12-18 Day Grand Canyon Rafting Trips
The Grand Canyon National Park is the second most popular national park in the United States. As a result, it should come as no surprise that visiting the Grand Canyon and rafting the Colorado River are two experiences that are often at the top of people’s minds when planning a lifelong bucket list.
A 12-18 day rafting expedition is arguably the best way to explore the length and breadth of the Grand Canyon. In comparison to shorter 3-5 day or 6-9 day tours, a 12-18 day trip offers more than enough time to experience everything the Grand Canyon has to offer, from its thrilling whitewater rapids and stunning river vistas to the ancient canyon geology and fascinating Native American cultural sites.
12-18 Day Rafting Trip Routes
There are three different routes available for a 12-18 day Colorado River trip, with each trip beginning at Lees Ferry near the magnificent Marble Canyon. The Marble Canyon region is a great place to start, with the towering vermillion walls clearly showcasing the natural beauty and geological history of the Grand Canyon. From Lees Ferry, you’ll be traveling the entire length of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. When you’re not powering through whitewater rapids, you’ll be disembarking to explore remarkable systems of side canyons.
After passing from the Upper Canyon to the Lower Canyon, you’ll stop below the South Rim, where passengers may depart or join your tour group via a hike along the Bright Angel Trail. After 12-18 days have passed and you’re nearing the end of your tour, your trip will terminate at one of three pre-established take-out locations along the Colorado River. Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of your trip route and post-take-out transportation options.
Lees Ferry to Whitmore Wash (River Mile 188)
The Lees Ferry to Whitmore Wash route offers passengers an exciting opportunity to end their Grand Canyon river rafting adventure with a bang. Once passengers conclude their trip at Whitmore Wash, they will leave their raft behind before taking a short helicopter ride out of the Lower Canyon and to Bar 10 Ranch. There is no better way to take in the majesty of the Grand Canyon AZ than with the panoramic views of a helicopter ride. Depending on your helicopter ride operator, you may even have the chance to fly deep into the Grand Canyon, dipping down some 4,000 feet below the Grand Canyon Rim to land in one of several idyllic, ultra-isolated fly-in locations. Once at Bar 10 Ranch, you can take a small charter plane back to Marble Canyon. Alternatively, a charter plane can be arranged to return you to Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport for further travel or for your flight home.
Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek Road (River Mile 225)
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Starting at Lees Ferry, this route extends your journey from Whitmore Wash by another 37 river miles, concluding your trip at Diamond Creek Road. From Diamond Creek Road, air-conditioned ground transport will ferry you back to one of two locations. Firstly, you can take transportation back to Flagstaff AZ airport for flights further on to Pheonix, Denver, or Dallas. Alternatively, you can choose to board an air-conditioned coach to be transferred back to Las Vegas. Once you arrive in Las Vegas, you’ll have an opportunity to farewell your raft mates before being dropped off at either your Las Vegas accommodation or at McCarran International Airport.
Lees Ferry to Lake Mead (River Mile 280)
The Lake Mead take-out point offers a unique opportunity to see the entirety of the Grand Canyon. Not only does this mean that you’ll see more sites and explore more side canyons, it means you’ll be able to take advantage of some of the Colorado River’s best rapids at the mouth of Lake Mead. If that wasn’t enough, the Lake Mead take-out point also offers another exciting addition to your trip. Once you reach river mile 240, you’ll leave your raft behind and take a speeding jet boat across the lake, finishing up your experience at river mile 280. From here, air-conditioned trip transportation can either take you back to Lees Ferry and the Marble Canyon area, or it can transport you further on to Las Vegas.
Raft Options for 12-18 Day Grand Canyon Trips
Because of the relatively quick cruising speed of Grand Canyon motor rafts, canyon outfitters are not able to logistically support 12-18 day motorized rafting trips. Fortunately, there are many different options when it comes to selecting a non-motorized raft for your Grand Canyon rafting experience. Read on for a more comprehensive breakdown of how different trip transportation options and raft styles can influence your tour.
Oar rafts are the second most popular raft option for full Grand Canyon rafting trips. In most cases, oar raft trips generally consist of a group of between 18 and 24 people, with approximately 5 people per raft. Your river guides will be seated at the center of the raft with two long oars; these will be used by your river guide to power and steer the oar raft for the duration of your trip. Passengers are never expected to paddle on an oar raft. However, in calmer waters, your river guide may allow you to try your hand at paddling. Please note, this privilege is at the discretion of your outfitter and is not guaranteed.
