10 tips for rafting the Grand Canyon

Rafting the Grand Canyon to Kanab Camp; photo by Kara Hudgens
Rafting the Grand Canyon to Kanab Camp. Photo: Courtesy of Kara Hudgens

Rafting the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River is a bucket list adventure for most outdoor and travel enthusiasts. Colorado paddlers must reach Diamond Creek in 16 days from Lees Ferry, and trying to figure out what to see and do in those 224 miles can be tough.

Here are 10 tips to get the most out of your trip of a lifetime.

Drink four Nalgene bottles worth of water a day

The Grand Canyon rests in the heart of the Arizona desert, and the dryness sucks moisture from your body fast.

Drink twice as much as the generally recommended 64 ounces a day for a good desert minimum. During long paddling or hiking days, drink five or more Nalgene bottles worth of water. Add a little salt with the water to help it “stick” to you.

While rafting down the Grand Canyon, you see this view of the Colorado River from Nankoweap Trail. Photo: Courtesy of Kara Hudgens
While rafting down the Grand Canyon, you see this view of the Colorado River from Nankoweap Trail. Photo: Courtesy of Kara Hudgens

Bring salve for hands, feet, and elbows

Not to be confused with simple lotion, salve heals cracked skin and prevents blistering, which is almost guaranteed in the Grand Canyon if you don’t have salve on hand.

Take the first day slow

The Grand Canyon’s climate is drier and hotter than most people will ever have experienced. Chances are, you’ll also have been running around nonstop the previous two days preparing for your trip’s river launch, which means you’re already starting with a low energy tank.

Take the first day or two easy, nurse any headaches and keep the fluids up to bounce back quickly.

Go with someone experienced and knowledgeable about the Grand Canyon

Join a guided trip or go with people who have gone a few times. These people know the best camps and the coolest hikes. They can explain the geology and talk about the anthropological history. They also share the funniest stories of past mishaps and adventures.

Hike the Nankoweap Trail, Matkatamiba Canyon Trail and Deer Creek Trail

The Nankoweap Trail, Matkatamiba Canyon Trail and Deer Creek Trail are the premier hikes of the trip. Hike these and as many of the canyon’s other trails as you can.

Night hits Grapevine Camp at mile 82 while rafting down the Grand Canyon; photo by  Kara Hudgens
Night hits Grapevine Camp at mile 82 while rafting down the Grand Canyon. Photo: Courtesy of Kara Hudgens

Try your hand at rowing

People just come alive when they help push the rafts down the Colorado River. You develop a deep connection with the river itself and its history, as well as a sense of pride in contributing to the team.

Depending on you and your team’s comfort level, you may even row through a rapid or two.

Get iced lemonade and send a post card at Phantom Ranch

Write a quick note to loved ones on post cards. A big stamp on the front labels them as “Mailed by Mule from the Bottom of the Grand Canyon,” which they’ll likely get a kick out of.

The cold, ice-filled lemonade is just glorious. You might also find other surprise pleasures of home at Phantom Ranch.

Have a beer bag to drag in the river behind the raft

This is one of the simple pleasures of the trip. The water hovers around 42 degrees Fahrenheit, making water, beer and any drink nice and cold.

rafting down the Grand Canyon
Two team members row into Horne Creek Rapid while rafting down the Grand Canyon. Photo: Courtesy of Kara Hudgens

Sleep under the stars

Gaze at the Milky Way’s white stripe and count how many shooting stars cut the night sky. Watch as the canyon rim’s black silhouette shapes with the rising desert moon.

The Grand Canyon’s nighttime show complements the hustle and bustle of its daytime scenery.

Leave no trace

Keep up with all your trash and stay on all the trails. The Grand Canyon is a delicate desert ecosystem that receives little rain to break down or wash away any transgressions you make against it.

Leaving as little impact as possible on the river and surrounding landscape preserves this treasure for others (including those loved ones you take down on your next visit) to enjoy.

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