You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Read on!
For more info, call GCW at 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 does Grand Canyon Whitewater offer?
We offer guided, multi-day whitewater rafting trips in Grand Canyon National Park, ranging from 4 to 15 days. Go through our Rafting Trip Planning Guide or call our office to find the best fit for you! 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 several years in advance. Availability tends to vary from year to year. While it is true that some trip types sell out faster than others, we take reservations throughout the season and often book guests on trips just a few months ahead of time. Generally, how far in advance you need to book a trip depends on what trip type you are interested in, how large your group is, and how restricted your dates are. 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 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 gear does GCW provide on a river trip, and what do I need to bring? Where can I find a packing list?
The packing list varies depending on what trip you book. Once you have reserved your trip, we will send you a complete Trip Info Packet full of useful details, including our recommended packing list. A link to your Trip Info Packet can be found in most emails you will receive from us after booking your trip. Contact us if you have questions or need the link resent.
What if I have to cancel my river trip?
If you have to cancel, besides missing out on an awesome vacation, you also risk losing your full trip fare.
Our policy: Cancellations 120 days or more prior to departure will forfeit $200 per person. 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.
Should I purchase travel insurance?
We encourage every guest to purchase travel insurance. We expect you to do your part and help protect your investment, as we have a strict cancellation policy.
For your convenience, 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 minimum age requirement is 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 essential 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, most of our trips are 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 that 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. These include 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 overview 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!
Inclement weather and/or changing river conditions can increase the strenuousness of on and off-river aspects of the trip. Please review an example of the Acknowledgement of Risk form that we require all 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 the Grand Canyon is the rare opportunity to be disconnected. There is no cell service or WiFi. We do carry satellite communication devices, but they are only used for outbound messages in the event of an emergency on the river. These devices 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 they can reach us while you’re away.
What happens if I become ill or injured on my river trip?
Our guides are 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. If our guides determine that a higher level of care is necessary, they can coordinate with the National Park Service (NPS) and conduct an emergency helicopter evacuation. Due to the remote nature and weather of the trip, it is crucial to understand that an evacuation may take several hours or even overnight. Our trips are entirely self-contained, and you may not see other people or trips for several days.
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 Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is one of three rivers in the world rated by individual rapid on a 1 to 10 scale. A class 10 rapid in the Grand Canyon is equivalent to a Class 5 on the international scale.
This system of rating arose from the variety of rapids and the volume of water in the canyon. Grand Canyon rapids are formed in a pool-drop system, which means that after every rapid, there is a flat, calm section of water. On the 1 to 10 scale, riffles are rated a 1, while more technical rapids in the Grand Canyon (like Lava Falls and Crystal) can be rated up to a 10, depending on the water level. It is important to keep in mind that a higher rating may mean the rapid is more technical, but it is not an indicator of the rapid’s “fun level”. Rapids with a lower number can be much more fun to blast through!
What if I can’t swim?
It is not necessary to know how to swim, but you do need to be able to assist in self-rescue in the event of a capsized raft or being thrown from the raft. This consists of remaining calm and alert in 55-degree water and moving towards the raft or shore while in an active current. Grand Canyon Whitewater provides Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFD), and everyone must wear one AT ALL TIMES while on the river. The likelihood of ending up in the water on a motorized trip is lower than on an oar trip, but there is always the possibility. Many factors go into choosing a motorized trip or an oar trip. It’s up to you to make a decision you are comfortable with and understand there is a possibility of ending up in the water on any trip type.
During your trip, you’ll likely have the opportunity to play in side streams and water holes. Most places are not deep enough to require swimming, and participation is optional.
From the beaches, be aware of steep slopes, slippery rocks, and strong currents near the river’s edge. This area has a higher potential to result in swimming unexpectedly.
Do I need any river rafting experience?
No, prior rafting experience is not necessary. For most of our guests, this is their first multi-day rafting trip. However, rafters who are physically prepared for their adventure will find it more enjoyable.
We do not offer paddle trips due to long stretches of flatwater in the Grand Canyon. Our skilled guides will maneuver the rafts on either a motorized or oar-powered raft. You will not be issued a paddle or an oar. Each raft type has its own unique risk factors. Your job is to review your trip info packet, prepare physically, listen to your guide’s instructions, hang on, and have fun!
Please see “What is the difference between motor and oar-powered rafts?” and “What if I can’t swim?” FAQs for more info.
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 runs April through September, which coincides with the ideal time to raft in the Grand Canyon. Many of our guests raft in June, July, and August when school is out. Others with flexible schedules take advantage of milder weather in April, May, and September. 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 both motorized and oar-powered trips. Each raft type has its own unique advantages. Motorized trips are our most popular. Guests have told us that they like the comfort of the motor trip and the ability to see the full canyon in about a week.
Oar-powered trips are great for those who wish to spend about two weeks on the river to connect with the canyon at a more leisurely pace.
How likely is it that I’ll end up in the water?
