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River Facts: How to Go White Water Rafting

We‘re sure there are a number of questions you want to ask about how to go white water rafting in the Grand Canyon. Here are some of the more popular questions regarding Colorado River rafting. If your question is not here, please  call GCW at 1-800-343-3121, we would love to help you with all your inquiries.

Grand Canyon Whitewater has a wide variety of Colorado River rafting trips. We offer both motorized trips and oar-powered trips. We have Colorado River rafting trips with the options of hiking into or out of the Grand Canyon, trips that include a helicopter flight out of the Grand Canyon, and trips that grant you the Full Grand Canyon experience. Grand Canyon Whitewater offers rafting trips that allow you to bask in the magnificence of Grand Canyon for as little as 4 days or as long as 13 days, you choose what is the best for you!

If you don’t see your question in the list below, check out the Grand Canyon Whitewater blog where we answer real people’s questions about Grand Canyon rafting including fishing, bathing and the bathroom.

Get Ready

What kind of rafting trips does Grand Canyon Whitewater offer?
  • Grand Canyon Whitewater offers a wide variety of rafting trip adventures. We offer both motorized trips and oar-powered trips. We offer rafting trips with the option of hiking into or out of the Grand Canyon, trips that include a helicopter flight out of the Grand Canyon, and trips that let you get the full Grand Canyon Experience. Grand Canyon Whitewater offers trips that allow you to bask in the magnificence of Grand Canyon for as little as 4-days or as long as 13-days, you choose what is best for you!

How far in advance are reservations made for Grand Canyon whitewater rafting trips?
  • The belief that reservations must be made years in advance simply is not true. It does pay to plan ahead for large groups or the more restricted your time period is. Generally, we will be taking reservations all through the season. Check for availability by calling Grand Canyon Whitewater or by filling in the Reservation Inquiry Form.

What do I need to do to reserve a spot?
  • To check availability on a Grand Canyon rafting trip or to make a reservation, call us at 800-343-3121 or book online through our website. To reserve a space, we require a deposit of $400 per person. The balance is due 120 days (90 days in 2015) before your trip departure date.

What do I need to bring on my river trip?
  • We provide all the camping gear: tent, sleeping bag, camp chairs, a sleeping cot or pad, dry bags, all the meals, kitchen necessities and soft drinks. You will need to bring your personal items, like clothing, toiletries, a flashlight or headlamp, camera and sunscreen, as well as your own alcoholic beverages. Most of the things you’ll need you already have at home.  An important item you may not have, is a 2-piece waterproof rain suit meaning a rain jacket and rain pants.  Rain gear is recommended for each guest, regardless of time of year.
    Once you have reserved your trip, we will send you a complete information packet that includes a detailed packing list.

    Items you'll need on a Grand Canyon Raft Trip

    What to bring on a Grand Canyon Raft Trip

What about travel insurance?
  • Grand Canyon Whitewater recommends that you purchase a travel protection plan to protect you and your trip investment.  Now more than ever it’s extremely important to think about the unexpected.  Consider travel protection for Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption, Emergency Medical and Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation, Trip Delay, Baggage Delay and more. Remember to insure your flights to and from the area, as well.

    Travelex Trip Insurance



    GCW’s cancellation policy is as follows:
    Your $400 deposit is refundable, less a $100 service charge per person, if notification is received by Grand Canyon Whitewater 90 days (2016 = 120 days) or more before departure. Cancellations within 90 days up to 31 days prior to departure will forfeit the deposit. Cancellations within 30 days of departure will forfeit full fare.

What are the age requirements for white water river trips?
  • The youngest passengers we can take are 8 years old, on our motorized rafting trips, and 12 years old, on our oar-powered trips. Beyond the minimum age requirements, the only limitation is your own desire for adventure! There is no upper age limit for our rafting trips. Many of our passengers are retirees who couldn’t find the time to get away when they were younger, or parents who want to experience Grand Canyon with their children or grandchildren. Some passengers with knee or hip problems opt to sit out daily side hikes. Those who are concerned about the physical nature of these hikes can stay on the boat or find a nice shady spot on the shore and rest while other group members hike. However, we highly recommend participating in these excursions, if at all possible. Some of the most awesome treasures in Grand Canyon are just off the river! Most of the day hikes are fairly short, and the guides always will give a good assessment of the difficulty level before beginning.


