Many top publications have often cited a Grand Canyon kayaking or rafting trip as the number one adventure vacation in America. There is a good reason why this amazing place always made it to the top of these lists. The Grand Canyon features sandy beaches, hidden slot canyons, and white water rapids. You can also enjoy tasty meals, meet great people, and learn many things about your surroundings and maybe even yourself!
Anyone who has already done a trip there knows why this is usually described as a life changing experience or the trip of a lifetime. You live isolated for two weeks in a place where there is no computer to download apps or check email, and no cell reception. You discover that you can actually be happy with less while living out of a small bag. For a kayaker, there is always something timeless, magical, and intense about the Canyon. It’s the epic dream of every kayaker: kayaking Grand Canyon!
The beauty of the river therein lies in its exceptional vastness. You are literally traveling through an open air geological museum marked by rocks that are almost two billion years old. You feel small compared to the majestic canyon towering a mile over your head. A kayaking trip through the Grand Canyon can be an opportunity for unlimited introspection and tremendous growth. You’ll certainly feel inner peace and sheer joy, inspired by the beauty of wild nature.
How To Kayak The Grand Canyon
As a kayaker, there are two ways to have a Grand Canyon trip: private or commercial. Each of them has its own value. If you want to do a private trip, a permit from the National Park Service is required. You may get it through a lottery, but this might take several years. The length of the trip can be up to 21 days, but it is limited by what season you start your journey.
Another way is to do a commercial trip. The 16 permitted outfitters use either motor rigs or oar boats. This can cost you from two to three times more than a private trip, but it can a lot easier. The size of the commercial groups is also limited. As a kayaker, it is likely that you would prefer the oar trips of the two types of commercial trips, because they are more kin to a kayak.
A kayaking trip through the Grand Canyon is either 225 or 280 miles long, depending on where you take the river. The Canyon has been described as a hard Class 4 to an easy Class 3, but in fact, it can be both.
On many of the harder rapids, you can also find some fairly easy portage of a sneak route. In reality, the hardest rapids in the Grand Canyon (Lava, Crystal, Hermit, etc.) are in the Class 3 range. They are easy to approach, as long as you are set correctly. However, if you are thinking of soloing, a Class 4 experience might be a must.
Instead of the usual Class 1-6 scale, the Canyon is rated on a Class 1-10 scale. That makes it difficult to translate to your known system. However, for a kayaker, most of the river is not hard in the Canyon.
Also, not all of the river trips through the Grand Canyon start and finish in the same places. Here are some sections:
#1. Glen Canyon Dam
You can begin at Glen Canyon Dam for a smooth water day trip. You will reach the shore of the river through an access tunnel. The trip ends at Lee’s Ferry, 15 miles downstream. This a simple float, good for beginners and it doesn’t expose you to any whitewater rapids.
#2. Lee’s Ferry
Lee’s Ferry is considered to be “Mile Zero”, and is the Canyon’s beginning. For this reason, most river kayaking trips start here. There’s a campground and boat launch in the area.
#3. Phantom Ranch
You can reach Phantom Ranch (at river mile 89) from Lee’s Ferry after a journey through the Grand Canyon, lasting several days. This section between Phantom Ranch and Lee’s Ferry is known as the “Upper” Canyon.
#4. Whitmore Wash
The next portal from Phantom Ranch is the Whitmore Wash Helpad (at river mile 187), after a dramatic ride through the most difficult rapids.
#5. Diamond Creek
At river mile 226, Diamond Creek is the next access point. This place is a popular choice to finish a kayaking trip and exit the Canyon.
Preparation Trips For Kayaking the Grand Canyon
What is needed to start a kayak trip? Here are some basic preparations before you start your adventure through the Grand Canyon:
- Permit – The first step is obviously to get a permit, with the winter permit being the easiest to acquire. Then you can also enjoy a true canyon experience, avoiding the blazing hot summer temperatures and crowds of boaters. However, the weather can be cold there during the winter, so this is only recommended for experienced kayakers who can take the cold. The price for a standard group permit is $400 (up to 16 people). For a smaller group up to 8 people, the price is $200. You have to pay this money up front, regardless of whether you plan to go solo. In fact, to go down the Canyon costs $100 in permit fees per person. You will be refunded the difference if you go solo on what was originally a $400 standard size permit.
- Skill Preparation – Since the most difficult rapids in the Grand Canyon are mostly in the Class 3 range, you can figure them out quite easily, even if you never did them before. However, it is recommended that you be very confident of your skills, because things can easily go wrong.
- Car Logistics – The shuttle will be among the most expensive of the trip factors. However, you can’t avoid it since you shouldn’t leave your car unattended in a parking lot for 3 weeks.
- Food – The menus are a matter of personal taste. During a winter trip, it might be a good idea to add some protein powder, Snickers, nuts and a lot of oil for extra energy. Choose foods based on their size, not weight, since you are self-supporting in a kayak.
- Groover – This is a portable toilet. Whatever way you build it, ensure to allot around 40 cubic inches per person per day.
- Boat – It’s pretty cheap to rent boats from the Flagstaff area outfitters if you don’t have your own.