Many of our guests want to know when the “best” time is to raft Grand Canyon. Our answer is always the same: It depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want to go on a family trip that likely will have other children and teens on it? Do you want to go when the air temperatures are milder (the river is ALWAYS cold), or do you tend to run cold and want to go when there will be plenty of sun? Some passengers want to go before our rainy season, when the Colorado River and side streams are still running clear. They think the Colorado looks too “muddy” or “dirty” once rainstorms start flushing sediment into the river.
I agree that the Colorado River looks very pretty in the early season, when it often is running a vivid aquamarine or emerald green color. However, I think it’s fun to remember that this is NOT the natural state of the river. “Colorado” is a Spanish word that means, roughly, “reddish color.” Early river rats described the Colorado as “too thick to drink; too thin to plow.” If you visit the Colorado above Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, you’ll see it in its natural state — a silty greyish, brownish, reddish color.
The Colorado River flowing in its natural state, behind a group of river guides, in Cataract Canyon. Cataract Canyon is above Glen Canyon Dam, which pumps cold, clear lake water into Grand Canyon.
So, the next time you’re tempted to think of a chocolate-milk-colored Colorado River as less appealing, just remember: You’re seeing the Colorado River the way it was meant to be seen, the way it was seen by the earliest river runners, the way it was born and the way it ran for countless lifetimes before we interrupted its flow and tinkered with its soul. The Colorado River is a breathtaking sight to behold, at any time of year.