What are the Colorado River rapids rated?
  • Most rivers are rated on the International Scale of 1 to 6 with a 6 meaning the river is impassable. However, Colorado River Rafting in Arizona operates according to a different scale. The Colorado River is one of three rivers in the world rated on a 1 to 10 scale by individual rapid. This system of rating is due to the variety of rapids and volume of water in the Canyon. Grand Canyon rapids are formed in a pool-drop system, which means after every rapid, there is a flat, calm section of water. On the 1 to 10 scale, flat water is rated a 1 while more technical rapids like Lava Falls and Crystal can be rated a 10 depending on water level.

What if I can't swim?
  • It is not necessary to know how to swim, in fact we prefer you to stay in the boat while rafting! Everyone must wear Coast Guard approved lifejackets AT ALL TIMES while on the river. These PFDs are provided by Grand Canyon Whitewater.

Is whitewater rafting dangerous?
  • Our experience has taught us that Grand Canyon rafting trips are a safe and fun vacation. However, you should be aware of the risks involved, just like with any outdoor activity.
    While going through the rapids, you will have to hold on, but most of the rapids last less than a minute. The Colorado River through Grand Canyon is a pool-drop water system, which means there is plenty of flat water between each rapid.  Just remember, our first priority is your safety.

    As there are risks involved, each guest will be required to sign an Acknowledgement of Risk form prior to their rafting trip. Grand Canyon Whitewater will send you a copy of the form upon booking or you may request to see  it ahead of time. Below you can see an example of the form.

    Grand Canyon Whitewater 2014 Risk Form

    Grand Canyon Whitewater 2014 Risk Form

Are there rafting opportunities for people with disabilities?
  • Colorado River rafting in Arizona through the Grand Canyon is for everybody. Grand Canyon Whitewater rafting trips are accessible to everyone, including those with mobility or sensory impairments. Ultimately, your safety and well-being are the key ingredients to making your journey a successful one. We have experience helping persons with disabilities in both our regular scheduled trips and trips that are custom-designed for people with disabilities. Call our office at 800.343.3121 and let us help make your rafting trip a reality.

Do I need any Colorado River rafting experience?
  • If this is your first experience on a river rafting trip, and for many of our customers it is, there is no need to worry! Grand Canyon Whitewater provides all the know-how and equipment , you just come along for the ride.

When is the best time to go rafting in the Grand Canyon?
  • Colorado River rafting in Arizona is different than other places, the water is cold and the weather is warm, ALWAYS. Most people book their Colorado River rafting trip during the peak periods of the summer, (June-August). If you have flexibility in scheduling your rafting trip and want to take advantage of the milder Arizona weather, Grand Canyon Whitewater suggests booking your Grand Canyon whitewater rafting trip from April to early June or in September. Check our Rates and Dates page for all of our trips options.

What's the difference between oar and motor rafts? Which is better?
  • Grand Canyon Whitewater trips offer two modes of transportation and each has its unique advantages. Our motorized rafting trips are the most popular. Our guests have told us that they like the comfort of the motor boat, the safety of its size and strength and the opportunity it provides to socialize with the greatest number of people at one time. Oar-powered trips are for those who want their Colorado River rafting experience to be more personal, more “one with the river.”

    Grand Canyon Whitewater motorized raft rendition.

    Motorized rafts are 35 feet long and hold around 14 passengers and 2 guides. The guides drive the boat from the back (or stern). Motorized rafts allow people to see more of the Canyon because they can go about double the speed of the current. We aren’t talking major speed here; the current averages about 4 miles per hour, so we cruise along at 8 miles per hour. The motor boats give passengers a fun and exciting ride. You can choose to sit up at the front and be right in the action or move towards the back to dry off and have a less wild ride. 8 years old is the minimum age for a motorized rafting trip.

    Grand Canyon Whitewater Oar-Powered Raft rendition

    Oar-powered rafts are different. Many people confuse oar-powered rafts with paddle rafts, which are a small rubber raft on which everyone has their own paddle and is expected to help propel and steer the raft. Oar-powered rafts, the kind we use, are 18 feet long and carry up to 5 passengers and one guide to row the raft. The guide sits in the middle and has two long wooden oars to steer the raft through the river and rapids. The raft will float along at the speed of the current, about 4 miles per hour. For this reason, oar-powered trips are typically longer, unless you choose to do only half of the trip, and either hike into or out of the Grand Canyon. 12 years old is the minimum age for an oar-powered rafting trip.


