You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Read on!
For more info, call GCW at 1-800-343-3121, check out the Grand Canyon Whitewater blog, and make sure to head over to our YouTube page for a ton of great videos. When you book your trip, we’ll send you a trip info packet that will cover all these questions, and more, in much greater detail.
What kind of trips do you offer?
We offer guided, multi-day, whitewater rafting trips in Grand Canyon National Park ranging from 4 to 15 days. Our Rafting Trip Planning Guide is a great place to start researching your options. A classic Grand Canyon adventure is a 7 or 8 Day Motor trip. To find the best fit for you, take our trip quiz!
How far in advance are reservations made and how do I reserve a spot?
One myth is that reservations must be made multiple years in advance. The larger your group or more restricted your time period, the more it pays to plan ahead. Otherwise, depending on availability we even take reservations throughout the season. Give us a call or check availability here.
After reviewing GCW’s booking policies, you can secure a reservation by making a $400 deposit per person. The remaining balance is due 120 days before your trip departure. You can book our full canyon trips online or by calling the office at (800) 343-3121. For trips with a hike in or hike out of the canyon, please call our office to book so we can have an in-depth conversation about whether it’s the right fit for you.
What do I need to bring on my river trip?
Once you have reserved your trip we will send you a complete trip information packet full of useful details including a handy packing list. Grand Canyon Whitewater provides all the camping gear, meals and rafting equipment. You will need to bring your personal items, like clothing, toiletries, a headlamp, camera and sunscreen. You’ll likely already have many of the things you’ll need at home.
What if I have to cancel my river trip?
We encourage every guest to purchase travel insurance. We expect you to do your part and to protect your investment as we really do have to stick to our cancellation policy. If you have to cancel, besides missing out on an awesome vacation, you also risk losing your full trip fare. Our policy: Your $400 deposit is refundable, less a $200 cancellation fee per person, if notification is received by Grand Canyon Whitewater 120 days or more prior to departure. Cancellations within 119 days up to 31 days prior to departure will forfeit $400 per person. Cancellations within 30 days of departure will forfeit full fare. GCW will not transfer reservations from one year to the next.
We often refer people to Travelex or, for international guests, World Nomads. You’re encouraged to do your own research and consider travel insurance for trip cancellation/interruption, emergency medical expenses, trip delay, baggage delay, etc. Remember to insure your flight to and from the area as well.
What are the age requirements for your whitewater rafting 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. There is no upper age limit for our rafting trips. Regardless of age, it’s important to understand the physical nature of these trips, please review the FAQ titled “Is this trip strenuous?” for more details.
Is this trip strenuous?
Yes, we consider most of our trips to be moderately strenuous as they are outdoor activities with exposure to the elements. *Trips that require a hike-in or hike-out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail are dramatically more difficult and considered very strenuous.
The minimum physical requirements are outlined in our Essential Eligibility Criteria, but the thing to remember is, this is an adventure! The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. We think you’ll enjoy your trip most if you’re physically prepared. We encourage guests (with no medical restrictions) to participate in as many activities as possible. This includes side hikes, helping the guides load and unload the rafts, setting up your own campsite, and getting yourself on and off the rafts multiple times each day. The guides will give an assessment of the difficulty level before beginning a side hike so you can choose whether to participate. They’ll also demonstrate how to set up your campsite and explain how to wash your dishes when you’re at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
Please review an example of the Acknowledgement of Risk form that we require all of our guests to sign before participating.
What happens if there is an emergency at home while I’m on the river?
One of the benefits of a river trip in Grand Canyon is the rare opportunity to be disconnected. There is no cell service or WiFi. We do carry satellite phones, but they are only used for outbound calls in the event of an emergency on the river. These phones remain turned off and are not used for incoming messages/calls. In the unlikely event that we could get a message to river trip participants, there are almost no options for a guest to leave the trip and exit the canyon, even if there is an emergency at home. We think it is important to discuss with your family ahead of time whether you would want to receive news of an emergency or death while on the river, as there will likely be nothing you can do until the end of your trip. Feel free to share our office number with your family so that they can reach us while you’re away.
