This is a review and description of the one-day whitewater trip and the region it goes through in the Grand Canyon. I recently had the opportunity to go on the trip and I sould like to preface my review with the statement, that if anyone has ever wanted to raft through the Grand Canyon; they should make every attempt to go on the longest possible trip. A trip through the Canyon is an incredible experience, and the one-day is a tiny fraction of the full Grand Canyon rafting experience, it is a shame when people do not have the time or money to do a longer trip. However, many peoples only option is a one-day trip or they are not keen on camping and this trip in the far Western section of the GCNP, gives them a taste of what it is like to raft the entire Grand Canyon. Here is a link to a video of the trip http://vimeo.com/4817767
This section has the multi-tiered dramatic cliff escarpments much like upstream at the South Rim Visitor area and is clearly Grand Canyon scenery, however, the canyon rim here is lower than the area to the East (3000ft to the river vs 5000ft to the river) and slightly less colorful. The only part, in this section of the river and canyon, not in the GCNP, is South side of the river above the high water line. That area is part of Hualapai Tribal Land.
The 35-mile section of the Canyon, which the one-day trip traverses through, is in the last quarter of the GCNP. It has about nine frisky, fun rapids in the first 10 miles and then the rest of the trip is smooth water. This trip starts and ends in the town of Peach Springs Arizona (165 miles SE of Vegas and 136 miles SW of South Rim Grand Canyon) on old Route 66. From the lodge in town, where you meet at 7:30am, you take a school bus down the Diamond Creek Road to the Colorado River and the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This 21-mile road takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get down and is the only road that goes to the bottom of the GC. On the trip I did, the road was in excellent shape, as was it during all of April and May, on the other occasions I drove on the road. The road conditions can vary, especially in the last mile when you often cross Diamond Creek or actually driving in the creek! Diamond Creek can have flash floods that sometimes severely disturb the road. These floods are not common, but if they do occur, it is usually between July-Sept and in the afternoon. The tribe that owns the road makes every attempt to get the road passable as soon as possible, because many river trips use this road to either exit the river or start a trip. In the last 8 or 9 years, the road has rarely washed out for more than one day. The drive in is scenic, as you are actually driving down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and IMO much more scenic going in than out, as you do have some beautiful vistas that spread out before you. In the spring, the plant life can be quite vibrant and you start your trip in high elevation desert and quickly descend into low elevation desert with very different plant life.
Our trip launched about 930am, we immediately hit rapids, as the Diamond Creek rapid is right there. All the rapids even the small ones were very wet, much wetter than I expected. The biggest rapid is Mile 232 (sometimes called the Fang) and the river guidebooks give this a rating of 6-7 on the 1-10 scale of the Grand Canyon. Many people underestimate the rapid thinking that all the big rapids are upstream of this section and they sometimes get in trouble here. We saw a privately run trip that had just done over 2 weeks (and 232 mile) upstream and then got to this rapid and flipped their small 15-foot raft here. Sometimes oarsman/guides, who are inexperienced or complacent, do have flips or rips here and occasionally become stuck on the fangs at the bottom of this rapid. Fortunately, the guides, who run the one-day trip, do this section all the time and are good at negotiating this rapid.
The rafts used are 22-foot long catamaran style motorized rafts. It would be not realistic to do the 35-mile stretch in one day paddling or rowing a raft. They have a steel frame in between two rubber tubes; clients sit facing inward on a frame on top of the pontoons. They take up to 8 passengers on a raft and 1-2 guides. The raft is roomy and it is easy to change positions and move about. These are relatively large rafts and not likely to tip over in this section. The ride is much like a small roller coaster ride and is quite rough at the front of the raft, but if sitting at the rear it feels much more secure and less rough. We had young children on the trip and there is no upper age limit. They will take children as young as eight and Elderhostel (tours for the more mature crowd) groups have done this trip. If one can walk and has a sense of adventure, they can do this trip, it does not take any athletic ability or skill and the hardest part rafting is getting in and out of the raft. Our trip was quite cool and we had a fair bit of cloud cover. A good rain jacket and pants is necessary in these conditions and at any time of year one should have at least a cheapo rain jacket. There were some people who did not have rain jackets and were pretty much frozen after a couple of rapids. Fortunately, they could warm up on shore at the hike and at lunch.
We did a very short hike/climb five miles into the trip, to the beautiful and grotto-like Travertine Canyon. To get to the end of this hike required a decent pair of river sandals or tennis shoes to be safe. It does require some balance, arm strength and no fear of heights to get to the waterfall and the grotto at the end. There are rope ladders placed at strategic spots and the guides use a rope, give directions at a couple of places and spot passengers for additional safety. After the hike, there are a few more rapids then a stop another side canyon for lunch. A box lunch is provided
We also stopped at a historical plaque at Separation Canyon marking the place where 3 of Powell’s men hiked out, never to be seen again. We also stopped at another canyon where there were porta-potties behind the shrubbery. Some of us walked downstream a ways here and our raft picked us up. Apparently, on hotter trips they usually make a stop for folks to swim or frolic in the approximately 56F-62F degree water.