What is the hike out of the Canyon like on the Upper Canyon Raft Trips?
  • The hike out of the Grand Canyon is considered quite strenuous. You need to be well prepared physically for the hike. Even for an experienced hiker, the Arizona heat can make this hike feel harder. It is important to pack lightly so you have less to carry out of the Canyon.

    Make sure you have the proper footwear which means shoes that YOU are comfortable hiking in and that are not brand new. We highly recommend carrying a backpack with a hip belt as that will help disperse the weight. You should start with at least 2 quarts of water and fill up at EVERY station you pass. Food is also very important, you want to eat plenty and before you are hungry. For more hiking tips in Grand Canyon visit the Park Service’s Hiking Tips page.

    Bright Angel Trail

    • Strenuous hike, intensified by Arizona heat/sun in June – August
    • 10 miles (16 km)
    • Gain of 4,380 feet (1337 m)
    • Well maintained trail, graded for stock
    • Very little shade cover on trail
    • From Rim: Water stations at mile 1.5, mile 3, Indian Garden mile 4.8, Boat Beach mile 10
    • Average ascent time from rim is 6-8 hours

    This hike is achievable by most everybody in decent physical condition, however it will be much more enjoyable and less painful directly relating to how much you prepare and get in shape for this part of your Grand Canyon adventure. You will definitely enjoy the challenge of the hike more if you get in shape for it!

What is the hike into the Canyon like on the Lower Canyon raft trips?
  • Hiking to the River via the Bright Angel Trail

    Grand Canyon Whitewater passenger reaches the Colorado River via Bright Angel Trail to begin her Lower Canyon raft trip.

    Hiking into the Canyon is a serious endeavor, even if only hiking downhill. You need to be well prepared physically for the hike. One of the biggest areas of concern is your knees. For people with any kind of knee issue, downhill hiking can be very difficult.

    Make sure you have the proper footwear which means shoes that YOU are comfortable hiking in and that are not brand new. We highly recommend carrying a backpack with a hip belt as that will help disperse the weight. You should start with at least 2 quarts of water and fill up at EVERY station you pass. Food is also very important, you want to eat plenty and before you are hungry. For more hiking tips in Grand Canyon visit the Park Service’s Hiking Tips page.

    Bright Angel Trail

    • Strenuous hike, intensified by Arizona heat/sun in June – August
    • 10 miles (16 km)
    • Loss of 4,380 feet (1337 m)
    • Well maintained trail, graded for stock
    • Very little shade cover on trail
    • From Rim: Water stations at mile 1.5, mile 3, Indian Garden mile 4.8, Boat Beach mile 10
    • Average descent time from rim is 4-6 hours

    This hike is achievable by most everybody in decent physical condition, however it will be much more enjoyable and less painful directly relating to how much you prepare and get in shape for this part of your Grand Canyon adventure. You will definitely enjoy the challenge of the hike more if you get in shape for it!

Will we have hiking opportunities on our raft trip?
  • Side Hike In Grand Canyon
    Side Canyon Hike in Grand Canyon

    Absolutely! During the day, we’ll take time to get off the raft and explore the plentiful side canyons. The difficulty and length varies with each side hike and you always have the option whether to hike or grab a book and a great spot to sit while the others are off hiking. Before each hike, guides will give an explanation of what you can expect. Many of the hikes are around water, so your river sandals would be a great footwear option. However if a lengthier hike requires more substantial footwear, you can dig your hiking shoes out of the community shoe bag that will always be available to you.


What if I've never been camping before the raft trip?
  • Some of our guests are not only first-time rafters but first-time campers as well. Camping with us is actually the easiest way to take the plunge — our guides cook all the meals, set up toilet facilities for you and demonstrate how to work all the camping gear. You will have to live without some conveniences — there are no hot showers or blow dryers on the river — but we’re confident you’ll agree, after your adventure, it is invigorating to take a short break from the trappings of the modern world!

What kind of food is on a Grand Canyon Whitewater river trip?
  • In one word, delicious! Eating out under a western sky with freshly prepared food is extraordinary. Prior to every Colorado River rafting trip, a lot of time is spent planning and organizing menus. Scheduled deliveries to our operations warehouse ensure that only the freshest, high quality food is packed, and thanks to our ability to carry ice, we are able to keep fresh fruits, vegetables, steaks, chicken as well as your favorite desserts, throughout even our longest trips. You will be delighted with the quality of our food. We are also able work with guests to satisfy certain dietary restrictions as long as restrictions are communicated in advance.

