group having a private permit, though those spots usually go very fast!
Unless going with a commercial guided trip, paddlers should have at least strong advanced level whitewater skills, be swiftwater rescue trained, be in physical condition for multi-day paddle trips, and be fully outfitted and prepared for 6-21 (or more) days of desert survival. There is an abundance of natural campsites all along the river as it winds its way through Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Private boaters MUST meet stringent National Park Service (NPS) requirements regarding boat outfitting, safety gear, qualifications for whitewater river running and primitive camping. The natural setting should be left at least as pristine as you find it, and perhaps even a little cleaner. Due to commercial outfitter traffic you can expect company on the river and competition for the best campsites. Have a solid plan for the number of miles you want to paddle each day and the number of days you want to be on the river. For trips covering the entire Grand Canyon route plan on building in a layover day every 5-7 days for rest, relaxation and absorption of the immense natural beauty that is all around. This may very well be THE premiere river trip in the U.S.
The entire run of the Grand Canyon is about 279 miles from Lee's Ferry down to Pearce Ferry Lake Mead, or 296 miles to South Cove on Lake Mead, but the section described herein encompasses the more popular 226 mile run from Lee's Ferry to Diamond Creek Access. Most river runners contract with a shuttle service for air or ground transportation from Diamond Creek back to Lee's Ferry, and the high price is generally well worth every penny. The Hualapai Nation no longer allows vehicles to be parked at Diamond Creek overnight. These vehicles will be towed at owner's expense.
Northcentral to northwestern Arizona, starting near the Utah border and ending near Las Vaegas and the Nevada border. Flagstaff is the nearest major city to the put-in. Kaibab National Forest borders Grand Canyon National Park on the north and south sides from Marble Canyon to the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
Flagstaff 130 miles; Phoenix 268 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.)
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.
Grand Canyon permits are issued in two seasons year-round, depending upon water levels. The primary season is from April 16 through October 15. The secondary season is from October 16 through April 15. The best time to go is whenever you get fortunate enough to win a lottery slot, or whenever a friend wins a slot and invites you on the trip. An option exists for utilizing the services of a licensed commercial outfitter, but be ready to pay a hefty fee for your trip. Average rates for commercial trips range from about $1,600 to $3,300, depending upon trip length and boat type taken.
Paddling the Grand Canyon other than as a participant on a commercially-outfitted trip requires a VERY elusive permit issued by Grand Canyon National Park. A per person fee of $100 is required, in addition to other fees that may be required for vehicle access, camping, etc. Fees are non-refundable. Those not receiving a launch date during a year must submit a proper form requesting continued inclusion on the waiting list every year by no later than January 31. Failure to submit the "Continued Interest" form will result in being dropped from the waiting list without a refund. See the GCNP web site for additional information.
While most of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is flatwater, there are numerous hazards that can flip boats (including fully-loaded, large rafts and dorries) and cause serious peril for boaters and their craft. Most hazards are rated Class I to III, but several in the Class IV to V range will be encountered. Always do this trip with others who have been here before. There are times and places where canoeists and kayakers will want to tie their craft to a raft and ride the larger rapids on a more stable platform. Standing waves of 12-16 feet will usually be encountered on some of the larger drops, and strong cross currents can make avoiding the teeth of big drops very difficult to impossible.
A listing of Grand Canyon rapids between Lee's Ferry and Diamond Creek can be found HERE.
Lee's Ferry at 0.0 miles; Phantom Ranch, from a hiking/mule trail access on river left, at about 89.0 miles; Diamond Creek Access at about 225.0 miles; Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead at about 279.0 miles; South Cove, Lake Mead, at about 296.0 miles. Other hiking trail accesses are available between Lee's Ferry and Phantom Ranch. Ask local outfitters for advice about these difficult accesses.
The Hualapai Nation no longer allows vehicles to be parked at Diamond Creek overnight. These vehicles will be towed at owner's expense. Also, the Hualapai Nation strongly requests that river runners schedule their Diamond Creek put-ins and take-outs before 7 AM or after 10 AM. The Hualapai Diamond Creek road access fee is $60 per person (shuttle drivers and river runners) and $60 per vehicle. This fee applies whether arriving or departing from Diamond Creek. A Hualapai Tribal tax of 7% is now added to the $60 cost, for a total of $64.25 per person/driver. These fees are expected to continue to increase this year. For fee information contact the Hualapai Tribe River Running office at 928-769-2219.
There is an abundance of natural campsites all along the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. 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.
There are no outfitters located along 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, or else prepare to setup and run a VERY long shuttle.
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 up to 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!