Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures

One of the most incredible adventures we’ve ever had was a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon is one of the most picturesque national parks in the country and perhaps one of the most awe-inducing places in the world. The sheer magnitude of the space can make you feel small in the best of ways. It’s also a sacred place for many of the Native American tribes in the area. 

While one of the most beautiful spots to take a photograph is from the North and South Rim of the Grand Canyon, there is also so much more to explore down in the canyon itself. And for that, we’ve got just the guiding service for you: Wilderness River Adventures. They offer several different trips including a 5 and a half day Oar-Powered Rafting Trip but we experienced their 3 and a half-day Upper Grand Canyon Rafting Trip on a motorized raft and it was phenomenal.

Our adventure started with orientation at Lake Powell Resort in Page, Arizona. We arrived in mid-afternoon, checked into our room and prior to orientation, grabbed a bite to eat at the Driftwood Lounge. (We opted for the fried chicken sandwich with sweet potato fries and the caesar salad with grilled steak, both of which were delicious.) At orientation, which lasts about 45 minutes, we met a few of the staff members who helped us get acquainted with the gear we’d be using on the trip: dry bags, ammo cans, etc. The staff did a great job explaining everything and also stuck around afterwards in case there were any questions. After that, we headed back to our room, packed our gear, and set our alarms for an early wake-up. Note: Page, Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time.

What to Expect on Your Grand Canyon Rafting Trip

Day 1:

Your trip will depart from Page, Arizona at Wilderness River Adventures’ site. Many guests, including us, opted to leave their vehicle in their fenced-in parking lot. From there, you’ll board a bus and take a scenic route to Lee’s Ferry in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area! It’s about an hour-long ride and the sights along the way are just breathtaking so keep your camera handy. 

Once you arrive at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, you’ll load up all of your gear on the raft, get fitted with a life jacket, and learn about some of the safety procedures for adventuring on the Colorado River. After that, you’ll hop on board and begin your journey! Caroline I started out in “The Bathtub” which are the two seats in the very front of the raft. You’ll get wet sitting up there but you’ve got the best view on board. Plus, having the water splash you in your face is part of what you’re there for! If you’ve got a waterproof camera or housing, this is one of the best seats in the house.

You’ll raft for about 2 hours and then your boatman will find a cool spot for lunch. After that, you’ll board again and continue rafting until you reach that evening’s campsite. Be sure to cover up as the sun is super strong!

Wilderness River Adventures' blue raft is anchored in a calm spot along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Two red umbrellas are up and the boatman is under one of them for shade.
Our first stop on the Colorado River with Wilderness River Adventures. This is where we had lunch on the first day.

Once you make it to your first campsite, everyone works together to off-load the rafts and set up the kitchen. You’ll get a quick demo on how to set up your cot and then you’ll find a nice spot to make your camp. You then get to hang out in one of the most beautiful spots ever until appetizers are ready and dinner is served. If you’ve brought beer or wine, you can chill it in the river in a couple of the bags the guides have brought and it’ll be cold in less than 10 minutes. We had a lot of fun circling up our chairs at dinner and getting to know some of the other people on the trip. The days on the river really revolve around the rising and setting of the sun so once it becomes dusk, grab your headlamp, and make sure you can access it in the middle of the night.

Day 2:

Trade off with the people on your raft so that everyone can have a chance to sit in different parts of the boat. On Day 2 we sat in what’s known as “The Shower”. We faced some bigger rapids on Day 2 and again had lunch along the river at a nice beach that offered some shade. We made camp in the early afternoon and after relaxing for a bit, we took a hike up to an old grainery. The hike was only about a mile round trip but it’s a fairly steep and rocky incline. Two of the staff hike with you so finding the way is easy enough but be sure to wear sturdy shoes with closed toes as it’s a rocky trail with some cacti along the way. You’ll also want to pack your camera for this hike as the view from the trail is breathtaking.