What happens if I become ill or injured on my river trip?
Our guides are all certified Wilderness First Responders (WFRs). As WFRs they are trained to respond to and handle many situations that may be encountered in a remote environment. In the event that our guides determine that a higher level of care is necessary, they are able to coordinate with the National Park Service (NPS) and conduct an emergency evacuation. Because of the remote nature of the trip, it is important to understand that an evacuation may take several hours or even overnight.
What are the rapids on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon rated?
Most rivers are rated on the International Scale of 1 to 6, with a 6 meaning the river is impassable. However, the rapids in Grand Canyon use a different scale. The Colorado River is one of three rivers in the world rated by individual rapid on a 1 to 10 scale.
This system of rating arose 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 in Grand Canyon, like Lava Falls and Crystal, can be rated a 10 depending on water level. All trips include class 10 rapids.
What if I can’t swim?
It is not necessary to know how to swim; in fact, we prefer you stay in the boat while rafting! Grand Canyon Whitewater provides Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFD) and everyone must wear one AT ALL TIMES while on the river. If you end up in the water, you do need to be able to at least move yourself around, maybe toward the boats or maybe toward shore. We think the risk of ending up in the water on a motorized trip is low. It is higher on an oar trip so, if you don’t know how to swim, you might consider choosing a motorized trip rather than an oar trip. It’s up to you to make a decision you are comfortable with.
Do I need any river rafting experience?
When is the best time to go rafting in the Grand Canyon?
The simplest answer is the best time to go rafting is whenever you have the opportunity! Our season coincides with the ideal time to be on the river in Grand Canyon. Take a look at our blog for some general weather trends.
What is the difference between a motorized raft and an oar-powered raft?
Grand Canyon Whitewater offers two modes of transportation and each has its unique advantages. Our motorized trips are our most popular. Guests have told us that they like the comfort of the motor trip and the ability to see more of the Grand Canyon is less time. Oar-powered trips are for those who want to experience their river rafting trip in a more intimate way.
How likely is it that I’ll end up in the water?
The likeliness that you would become an non-voluntary swimmer by being thrown from a raft or a raft flipping is much higher on an oar-powered (row) raft than on a motorized raft. It is probable that there will be at least a handful of non-voluntary swimmers throughout each river season. It is important, especially if you are a passenger on an oar-powered raft, to consider this possibility. In the event you find yourself in the water, your ability to stay calm will be an important factor in a successful rescue.
What is the Hike In or Hike Out of the Canyon like?
(To clarify, not all rafting trips require a Hike In or Hike Out. Disregard this info if you are on a Full Canyon trip.) The hike in or out of the Grand Canyon is considered very 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 in your backpack.
Make sure you have the proper footwear, which means shoes you are comfortable hiking in and that are broken in. We highly recommend carrying a backpack with a hip belt, as that will help disperse the weight. You should start with at least 2 liters of water and fill up at EVERY water station you pass. Food is also very important; you want to eat plenty on the trail, before you are hungry. For more Grand Canyon hiking info, visit the National Park Service’s Hiking Tips page.
Bright Angel Trail
- Strenuous hike, intensified by Arizona heat/sun in June–August
- 8 miles (13 km)
- Gain/Loss of 4,400 feet (1340 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
- For Prepared Hikers: Average ascent time to rim is 6-8 hours; Average descent time from rim is 4-6 hours
This hike is achievable by people who are in good physical condition. However, in our estimation, this hike is ALWAYS a challenge, even for those who are very fit. It will be much more enjoyable and less painful if 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?
Yes! 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. You always have the option whether to hike or grab a book and a spot to sit while the others are exploring. 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 lengthy hike requires more substantial footwear, you can dig your hiking shoes out of the community shoe bag.
What if I’ve never been camping?
Plenty of our guests are not only first-time rafters but also first-time campers. Camping with GCW is a great way to take the plunge. When we arrive at a sandy beach each evening, our guides will set up the main kitchen, cook all the meals, set up toilet facilities for you and demonstrate how you will set up the provided camping gear.
