What time of year to plan a Grand Canyon rafting trip

The best time to raft Grand Canyon combines a balance between weather conditions and personal preference. Travelling down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon is amazing any time of year.  Commercial rafting trips in Grand Canyon are offered from April through October, and within this time frame you will find “mini seasons”. To best ensure your experience closely matches your expectations, you will want to consider weather conditions and evaluate what best fits your preferences when planning your Grand Canyon rafting vacation. 

April and October are considered cooler months for Colorado River trips.  The average highs range between 82-85 degrees Fahrenheit.  The average lows range between 52-55 degrees Fahrenheit.   Traveling in April presents the option to experience some of the spring wild flowers that cover the vast landscape of the Canyon. Traveling in October may also present flora rich in color, after a wet monsoon season.   These months provide the highest chances of seeing California Condors and Bald Eagles in the Canyon.  The Colorado River is typically running clear or green in color April and October, and travelers need to be prepared to come with both cool weather and warm weather gear, as you can experience late spring/early fall storms. If you are interested in spending extra time in Grand Canyon, April and October trips tend to be longer in length for two reasons: 1. Park Service Regulations permit extended travel times, 2. The sun sets earlier each night this time of year resulting in less river miles being traveled each day.

May and September exhibit comparable weather conditions on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon.  You will find that the temperatures start to warm up significantly in Grand Canyon the first two weeks of May, or cool down the first two weeks of September.  The average highs in early May and late September range between 92-95 degree Fahrenheit.  By the last two weeks of May, or the first two weeks of September it is not uncommon for the average highs to break 100 degrees.  The average lows are more consistent, ranging between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.  Many travelers prefer these two months in the Canyon, as the milder temperatures are still warm enough to enjoy the frigid Colorado River (flowing between 48-55 degrees Fahrenheit), but cool enough to hike throughout the day.   Wildlife becomes more prevalent this time of year.  In May, the potholes in side Canyons start to dry up, forcing animals to come to the Colorado River for water.  In September, the Desert Big Horn Sheep are in rut, and lucky travelers get to experience rams jousting for their ewes.

June tends to be very hot in the Canyon.  The average highs range between 103-105 degrees Fahrenheit and the lows range from 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit.  June typically has a lower risk of experiencing any type of storms while in the Canyon.  However, with milder weather patterns comes extreme heat.  The lack of cloud coverage creates the perfect opportunity for the hottest “feels like” temperature in the Canyon.  For this reason, river guides consider June to be the hottest month in the Canyon.  If you are sensitive to heat, it is not recommended to travel this time of year.  With that being said, many travelers love June for the clear or green water and the opportunity to swim and take “wet” hikes to the many beautiful waterfalls in the Grand Canyon.  June is also the start of the high water season in Grand Canyon. The hotter temperatures of the

Southwest create increased hydroelectric needs, therefore allowing the Colorado River Management Plan to release higher water flows in June, July and August. Travelers hoping for big water will want to consider traveling during these months. It is also important to note that big water does not necessarily mean ‘better’ rapids as some tend to have more energy in low water while others in high water.

July and August are monsoon season in the Canyon.  The Colorado River water is being released at the highest water level to accommodate the southwest electricity demands. The average highs break 105 degrees Fahrenheit and the lows range between 75-77 degrees Fahrenheit.  With monsoon season comes cloud coverage and a cooler “feels like” temperature.  On a typical monsoon season day, cloud coverage rolls in mid afternoon and small storm bursts release some moisture into the air generally lasting 15 minutes to an hour.  Every monsoon season there are times when storms blow into Grand Canyon lasting multiple days.  Travelers who experience these storms often say that they are the highlight of their trip; however those who do not like rain, or do not want to experience rain on their trip will want to consider traveling a different time of year.   With the first monsoon storm of the season, as the rain water coats the side canyons, the Colorado River becomes sediment filled, turning to its natural state of a reddish brown color.  Photographers often find this to be their preferred travel time, as the dramatic colors and cloud coverage create dynamic photos.

It should be noted that regardless of the month, temperatures will most likely be cooler the further east or closer to river mile 0, at the start of the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, and slowly increase in temperature as one travels downriver towards the west. 

When checking real time temperatures, please note that there could be a 20 degree or more fluctuation between temperatures at the top of the rim and at the river. For accurate weather conditions at Grand Canyon Village (South Rim) where many of the partial canyon trips begin with a hike in via the Bright Angel Trail, visit the National Weather Service. For accurate weather conditions at the bottom of the canyon, visit Phantom Ranch weather  which is located at river mile 88. If interested in rafting November through March, private permits are available through Grand Canyon National Park Service via a weighted lottery system.  However, permits are very limited and difficult to obtain, with most people waiting between 1 to 5 years to secure a date. The more common method to raft Grand Canyon is to go on a fully supported, guided tour with one of the sixteen outfitters.