Folks often want to know exactly what time they will return to civilization, after a river trip. If I were asking the question, I’d probably word it more along the lines of, “When do we have to go back?” But, we understand people must catch flights and shuttles and check in with family members and such. Still, the best we can do is give you a ballpark estimate of when you might be back in a real city, if everything goes according to plan. We can never tell you exactly when you definitely will be at the airport, because there are a lot of moving pieces in this puzzle, much like on the river, and we just can’t predict all of the things that could happen.
So what, exactly, are all those moving pieces? Well, it depends on which Grand Canyon Whitewater trip you’re doing. If you’re on a trip that ends at Diamond Creek (Lower Canyon and Full Canyon motorized and oar-powered trips) your last day looks something like this:
1. You’re off the river by mid-morning.
2. We drop you off on the Hualapai Reservation. A Hualapai bus must drive down to the river to pick you up, and then must drive back across the reservation, on a road that crosses an active creek and that sometimes washes out. If the road isn’t washed out — if the bus is able to get both to and from the river without any trouble — and if the bus itself doesn’t have any mechanical challenges on the very rough dirt road, it’s about an hour ride to the nearest town. This step — step 2 — is the first place where things could get held up.
3. Our chartered shuttle is waiting for you in the town of Peach Springs. There are significantly fewer things that could go wrong on the paved highway in a commercial shuttle, but delays aren’t unheard of in this leg of the journey.
4. That shuttle comes to Flagstaff first, to arrive (usually) around 2 p.m. For many of our trips, it then takes passengers back to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. If you need to be dropped off at the South Rim (to pick up a vehicle, for example), you shouldn’t expect to be there any earlier than about 4 p.m.
If you’re on a trip that ends at Whitmore Wash, with a helicopter ride out of the canyon (7-day Full Canyon motorized trip), here’s what your last day looks like:
1. You’re off the river after breakfast, fairly early in the morning.
2. We drop you off at a little dirt helipad; a helicopter starts carrying small groups of passengers up to the rim. The folks who run the service put people in the helicopter based primarily on weight — they’re looking for a magic combination of numbers for each 8-minute flight. So, we can never guess whether you might be on the first helicopter, with one passenger who weights 138 pounds but might have had too much to eat on the river so maybe it’s more like 143 pounds today, and with another passenger who weighs 210 pounds, and with another passenger who weighs the same as the pilot … or whether you might be on the last helicopter ride out of the canyon.
3. As that helicopter arrives at the Bar 10 Ranch on the rim of the canyon, folks at the ranch start booking you on outbound flights. They book passengers based primarily on when they arrived at the ranch, where they are going (Las Vegas or Marble Canyon) and whether they are members of the same family/group. Again, this is a very complex, variable formula. We can never guess in advance which flight out of Bar 10 you might be on.
4. From that point, there aren’t too many possibilities to get off track, although landing delays aren’t unheard of, if the weather is doing something unusual. Both flights — back to Vegas or back to Marble Canyon, depending on where you started your trip — take about 1 hour. So, you might be back at your starting point any time between about noon and 3 p.m., depending on which helicopter you were on and which charter flight you were on.
The other trips we offer end with a hike out of Grand Canyon, at the South Rim (Upper Canyon trips). The biggest variable on this trip is … you. If you’ve been training for your hike, you should make it to the top before our 5 p.m. shuttle arrives. If you have significant delays on the trail, we’ll be game planning with the hiking guide who is with you, but you might miss our chartered shuttle. If that happens, you’ll be late getting back to Flagstaff.
But, assuming you do catch our scheduled shuttle, delays on this trip are pretty uncommon. The shuttle is there at 5 p.m. You get on the shuttle. It takes 2 hours to drive back to Flagstaff. If you’re on the shuttle, there’s a very good chance you’ll be back in Flagstaff around 7 p.m. on the last day of this trip.
So there you have it! Luckily, you don’t have to worry too much about any of this stuff. Just let us know what your post-trip plans are, and we’ll let you know which train or bus or flight you should (or should NOT) book.