A mile deep in the earth, between the massive walls of the Grand Canyon, lies the Colorado River. This same river was the force that thousands of years ago created this massive crevice into the Colorado Plateau. The Colorado River crosses 1,450 miles of the United States, including all 277 miles of the Grand Canyon. As it courses through the depths of the Inner Gorge, the Colorado drops about 8 feet per river mile for a total descent of 2,200 feet. This change in elevation is responsible for 70 major rapids dispersed throughout the river. Each rapid is ranked on a scale of 1-10, 1 being the most mild and 10 being the most extreme. Rafters and boaters should be aware of the level of rapids and adjust their course to avoid rapids that may be dangerous.
Travelling the entire canyon along the Colorado River (from Lee's Ferry to Pearce Ferry) can be done in a several-day excursion. A paddle boat can make the 277-mile journey in approximately 19-20 days using the natural flow of the river. From sunrise to sunset, passengers can enjoy the entirety of the canyon in a glorious 3-week excursion.
For those looking to make a shorter trip, a motorized boat can make the 277-mile journey in approximately 6-9 days.
No matter the length of the excursion, floating the Colorado River is the experience of a lifetime. With mile-high canyon walls on either side, the sun beaming above, and the strength of the river below, it is an opportunity very few are afforded.
Lee's Ferry is located at the "start" of the Grand Canyon - upstream from Grand Canyon National Park and downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. The ferry is approximately 87.5 miles to Phantom Ranch; 226 miles to Diamond Creek; and 277 miles to Pearce Ferry.
Opened in 1872, Lee's Ferry was the only means for explorers, miners, Natives, and tourists to cross the canyon.
its founder, John D. Lee, was a militia leader in the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857. Lee, along with several other renegades, planned and executed an attack on peaceful passersby in a covered wagon, wearing Paiute Indian disguises to later blame the attack on the tribe. After the wagon passengers were killed, Lee hid from the law in the Grand Canyon, where he eventually developed his ferry service. He was eventually caught and brought to justice, and was found guilty and executed in 1877. Despite this less than savory beginning, Lee's Ferry was bought and the name was kept. It remained the only means of crossing the canyon until 1929 when the Navajo Bridge was constructed.
Today, Lee's Ferry has been officiated as a Historic District along with the Lonely Dell Ranch nearby. Both are open for touring. Guests can also explore local log cabins, the cemetery, the blacksmith, and pay a visit Lee's Ferry Fort.
Historic District Entry Fees:
Vehicle: $5 for 7 days
Cyclists/Hikers: $3 for 7 days
Ranger Station/Information: (928) 355-2234.
There are also several hotels in the area for those who wish to stay the night before taking off on a rafting trip, as well.
Marble Canyon Lodge
Information: (800) 726-1789 or (928) 355-2225.
Lee’s Ferry Lodge
Information: (928) 355-2231
Cliff Dweller’s Lodge
Information: (928) 355-2228
Phantom Ranch, built in 1903 by canyon guide David Rust, initially served as a small hunting lodge at the canyon floor. During this time it was known as "Rust's Camp". Rust himself made many alterations to the ranch, including a cable car that led across the river.The cable car was eventually replaced by a swinging bridge, which was subsequently replaced by the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. Perhaps the most significant moment in the camp's history was its hosting of President Theodore Roosevelt, a great lover of the canyon, as one of its guests. After this visit, the cabin was known as "Roosevelt's Camp". The camp underwent another major renovation in 1922 by legendary architect Mary Colter. Colter is responsible for adding the accommodations necessary to turn the camp a tourist destination. She chose the name "Phantom Ranch", which is immensely fitting as is it camouflages so beautifully into the natural setting in which it rests.
Resting along the North Kaibab Trail and only a half mile from the Colorado River, Phantom Ranch also gives its lodgers the opportunity to hike the River Trail or to Ribbon Falls. Within the ranch there are gendered dormitories for hikers and individual cabins for standard guests. The ranch provides the only lodging accommodation on the canyon floor; because of this, space is extremely limited and reservations must be made approximately 2 years in advance.
Dormitory beds per person: $49
2-Person Cabin: $142
Added guest: $13
Advanced Reservations: (303) 297-2757 / (928) 638-3283
Within the Grand Canyon National Park, Whitmore Trail is the shortest route to reach the Colorado River from the canyon rim. This trail switches back almost 1,000 feet downward and through Lava Falls, an ancient igneous rock formation created by drying lava. Hikers who reach the river will find the rapids of Whitmore Wash, and river travellers can paddle to shore and hike to the rim. Bear in mind that while this trail is short, it is very steep and rugged - perfect for the experienced hiker looking for a good workout.
Whitmore Wash, below the Lava Falls in the Inner Gorge, is one of the most wild rapids to navigate along the Colorado River. This area of the river has been designated a "10" on the difficulty scale and is recommended for only expert rafters. Those who are able to take the challenge can fly into the Inner Gorge via helicopter and land right at the shoreline of this river point. This area of the gorge lies within the Hualapai Indian Tribe's territory, and helicopter shuttles in this area are operated by the tribe themselves. You can also fly to the Bar 10 Ranch, a cozy Western lodge nestled in the North Rim. Have a hot, home-cooked meal, watch some live country entertainment, or stay the night in a cabin or a covered wagon. From Bar 10 Ranch, visitors can fly not just to the canyon and back, but other destinations including Las Vegas.
