How do I Plan a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip?

Kevin P. Hanson
Kevin P. Hanson
Whitewater rafting is popular at the Grand Canyon.
Whitewater rafting is popular at the Grand Canyon.

A Grand Canyon rafting trip is exciting, adventurous, and very popular. Planning one of these trips begins with determining the type of trip to take: a commercial or noncommercial trip. Commercial trips are professionally guided, open to the public with reservations typically made one-to-two years in advance. Noncommercial trips are self-guided and are also open to the public; however, a permit must first be secured via a weighted lottery. It's important to note that rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is considered an exceptionally technical stretch of the river and should not be attempted by inexperienced rafters.

The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon.
The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon.

The chances of winning the lottery, which is held each year in February, are weighted so that the odds are better for those who have not been on a Grand Canyon rafting trip recently. If a noncommercial trip is chosen, then the next logical step is to apply for a permit, which requires a fee and can be done online. The main applicant must be at least 18 years old when applying, launch dates awarded via the weighted lottery are permanent and may not be altered in any way, and winners have about five days to pay a non-refundable deposit, which can vary, but usually costs several hundred US Dollars (USD). A final per-person permit fee is also charged and is due 90 days prior to the Grand Canyon rafting trip launch.

If a commercial or professionally-guided trip is chosen, the next step is to determine the length of the trip. There are two options: a one-day trip or a three-to-18 day trip. A one-day Grand Canyon rafting trip can either consist of a half-day or a full-day of rafting, where the group or individual chooses between whitewater and smooth water experiences. Three-to-18 day trips are run through a commercial outfitter and include a wide range of excursions. There are more than a dozen of these companies in the Grand Canyon region, and the next agenda item for those planning a professionally guided Grand Canyon rafting trip is to select one.

Once the type of trip is selected and a definite date is set, it's time to schedule a flight or other mode of transportation to the Grand Canyon area and determine what to bring. Outfitters will provide all of the essentials for those on a professionally guided trip, including rafts, equipment, food, and in some cases transportation to and from the launch site. Commercial and noncommercial rafters will all need to bring proper clothing, footwear, sunscreen, toiletries, and hats.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - I remember going to see the Grand Canyon when I was a girl and I told everyone that I would raft down it one day. I still haven't, but maybe soon I will.

When we went to see it the first time, my sisters were too young to really know what it was. Dad explained that it was a "big hole in the ground" as we were walking there (you couldn't see it at all from the path). They started complaining about how they didn't care about a hole in the ground.

Then a man coming back from the canyon heard what dad said and told him "well, you know, they filled it up. The trucks are just leaving."

My sisters were both so annoyed that we were going to see a hole that had already been filled. Dad thought it was hilarious and I could see he was trying not to laugh.

It was especially funny when we saw the looks on my sisters' faces when we arrived and they caught a look at the "hole in the ground."


@browncoat - It would definitely be worth it. I've never rafted on the river, but I have visited the Canyon and I would love to go back.

It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, even though I was only there for a few hours. Just the sheer size and beauty of the Canyon was incredible.

And something I found really interesting is that it actually isn't the largest canyon in the world. Not the longest, or the widest or even the deepest although it comes close.

But I think it has to be the most beautiful. And the wildlife around the area adds to the wonder. If you were rafting down the river, you'd be able to experience that all the more.

I imagine one of the reasons they hold the lottery is to make sure there isn't going to be too much environmental impact each year. It would be a shame to be sharing the canyon with the litter of people who had gone down before you.


Wow, I never realized what a big deal it was to raft down the Grand Canyon. I suppose they need to hold a lottery because it's so incredibly popular, even if it is quite difficult. Like the major marathon in London, for example. They only let in something like one in every four people who apply to do the race.

So, in order to raft the Grand Canyon by yourself, you'd need to not only be quite an expert at rafting, but also to win the lottery in order to do it.

It still seems like it would be worth it to me though. The experience must be absolutely incredible. Maybe I should start practicing now. I guess if you put your name in and managed to win the lottery you'd definitely want to be prepared to go.

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    • Whitewater rafting is popular at the Grand Canyon.
      By: VILevi
      Whitewater rafting is popular at the Grand Canyon.
    • The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon.
      By: sumikophoto
      The Colorado River runs through the Grand Canyon.