The Grand Canyon, Trip Planning Resources

What to Expect when Rafting the Grand Canyon

what to expect when rafting grand canyon whitewater white water

Every year, thousands of thrill-seekers descend deep inside the Grand Canyon to raft the white waters of the Colorado River. If you’re one of these lucky intrepid adventurers, the last thing you want is to be caught unprepared!

Multi-day rafting excursions take a lot of advanced planning and preparation – the National Park Service permits a very limited number of non-commercial rafting expeditions each year, awarded by lottery up to a year in advance. If you don’t want to wait a year or more to ride the rapids or if you aren’t quite ready to rough it inside the Canyon for multiple nights, single-day rafting trips offer more flexibility and are often ideal for first-time rafters and fledgling adventure-seekers.

No matter what type of rafting adventure you have planned, preparing for your trip can be challenging – especially if you don’t know what to expect. To make sure your Grand Canyon rafting experience goes off without a hitch, we’ve compiled a guide to what you can expect when you hit the river.

1. An early morning

If you’re starting your adventure in Las Vegas, make sure you get to bed early! Don’t plan on hitting the clubs the night before – most single-day rafting tours depart from the Strip around 5:00 AM. If you’re driving yourself, plan for at least a three hour drive from the Strip to your tour’s starting point.

PRO TIP: Our rafting tours depart from Peach Springs, AZ. Flying by helicopter is the quickest way to get there, but if you want to save a little money, book our self-drive rafting tour.

2. Cold water

The Colorado River is cold, with temperatures ranging between 45-60 degrees, though it typically stays below 50 (that’s about 10 Celsius). It’s so cold that if you fall in, you’ll only have about 5-10 minutes of muscle activity – that’s why personal flotation devices like life jackets are so important. Rain gear like a light waterproof jacket can help protect you from the cold spray.

3. Hot sun

The water may feel frigid, but the sun will feel anything but. Temperatures inside the Canyon can be significantly higher than they are on the Rim, and while the cold water may keep you from feeling like you’re overheating, it’s still very easy to dehydrate, especially when you’re active.

Make sure you drink lots of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Remember: Colorado River water is not safe to drink, and neither is the water from side streams or springs, so bring as much with you as you can.

4. Pack what your tour provider recommends

Your rafting outfitter knows best when it comes to what to bring with you. If you’ve booked your rafting adventure with Canyon Tours, you’ll need:

  • Light t-shirt and shorts with swimsuit underneath
  • Tennis shoes or water shoes
  • Extra change of clothes and a towel for the end of the tour
  • Light, fast-drying jacket or rain poncho, especially in the spring and fall
  • Small backpack or fanny pack
  • Hat or visor
  • Sunblock and sunglasses
  • Camera and waterproof bag

5. If you have to pee, you’ll pee in the river

The National Park Service asks visitors to pee directly into the river and not on the beaches. The Colorado River is cold and fast enough that peeing in the river won’t cause any health or hygiene issues, but the beaches don’t have enough organic material to process urine, which can lead to a nasty green algae and disrupt the natural ecosystem of the area.

6. Hiking

Most single-day rafting trips give you an opportunity to explore beyond the riverbed by hiking into side canyons such as Quartermaster Canyon or Travertine Canyon. Make sure you bring along a good pair of walking shoes so you can take advantage of these opportunities.

7. You might see wildlife

There’s a good chance you’ll encounter local wildlife like snakes and scorpions while you explore the river beaches and side canyons. If you do spot any Canyon creatures, keep your distance and don’t provoke them.

PRO TIP: Shake out anything you’ve left on the ground before you head out again, just in case any critters have found their way into your gear.

Keep your eyes peeled for these cool creatures!

8. Cell phones won’t work

There’s no cell service inside the Canyon, so don’t expect to respond to any emails or messages or share any #canyonselfies – save them for later when you get back to the Rim.

9. You won’t be riding the rapids the whole time

The Colorado River isn’t wall-to-wall rapids. Your rafting trip will take you through areas that are calm and pristine, as well as Class 3 and 4 rapids. Rafting through the rapids doesn’t usually last more than a minute at a time.

10. There are no trash cans inside the Grand Canyon

Whatever you bring in, you bring out, and that includes trash. Bring a resealable plastic bag to collect any trash from snacks.

Raft Right

If a sightseeing trip to the Rim doesn’t get your heart pounding, take a journey deep into the Canyon, throw on a wetsuit, and experience the Grand Canyon from cold, clear waters of the Colorado River! Our tips can help you prepare for your rafting adventure.

We are proud to offer the only one-day Grand Canyon white water rafting adventure tour from Las Vegas.


About Ria Borja

Ria is a Customer Experience Manager at Canyon Tours and an avid lover of the outdoors. When she isn't helping other travelers check destinations and dream vacations off their bucket lists, she's busy exploring the Southwest. Her favorite place to visit is (unsurprisingly!) the Grand Canyon.

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