What kind of food is on a Grand Canyon Whitewater river trip?
In one word, delicious! Prior to every trip, a lot of time is spent planning and organizing menus. We offer, hearty, well-rounded meals. Each morning brings a different menu of classic breakfast items such as egg omelets or pancakes and sausage. Fresh fruit, juice, coffee, and an assortment of teas, and hot chocolate accompany each breakfast. Lunches are typically sandwiches with a deli spread of meats, vegetables and cheeses. Peanut butter, jelly, honey, cookies and chips are always available with lunch. Tasty dinners include meals like salmon and wild rice, build-your-own chicken fajitas, spaghetti, and grilled rib-eye steaks. There are always an array of side dishes, salads and desserts to round out your meal. An assortment of snacks (candy bars, fruit, trail mix, cookies), as well as water, sodas, and electrolyte replacement powders are available at all times on the trip.
We feel that our meals are nutritious and will accommodate the majority of guests. If you have a medically- or ethically-mandated special diet, please inform us so that we can determine if we can accommodate. In the dry, hot climate of the canyon, with elevated exposure to the elements and physical exertion, we recommend you abandon any voluntary, restrictive diets that you may follow at home such as low fat or low carb. If you have any severe food allergies please contact our office with plenty of time before your trip so we can determine a plan of action.
*We recognize that some guests have severe food allergies. Although we often can make modifications, we want you to understand that we cannot guarantee 100% safeguard from exposure to your allergen while on your trip. Additionally, other guests may bring snacks and we may interact with other groups who are carrying food with your allergen. We strongly encourage guests 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 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 have a fast current flowing by and some drop off fairly quickly.
So how do you 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. Also, we highly recommend that you jump into every side stream and waterfall, because they are typically clearer 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 a refreshing rinse.
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 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 using your souvenir mug.
A key ingredient to feeling good after a bath is lotion. The air is extremely dry and you will want to moisturize every day.
We do NOT recommend bringing solar showers because they are difficult to store and very difficult to use on the river.
What are the toilet facilities like on a river trip?
During the day, all urine must go directly into the river – that means squatting/standing near the river’s edge or wading in. There will be pit stops during the day, but if you have to go between stops, tell the guide before it’s an emergency so they have time to find a good place to pull over. If you need to poop during the day, the guides have a portable toilet system. Don’t be shy to ask for it if you need it. In camp each evening, we set up a hand wash station and camp toilet for solid waste, while urine continues to go into the river. At the hand wash station, we have a system to “lock the door” so you aren’t disturbed while using the toilet. The toilet looks similar to what you have at home: a white toilet seat. It just doesn’t flush and it has a MUCH better view! It’s beneficial each evening, when camp is made and before the sun sets, to make sure you know where the toilet is set up. At night, we provide handy pee buckets so you don’t have to find your way to the river in the dark. In the morning, dump your pee bucket directly into the river. The guides will explain the details of the sanitation and bathroom procedures in greater detail during on-river orientation.
It’s important to eat food and drink plenty of water. Don’t let worries over having to use the bathroom hinder you from staying hydrated, nourished and happy. We can’t stress these things enough.
If you might be on your period while on your river trip, it’s helpful to plan ahead and pack for the unexpected. If you will be using tampons, bring a outdoor menstrual kit or several Ziploc bags and plenty of baby wipes. Make sure you keep these supplies handy during the day, in your provided day dry bag. When you change during the day, you can wrap the trash in a baby wipe, put that in a Ziploc and dispose of it in the boat trash system or into the hygiene disposal at the camp toilet. As you will get wet a lot on your river trip, using pads is not the best option.
Are there bugs or snakes in the Grand Canyon?
Being a desert environment, mosquitoes and flying insects are not a big problem. Snakes and scorpions are rarely seen. If you do happen to spot any critters, remember they’re going to be doing their best to get away from you. Give them some space and notify a guide. You can reduce the possibility of an encounter with a critter even further by shaking out your shoes and PFD in the morning before putting them on, as well as waiting until you are heading to bed to roll out your sleeping bag.