    *GCW recognizes that some passengers are allergic to peanuts and other nuts. We do serve nuts and nut products, and there may be trace elements of unspecified nut ingredients, including peanut oils, in meals and snacks. We do not have in place procedures that allow crews to not serve these foods upon request of a customer. We do not provide nut “buffer zones.” Additionally, other customers may bring peanuts or other nuts on the trip and we may interact with other groups who are carrying nuts. Therefore, we cannot guarantee customers will not be exposed to peanuts or other nuts during the raft trip experience, and we strongly encourage customers to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure.

How do I bathe on a Colorado River trip?
  • There are a couple of things that may be helpful to know about bathing on your Colorado River trip. First, the river is always cold, about 50° Fahrenheit. Your motivation to bathe may be challenged by this small fact, especially in the morning!

    Second, not every camp has a beach with a good wading area. Some beaches are rocky by the river, some drop off fairly quickly, and some have a fast current flowing by.

    So how do you do to stay fresh and clean on your Grand Canyon vacation? Baby wipes. If a bath isn’t an option, baby wipes and face wipes work great for a quick clean up at night or in the morning. Also, we highly recommend that you jump into every side stream and rinse off in every waterfall, because they are typically crystal clear and not as cold as the Colorado River. However, there is no soap allowed in or near side-streams in Grand Canyon, side streams are great for just a rinse to refresh.

    When a good beach lends itself to bath time and you are ready to brave the cold, go for it. You need to have biodegradable soap (Ivory soap works great) and shampoo. Many people find the in-and-out method most effective. Jump in quick, jump out, lather up, jump in quick, rinse off, jump out. For people with longer hair, you may want to wash it next using your souvenir mug.

    A key ingredient to feeling good after a bath is lotion, lotion, lotion. The air is extremely dry and you will want to moisturize every day. (Bring travel size soap, lotion and shampoo in a zip lock baggie on your Grand Canyon vacation).

    There you have it, how to bathe on a Colorado River trip.


For the Women: A question you have but don't want to ask!
  • Ladies, I know you are thinking about “the facilities” on your Grand Canyon rafting trip. Let me help you out. My first river trip was when I was 7 and I went with my dad. I have now been on many trips over the last 19 years, so I have been through it all. At 7 I was really shy. I didn’t want ANYONE to know I even had to pee. That is not the way to go, but if that is how you feel, at pit stops just wade into the water near the boat, hold on to straps on the side of the boat, and tell everyone you are “checking the straps” and cooling off a bit! This wade-into-the-water-in-your-shorts technique is always an option; we’ll call it the “check the straps” method. The water is cold though, so it may take some time to get things flowing!

    Another option is to head a little upstream and drop your pants and squat. You can try and find a rock near the water to squat behind but remember that ALL liquid, pee included, MUST go into the river. Many beaches do not have much cover. DO NOT go on a 3 mile hike to find a rock by the river; when I say head upstream a bit I mean maybe 20 feet. Use the “face your danger” method. At most pit stops the rule is: Skirts Up, Pants Down. This means that women head upstream to find a spot and men head downstream. Abiding by “face your danger” you would get near the water, look at the people you don’t want to be looking at you and quickly squat while simultaneously pulling off your pants. I have demonstrated this move to many groups of women while facing them, no one sees anything! That being said, two piece swimsuits or wearing a sports bra and quick drying underwear make this move a lot easier. The most important thing is to remember that nobody is looking at anybody else. We are all focused on what we are doing, so stay near the boat and don’t worry about it. If someone is watching you pee, they have the problem, NOT you!

    If “that time of the month” happens to fall on your river trip, don’t fear. We’ve got options. The most favorite thing among women river guides is the “Diva Cup.” It is easy, reliable, comfortable and clean, check it out. You only have to empty it once or twice a day and you can wash it in any water that you would swim in. If you will be using tampons, bring several brown paper bags and little Ziplocs. That way when you change during the day, you can put the trash in a brown paper bag; put that bag in a Ziploc and dispose of it easily, discreetly, and sanitarily in the boat trash system. As you will get wet A LOT on your river trip, pads are not your friend.

    So, I hope this helps with those very personal questions. If you have more thoughts or questions, please call us at 1-800-343-3121. We want your Grand Canyon rafting trip to be the best it can be!