Customize your Western getaway at Bar 10 Ranch by choosing from a variety of accommodation options.
Bar 10 Ranch: (800) 582-4139
The Diamond Creek is not a section of the Colorado River; however, the two flowing waters converge at The Colorado's river mile 226. Throughout the entire Grand Canyon National park, this is the only area that allows vehicles to drive from the rim down to the river bank. For a small fee, guests can follow the rugged stretch of dirt road and descend nearly a mile to the canyon floor. It is important to remember that the canyon experiences a monsoon season from June until September, which can be dangerous for cars of all sizes - including offroading vehicles and SUVs.
At the merging point of Diamond Creek and the Colorado River, visitors will find a sandy beach which can be used by rafters as a ramp-off or take-out point. This is the take-off point used daily by the Hualapai River Runners, a white water rafting company that operates out of Diamond Creek daily during their season. Because of this, the beach may be crowded and visiting rafters may have to wait their turn.
Because this land is Native territory, a trespass permit must be acquired from the Hualapai Tribe before visiting Diamond Creek. The Hualapai people have inhabited these lands for centuries, and consider the grounds to be sacred. It is vital that guests treat the land gently and respectfully when visiting. Overnight guests can discover more about the Hualapai people at the Hualapai Lodge, located at the start of the Diamond Creek Road in Peach Springs, AZ.
Trespass Permit Information: (928) 769-2419
Hualapai Lodge Reservations:
US (928) 769-2230
INTL (888) 255-9550
The Colorado River rafting season is open from April until mid-September of each year for both motorized and nonmotorized watercraft. The beginning and end of this season are the coolest in temperature, ranging from 55-85 degrees. June is most often the hottest month in the Inner Gorge, reaching as high as 105 degrees. However, the typical lack of cloud coverage during this time of year can make the air feel much warmer. July and August bring monsoon season - powerful rainstorms that many consider to be the most exciting and invigorating part of the experience.
There are a variety of guided rafting tours from adventure companies local to the Grand Canyon area, ranging from single day to 18-day trips. Visitors can embark on their own self-guided tours, as well - as long as they have a permit. Obtaining a permit can be done using the contact information below, but bear in mind that the waiting list is based on a weighted lottery and there are guidelines and rules for eligibility.
US (928) 638-7843
Toll-free (800) 959-9164
Canoeing is permitted within the last 40 miles of the Inner Canyon toward Lake Mead. This can be achieved by using a powerboat to transport canoes from Lake Mead to river mile 240, known as Separation Canyon. Boating and camping can be done in this area free of charge; However, the river touches the northern border of Hualapai Indian tribal lands. In order to cross into this Native territory, boaters must obtain a permit.
Information: (928) 769-2419
Rafters are welcome to create their own journey without a guide, but will need to obtain a noncommercial river permit. For trips spanning over 12 days, at least one rafter in the party must meet the skill qualifications determined by the National Park Service. There are a number of other guidelines available on the National Park Service's website that rafters are encouraged to examine before applying for a noncommercial permit. It is important to remember that permits are distributed according to a weighted lottery, and trip dates cannot be changed once the permit is granted.
To Contact the River Permits Office:
Outside the U.S. 928-638-7843
FAX (928) 638-7844.
Grand Canyon River Permits Office
Grand Canyon National Park
PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
Rafting guidelines, information about permits, and for questions to the River Permit Office:
There are several commercial rafting outfitters located near the Grand Canyon that offer varieties of river tours and trips, with extended trips ranging between 7-18 days. Choose between manually-paddled rafts, motorized rafts, traditional fishing boats called "dories", and more. See below list of adventure companies that are permitted by the National Park Service to raft through the canyon:
Aramark-Wilderness River Adventures
P.O. Box 717, Page, AZ 86040
(800) 992-8022; (928) 645-3296; FAX (928) 645-6113
Arizona Raft Adventures, Inc.
4050-F E. Huntington Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
(800) 786-RAFT; (928) 526-8200; FAX (928) 526-8246
Arizona River Runners, Inc.
P.O. Box 47788, Phoenix, AZ 85068-7788
(800) 477-7238; (602) 867-4866; FAX (602) 867-2174
Canyon Explorations/Canyon Expeditions
P.O. Box 310, Flagstaff, AZ 86002
(800) 654-0723; (928) 774-4559; FAX (928) 774-4655
P.O. Box 2997, Flagstaff, AZ 86003
(800) 525-0924; (928) 526-0924; FAX (928) 527-9398
Grand Canyon White Water
P.O. Box 2848, Flagstaff, AZ 86003
(800) 343-3121; (928) 779-2979; FAX (928) 779-2973
A great many hiking trails wind and twist through the Inner Gorge, some simple paths and others steep and treacherous climbs. The most beginner-friendly trails are called "corridor zones" with basic footpaths as guides, while the expert-level ones are referred to as "primitive zones" due to their completely unaltered natural terrain. However, the canyon is a wild environment and even basic trails can become hazardous due to wind, rain, high temperatures, flash flooding, or dehydration. When hiking, it is also useful to determine or research an estimated time for your trail. Allot 1/3 of that time to the descent and 2/3s time to the return ascent.
Information: (928) 638-7875