The likelihood that you would become a non-voluntary swimmer by being thrown from a raft or a raft flipping is much higher on an oar-powered raft than on a motorized raft. However, it is possible you’ll end up in the water on either trip type. There will likely be a few non-voluntary swimmers each river season. It is important to consider this possibility. The ability to stay calm is a key factor in a successful rescue. See our “What if I can’t swim?” FAQ for more info.
What is the hike in or out of the canyon like?
Only our partial canyon trips include a hike into or out of the canyon. If you are on a full canyon trip, you can disregard this information.
Hiking the Bright Angel Trail is rewarding but also very strenuous. Even for an experienced hiker, the Arizona heat, combined with the lack of shade and elevation, makes this hike extreme. This steep trail has very little undulation, so you’ll be hiking either all uphill or all downhill for hours. The relentless, repetitive action causes additional stress on your body.
This hike (in or out) can be extra challenging for people who aren’t regular hikers, are out of shape, overweight, or have a history of heart problems, heat-related illness, exercise-induced asthma, or joint or back issues. We recommend these trips for people who are experienced, enthusiastic hikers.
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)
- From Rim: Water stations at mile 1.5, mile 3, Havasupai 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.
Will we have hiking opportunities on our raft trip?
Yes! Most days will include side hikes. The hikes will vary quite a bit depending on which trip type you choose. These side hikes are often the most memorable part of the trip, but they are all optional. If you think you’ll opt out often, we recommend bringing a book, journal, or sketch pad, as some hikes can take several hours. Hiking into or out of the canyon is mandatory if you are on a partial canyon trip.
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. Once you arrive at a sandy beach for camp each evening, your guides will demonstrate how to set up the provided camping gear and assemble two essential areas of camp, the main kitchen and toilet facilities. You’ll be expected to help unload the rafts and set up your personal campsite. Our sister company, Arizona River Runners, offers a 3-Day Escape that is an excellent introduction to camping and rafting in the Grand Canyon, as you’ll only spend one night alongside the river.
What kind of food is on a Grand Canyon Whitewater trip?
In a word, delicious! Guests are usually pretty impressed by what our guides are able to cook in the backcountry. Thanks to our ability to carry ice, we bring along fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and even desserts! Plus, if you are used to coffee or tea as part of your morning routine, we have you covered.
We feel that our meals are hearty and nutritious and will suit the majority of our guests. We try to accommodate dietary restrictions for medical or ethical reasons, such as vegetarianism, gluten intolerance/celiac disease, as well as peanut and other food allergies. We will do our best to supply options that will work for you, but please keep in mind that there is likely to be some redundancy in what is offered. If you have a medically or ethically mandated diet, please inform us ASAP so we can determine if we are able to accommodate your diet. See “Can you accommodate guests with food allergies?” for more details.
Can you accommodate guests with food allergies?
Although we can often make modifications for guests with food allergies, it is important to understand that access to professional medical care can take several hours or even overnight due to the remote nature of the trip. We also cannot guarantee 100% safeguard from exposure to your allergen. We strongly encourage customers to talk to a doctor and take any necessary medical precautions. Please be sure to bring your required medications, including EpiPens, on the trip. Notify our office of your allergy well in advance so we can determine a plan of action.
Above all, it is essential that you take an active role in your safety. Read food labels, communicate with the guides on your trip often, and give suggestions about how they can help you avoid 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 chilly, running about 55-65°F. 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 quickly.
We’ve found the best method for bathing to be the “jump-in/jump-out” method. If getting in the water isn’t an option, baby wipes work great for a quick clean-up. Check out our blog for details and more tips to help you freshen up on the river.
What are the toilet facilities on a river trip?
Due to the arid climate and National Park Service requirements, all urine must go directly into the river-that means wading in or squatting/standing near the river’s edge. In camp, we set up a hand wash station and camp toilet for solid waste. The camp toilet is pretty much the same as your normal toilet, except it is outside and does not flush. To help ease normal bathroom anxieties, we wrote a blog that addresses the bathroom situation in great detail with a video of the toilet set up. There’s also a section with some tips for the ladies about feminine hygiene on the river.
Are there bugs or snakes in the Grand Canyon?
Being in a desert environment, mosquitoes and flying insects are not a big problem in the canyon. 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 encountering 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.
What is the current weather on the river in the Grand Canyon?
The best way to check the general weather on the river is by using the Phantom Ranch forecast, which is halfway through the Grand Canyon at river level. Don’t confuse weather at the South or North Rim of the Grand Canyon with that at river level; they can be dramatically different because of the elevation difference. Find some tips on how to prepare for your trip here.
Is Grand Canyon rafting dangerous?
There is an element of risk involved when participating in any outdoor adventure. We are proactive in developing mitigation plans for specific Grand Canyon scenarios. However, this is a backcountry environment, and not every situation can be anticipated.
We are counting on you to make an informed decision when booking a rafting trip for yourself and your group. Being physically and mentally prepared goes a long way toward a successful Grand Canyon rafting trip.