Dinner that night was followed up by an impromptu music session with one of our guides, Nick, who brought out his banjo-lele (a musical instrument that’s a cross between a banjo and a ukelele). He played a few songs and then got us to join him. We laughed until it got dark and then we fell asleep under the stars, exhausted from a really fun day on the water.

About 20 people are circled up on the sand in red chairs. The blue rafts are anchored nearby in the water. The Grand Canyon walls are pink and red in the background and the time of day is early evening.
One of the best parts of the trip was making new friends with the other passengers and hanging out with them for 3 1/2 days.

Day 3:

We went back into “The Bathtub” in the morning and faced some of the bigger rapids we’d seen yet! Part of the way through the day we swapped out with some of the other passengers and then we finally made it into “The Chicken Coop” which is the driest seat in the house. After a short bit of rafting, we beached the raft and did a short hike along the Little Colorado River. The water in the Little Colorado is the most stunning blue. The best part is, you can also get in it and float down a little chute of water for about 100 yards. This was one of our favorite things on the trip. 

After hanging out along the Little Colorado, we got back on the rafts and then made our way through some of the biggest rapids we’d encountered yet. It went too fast and before we knew it we were setting up our final camp. That night after an incredible dinner we received another orientation of how to pack our backpacks for the hike out and also give the guides their gear back. I was sad that it was coming to an end but eager to get the hike underway. Still, I slept like a baby and when I felt first light coming, I was pumped and ready to tackle the day. 

Five blue cots are set up in the sand along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Life jackets hang from the trees and dry bags and ammo cans are strewn about camp.
This is what your camp along the Colorado River will look like! A cot, dry bags, and an ammo can are provided for your belongings.

Day 4:

Technically the trip is 3 and a half days but the time it takes to hike out of the canyon will vary. The staff had coffee going before the sun came up and we had breakfast in our bellies and a sandwich in our backpacks shortly thereafter and then we were back on the boat for one last short trip down the river. We said our goodbyes to everyone, tipped our lead guide, Nate, and then put our packs on our backs and started the trek up and out of the Grand Canyon.

The hike itself was tough but not impossible. We tried to stay in the shade and made sure to consistently eat and drink, sometimes even when we didn’t want to. We made it to Indian Garden, the midway point with water and a bathroom, in about 2 hours. I think we were both kind of surprised that we got to Indian Garden so quickly but we took our time from there on out, trying to remind ourselves that it’s not a race. We stopped to take photos, eat snacks, drink water, and rest in the shade. (Overall it took us about 6 hours to hike to the rim.) My legs were exhausted but the sense of accomplishment I felt was huge! 

To learn more about rafting on the Grand Canyon as well as other expeditions that take place out of Lake Powell Resort, click here. Oh and if the hike up sounds like it might be too much for you, you can also look into the guided rafting trip that begins with a hike down into the Grand Canyon. This trip picks up where ours left off, at Phantom Ranch. In fact, as we were hiking up along the Bright Angel trail we ran into one of the Wilderness River Adventures guides and some of the other passengers on the next trip.

FAQ

How Do I Go to the Bathroom While Rafting in the Grand Canyon?

This was one of the main questions we had about rafting in the Grand Canyon…how do we use the bathroom? It’s actually pretty simple and your guides will explain it for you. During the day, you’ll pee right in the Colorado River. Everyone does it so it’s not embarrassing. You can walk down the beach a bit if you’re feeling modest, but after about a day or so people feel a bit more relaxed and the walks to get away from other people’s eyes get shorter. Once the boats have made it to camp for the evening the staff will set up the toilets. There were two on our trip and they were set behind a bush or behind rocks to afford privacy. You sit on them just like you would a regular toilet except you don’t flush. It’s that easy. There’s also a handwashing station a short walk from the toilet. If wondering how to use the bathroom while rafting is a worry, hopefully this will ease your mind.

Has Anyone Ever Fallen Off the Raft?

a raft coming through a rapid in the Grand Canyon. People in rain gear are blurred out in the foreground.
Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures is safe and fun but be prepared to get wet!