The Hualapai Indian Tribe has operated this trip for over 20 years. Our native guide was a quiet sort, but polite and informative. He had just finished an educational guides training trip run by the GCNP and other river outfitters, on the upstream portion of the canyon and was enthusiastic about what he learned and eager to share his knowledge. The guides were a soft-spoken bunch, but were pleasant enough and watched the clients carefully on the hike and were there assisting. They all had competent runs through the rapids and they were all glad to have employment as raft guides.
We got to the helipad at about 2:30pm and the 26 of us were shuttled out by 2 helicopters to the rim. It was a fantastic 6-minute ride, with amazing views of the Canyon. This whole process took about one-hour. We had to wait about 30 minutes by the river and 20 minutes at the airport at the top. Our bus ride was 2 hours back to Peach Springs in the school bus. The dirt portion of the road was in great shape and very smooth, apparently it can be quite wash boarded (there are plans to pave it this winter). The paved portion was on Old route 66 again. We drove through Joshua tree forests and open grasslands that beautifully demonstrate the reason why the West is renowned for its vast open spaces. We back at the lodge, where we started, before 6pm. The lodge was surprisingly nice and the restaurant food ample and good.
I am attempting to be as unbiased as possible on this review and will firstly say that I have been a guide on mostly 2 week-long oar powered raft trips in the Grand Canyon for over 2 decades. I had the opportunity to do this trip, because a friend wanted to go on the trip, who did not want to go alone, invited me along. This trip cost was $354/person total.
Here are the pros to this trip;
1) It is very fun, exciting and wet in the rapids and the guides definitely make the most of it, however, there are much bigger rapids upstream on the longer multi-day stretches.
2) If you only have one day, it is the only way to raft a portion of the Grand Canyon.
3) It includes a short scenic helicopter ride.
4) The scenery is awesome both on the river and on the drive. Although, I think the scenery is even more grand upstream of this trip.
5) You do not have to drive your own car on the dirt road sections to and from the river.
6) You can reschedule your date to raft without penalty
Here are the cons to this trip
1) It is not a multi-day trip, IMO the best way to raft the canyon!
2) It is 4 or more hours of travel or waiting around time, for 4-5-hours on the river.
3) You do use a non-air-conditioned school bus to travel to and from trip, if a hot day, it could be miserable on the return (the way down to river would always be pleasant in the morning). Frankly, it is amazing that one can raft this section of the canyon in one-day at all, as it is such a vast area and remote location.
4) The lunch is just adequate and not anything exciting; it consisted of a sub-sandwich a choice of chips and fruit. There were plenty of extra chips, soda pop and water available. Multi-day trips upstream serve elaborate, delicious meals.
5) For safety considerations, if weather conditions were severe enough, the helicopter ride out could be canceled. It is a 2-hour raft ride to the next take out point on Lake Mead. Not all bad, as it is scenic and there are 2 new and very challenging rapids just before the take-out. For people, afraid of flying, not taking the helicopter ride could be a plus.
6) If you book with the Hualapai River Runners and cancel your trip (anytime after booking) you lose your full fare, however, if you book your trip with Rivers and Oceans Inc, you only lose full fare if you cancel 5 days or less before your trip date.
How to be adequately prepared for this trip;
1. Always bring a rain jacket, even if 100+ degrees outside. In the spring and fall bring rain pants as well and some warm synthetic outdoor clothing. The water is always about 55-60 degrees-COLD.
2. Bring some extra snacks and a water bottle in case the bus broke down in the remote area on the way back or you could not take the helicopter ride out, you could get back as late as nine pm.
3. Wear sturdy river type sandals (Keens, Chacos, Teva, Nike or some knock-off of these), or old tennis shoes, not fancy-smancy leather soled flip-flops with flowers on them. (I saw this)
4. Bring a hat, and long sleeved cotton shirt to protect from sun and to keep you cool, by wetting it down if it is extremely hot.
5. Bring some cash, to tip your guide (and maybe the helicopter pilot, bus driver) they appreciate it.
6. If bringing a camera, bring a waterproof one or a waterproof bag for it. If you don’t do this you will only be able to use your camera after lunch and at short hike to the waterfalls, as the waterproof bag your extra stuff is stored in is not readily available except at stops.
7. Bring a positive attitude and realize this is a very remote and challenging location to be running a rafting trip; it is astonishing that there is a trip available like this at all.