The Bathroom: Another question you have and don't want to ask!
  • So, you are curious about the bathroom situation, eh? Rest assured on a whitewater raft trip it is a very comfortable set-up. In camp, we set up a hand wash station that leads down a path to the bathroom. At the hand wash station we have a system to theoretically “lock the door” so you aren’t disturbed. The toilet looks just like what you have at home, a little white toilet seat, it just doesn’t flush and it has a MUCH better view! It is much nicer than an enclosed port-a-potty. (Each day, when camp is made, and before the sun sets, make sure you know where the toilet is. You will want to know where to go in the middle of the night!) What we recommend is to get on a “schedule.” You’ll feel better if you have a routine morning or evening bathroom stop, and that means more fun on your Grand Canyon raft trip!

    During the day, the main toilet will be stowed away and you will urinate directly in the river as discussed in the next paragraph. We do have a toilet we can use during the day if the need arises. Please never hesitate to ask the guide if you need the facility during the day. The absolute worst thing we can do is to leave solid waste around places we hike, have lunch or camp. There are many people who venture through the Canyon on a whitewater raft trip, and will likely stop at the same places you do. Don’t leave them a gift.

    On to urination. “The solution to our pollution is dilution” is the motto. All pee must make it into the river or into the wet sand right near the edge of the river. This is very easy for men, women you may want to read the “For the Women” FAQ . There are plenty of pit stop opportunities throughout the day. If you need one, give a holler to the guide. Another easy way is to use the back-of-the-boat method. Your guide can show you how to do this. It is a simple maneuver that allows you to pee in privacy while the boat is actually under way.

    Do eat food, don’t be afraid to go #2, and drink plenty of water. We can’t stress these things enough. Don’t let worries over having to use the bathroom hinder you from staying hydrated, nourished and happy.

    We want you to have the time of your life on your Grand Canyon raft trip with us! Please don’t hesitate to call or email us if you have any questions; 800.343.3121 or info@grandcanyonww.com.


Are there bugs or snakes in the Grand Canyon?
  • Colorado River rafting in Arizona is a unique experience. Being a desert environment, mosquitoes and flying insects are practically nonexistent. Snakes and scorpions are rarely seen. If you’re lucky, you might have your camera handy when a Desert Big Horn Sheep or a Bald or Golden Eagle happens by.

What If I Use A C-Pap Machine at Night?
  • If you require a C-Pap machine at night, please let the reservation agent know upon booking your rafting adventure. Grand Canyon Whitewater will, upon request, pack a Magnum Powerstroke 12V Battery. You would need to bring the appropriate DC adapter with alligator clips to connect our battery with your C-Pap machine.

What is the CRMP and how could it affect future rafting trips on the Colorado River?
  • CRMP stands for Colorado River Management Plan. The National Park Service re-writes the plan every 10 years; the CRMP determines the use of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. Your future access on the Colorado River will be determined by this plan. We recommend you review the latest information found on the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association site.

Why Raft With Grand Canyon Whitewater

6 Reasons to Raft with Grand Canyon Whitewater

1.  Rejuvenate, Play like a kid!

You deserve a vacation. Rafting with GCW will combine excitement with serenity in one of the most peaceful and gorgeous places on Earth.

2.  Experience? We got it!

GCW brings one of the most experienced groups of owners and guides in the Grand Canyon.

3.  We are the Host with the Most!

GCW river guides are a wealth of information not limited to river history, geology, archaeology, wildlife and savory Dutch-oven cooking!

4.  You are in Good Hands.

Our staff knows the fine line between keeping you safe and showing you the Canyon up close and personal.

5.  Re-Connect.

In an increasingly electronic and nature-deficient society, it is a great way to take a few days to reconnect with nature and have some good ol’ fashioned fun with great folks.

6.  Oh, So Many Trips to Choose from!

GCW offers both motorized and oar-powered rafting trips ranging from 4 to 13 days.


Experience The Thrill With GCW

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Why did you pick our company?:  Our group of six checked various websites, and talked to friends who had done similar trips.  None of our friends had traveled with GCW, but the companies they used were either no longer in business or provided little information on their website.  The GCW website provided us with a […]

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Feedback from Anne Eychaner Passenger on a 13-day Full Canyon Oar Trip in September 2014 Why did you pick our company? I browsed thru all the companies listed by the park service at http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/river-concessioners.htm. I knew I wanted to travel in late September. I knew I wanted to take an oar trip – not a […]

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This service is operated by Grand Canyon Whitewater, LLC., a Concessioner under contract with the U.S. Government and administered by the National Park Service.

The Concessioner is responsible for conducting these operations in a satisfactory manner. Prices are approved by the National Park Service.

© Grand Canyon Whitewater – PO Box 2848 – Flagstaff, Arizona 86003