The long and short of it is, it’s been a really long time. Years. None of the guides could recall an instance. Like with any outdoor activity there’s going to be some risk but the trip felt super safe. For starters, you’re fitted with a life jacket and the staff will make sure it fits properly before you even get on the raft. You’ll also get a boat orientation so that you understand where to sit, where not to sit, what to do, where to hold, etc. We felt safe even in the biggest rapids. Plus once you’re out on the water, the boatman will give you a heads up as you are approaching rapids. There are numerous places to hold on while on the river. And, most importantly, your guides are highly skilled and experienced.

What Kind of Food Is Prepared on the Trip?

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided on the river and the meals are outstanding. If you’re worried about eating well on the river, you don’t need to you! Your guides will do all of the cooking and they will make sure you are fed and fed well.

The morning you depart Lake Powell Resort and head for the boats, though, you are on your own. We grabbed coffee and a breakfast from Wind, the coffee shop located in the lobby of the Lake Powell Resort at Wahweap Marina. 

While on the river we ate some of the most delicious food. Here’s an idea of what we ate. Trip meals will vary based on what’s available but we know that the team at River Wilderness Adventures orders it as fresh as they can get it to make sure that you have tasty meals on your trip.

Day 1

Lunch:
Sandwiches with turkey, or ham, cheddar or Swiss cheese, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, chips, and cookies.

Dinner:
Spinach artichoke dip with tortilla chips, salad, Prime rib cooked in a Dutch oven with garlic and onions, griddled asparagus, mashed potatoes, horseradish sour cream, plain and berry cheesecake

Day 2

Breakfast:
Homemade biscuits, link sausage, gravy, eggs cooked to order, cantaloupe, grapefruit, coffee, instant oatmeal

Lunch:
Chicken tossed in caesar dressing, salad with red onion, green and black olives, tomatoes, sweet peppers, tortillas for wrapping it all up, chips, cookies

Dinner:

Salad, catfish tacos with black beans, hominy, queso fresco, cabbage, baja sauce, chocolate cake with chocolate icing

Day 3

Breakfast:
Smoked sausage, fresh griddled pancakes, cantaloupe, grapefruit, coffee, instant oatmeal

Lunch:
Sandwiches with salad (same as lunch the day before) and chicken, or peanut butter and jelly, chips, cookies

Dinner:
Smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers, purple onion, crackers
Pesto pasta with chicken, salad, garlic toast
Assorted candy

Breakfast 3
Griddled bagels, cream cheese, butter, jelly, peanut butter, cantaloupe, grapefruit, instant oatmeal, coffee

Lunch 3:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, apples, oranges

All of the meals are buffet style and while you can take a generous portion on the first go-round there is always the option to go back for a second helping, the staff carries snacks and water on board the rafts that you can access even when you are underway on the river. These include things like granola bars, apples, oranges. The staff will even accommodate people with allergies and special diets. Just be sure to let them know ahead of time on your pre-trip forms. We can’t say enough about the food, it exceeded our expectations. The prime rib was literally one of the best we’ve ever had. We also really appreciated the number of fresh vegetables that were served.

Do You Need Any Prior Rafting Experience?

No. Your guides will give you all the training you need. No prior rafting experience is necessary on this particular trip with Wilderness River Adventures.

Do You Have to Row?

No. The rafts on the 3 and a half day rafting trip with Wilderness River Adventures are equipped with a motorized raft. All you have to do is hold on and enjoy the ride!

Top Tips From Our Guides for Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Keep your water shoes on at all times!

The guides stressed this and repeated this numerous times to us. One of the main reasons is because there are numerous rocks and sticks to snag your foot on or gash your soles on. This can be an issue since you not only have to hike out of the Grand Canyon on your last day of rafting but also because there isn’t a hospital down on the river. Your guides have first aid training but rather than making them put their training to use, prevent injuries to your foot by keeping your water shoes on. Chaco’s, Merrells, and Astral’s should all do the job. Just make sure they have a hard sole to them. You do not want the water shoes that are soft like a sock.

Pack as minimally as you can because you’ll have to pack it out!

Though you’re going to want and need certain gear items, do your best to pack as minimally as possible. Why? Because whatever you bring into the Grand Canyon, you’re going to have to hike out. And everything adds up. We started culling our gear about a week before the trip and even the night before we cut a few extra items (i.e. toenail clippers, a phone charging cord, a journal, etc.)

Train for the hike.

In heat, up a hill, carrying a pack. Post-rafting, your next adventure is a hike up the Bright Angel Trail. You will hike roughly 9.5 miles. The hike begins after you get off the raft at Phantom Ranch. From there, you’ll then make your way across the Black Suspension Bridge and then follow the Bright Angel Trail up, up, and up until you reach the rim. The guides advise carrying two water bottles, 1 quart each, with you as there are water stations but they are spread out along the trail. As mentioned before, you’ll need to pack out what you packed in, so with that in mind, you will definitely want to train for this hike. We recommend getting your backpack ahead of time, filling it with the gear you plan on bringing on the trip, and then hiking with it. Try to recreate the conditions you will experience hiking the Bright Angel Trail by hiking uphill and in the heat, with filled-up water bottles (they will add to the weight of your load!) That way, when the day arrives, you’re excited about the adventure rather than filled with dread. Also, your body will be conditioned and you run less of a risk of injuring yourself or succumbing to a heat-related illness.

Packing List of Items You Need to Bring For Rafting in the Grand Canyon

Rain gear 
Sunglasses
Sunglasses strap
Pillow (optional) – we slept on a rolled up puffy coat
Water shoes or sandals
Hiking boots
Hiking socks
Trekking poles
Backpack
Camera (waterproof housing or waterproof phone case)
2 large carabiners
2 water bottles (1 quart per bottle) with lids that can be clipped to a carabiner
Hat (trucker hat or hat with a string that keeps it attached to your head)
Sunscreen
Chapstick
Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, ibuprofen, etc.)
Quick-drying shorts (2 pairs)
Quick-drying shirts (2)
Long-sleeve shirt
Bathing Suit
A puffy coat for cooler nights (you may way to bring additional layers if you are traveling in the shoulder season
Headlamp

Favorite snacks 
Any medications
Cash – don’t forget to tip your guides 10-12%

Gear That is Provided For You

Sleeping Bag
Sheet
Tarp
Coffee mug
Cot
Camp Chair
3 Various Sized Dry Bags 
1 Waterproof Ammo Can
Life Jacket

Things we didn’t bring that you might want to:

A quick-drying towel
Small first aid kit
Fishing gear
Koozies

Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures Recap

Wilderness River Adventures' blue raft runs the rapids in the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon on a sunny day.
Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures is the trip of a lifetime. And if may just make you want to come back the following year.

Rafting on the Grand Canyon was one of THE best adventures we’ve ever been on. Though I’d never been on a several day rafting trip before and I was a little nervous about it, it ended up being one of the coolest experiences of my life. Though the hike out was challenging, it’s doable. And we would do it again in a heartbeat because the time we spent on the river was that amazing. We can’t say enough about how tasty the food was and how awesome the guides were. If you are looking for a unique adventure that’s thrilling, fun, and a little challenging, this is it. 

For more information, please check out Wilderness River Adventure’s website.

Like, share, or save for later and leave a comment below if you’ve been on this trip. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Published by Erin McGrady

Web Design + Photography + Travel Writing

9 thoughts on “Rafting in the Grand Canyon with Wilderness River Adventures

  1. I would add there is an option to do the whole canyon in one trip. If you do the upper half, you’ll want to do the lower. Bite the bullet and do it all in one trip. I’ve been down six times. Once on a 14 day oar trip. Never disappointed.

  2. Erin, agree 1000% with everything you said and some of the special people we met were you and Caroline! Trip of a Lifetime is the only way we can explain it. Now we want to try the Lower Canyon!

    1. It was so great to meet y’all. Your family was a lot of fun to be around and we’re so glad to have shared the experience with you. Maybe we’ll see ya on the Lower Canyon!!!!

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