An oar raft usually travels at the same pace as the current of the Colorado River, averaging at 3-4 mph. Despite traveling at half the pace of a motorized raft, it’s important to remember that a slower boat means you’ll become better acquainted with the ebb and flow of the river. You’ll also have more time and opportunities to bond with your raft mates and soak up relevant information from your river guide.
Out of our 15 river outfitters, 12 offer 12-18 day Grand Canyon trips. Please note, depending on your outfitter, multi-day canyon rafting trips will have a minimum age requirement of between 10 and 12 years.
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Paddle rafts offer passengers the ultimate whitewater experience. With only 6 to 8 passengers per boat, each individual is expected to pull their weight and paddle the raft all day, every day. Like an oar-powered boat, a paddle raft travels at roughly the same pace as the Colorado River, covering around 3-4 mph. As with oar raft tours, this experience offers passengers a more intimate rafting experience, providing you with plenty of opportunities to get to know your river guides and learn more about canyon geography and the region’s diverse collection of flora and fauna.
Unfortunately, paddle rafting is in short supply from our outfitters, with only 4 of our 15 outfitters offering 12-18 day paddle rafting trips. Paddling and steering a raft for up to 18 days can be extremely tiresome and taxing on the body. If you’re thinking of undertaking a Grand Canyon paddle rafting trip, we recommend that you only consider this option if you have previous paddle rafting experience under your belt. The minimum age requirement for paddle rafting trips will vary depending on the outfitter. However, in most cases, children under the age of 12 are not permitted on paddle rafting trips.
Unlike other Grand Canyon rafts, dory rafts use a wooden or rigid carbon fiber construction rather than an inflatable rubber construction. This allows for much greater agility and gives passengers the ability to ‘feel’ more of the river when traversing whitewater rapids. More often than not, dory rafts will accompany oar rafts on a longer multi-day Grand Canyon river trip. This not only allows guests to experience two different raft types, but it also fosters a friendly atmosphere between you and your raft mates. These trips usually consist of a flotilla of around 5 boats, with passengers rotating between the oar rafts and the dory boat on a day-to-day basis. As with oar rafts, guests may be given an opportunity to try their hand at paddling a dory raft. However, this is at the discretion of your river guide (who will be doing the vast majority of the paddling).
As you might expect, dory raft outfitters have a minimum age requirement of 10 to 12 years of age. For specific age restrictions, speak directly with your outfitter.
A hybrid rafting trip consists of a mixture of 5-6 oar boats and 1 paddle raft. Over the course of your rafting adventure, you and your raft mates will rotate between the oar boats and the paddle raft, thereby giving every passenger the chance to try their hand at paddling through the Colorado River. Hybrid trips are a perfect one-size-fits-all option, ideal for both inexperienced rafters who want to begin paddle rafting more seriously as well as people who simply want to give paddle rafting a go without stressing about the physical exertion of paddling every day.
Hybrid rafting trips are not widely available amongst our outfitters, with only 4 out of the 15 offering hybrid trips. Children under the age of 12 are not permitted on hybrid trips.
What’s Included On a Grand Canyon Rafting Trip?
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You can rest assured knowing that your river outfitter will provide almost everything you’ll need for your trip. Broadly speaking, the equipment provided for rafting trips is generally the same amongst outfitters. However, there may be some variation depending on your trip length and river vessel selection. After you confirm your trip with your outfitter, you’ll receive a more specific list of items that will be included, as well as more information on what you’ll need to pack yourself. In the meantime, read on for a more detailed introduction to trip inclusions for Grand Canyon river tours.
Food and Drinks
During 12-18 day canyon rafting trips, your rafting outfitter guides will be responsible for the storage, preparation, and distribution of all meals, snacks, and drinks, whether you’re socializing at camp or relaxing on the Colorado River. Fortunately, your tour operators are not only ultra-competent canyon rafting guides, but they’re also highly skilled when it comes to cooking for a large group. When it comes to food and drinks, your outfitter will take care of the following:
- All meals (your outfitter will do everything they can to accommodate for dietary requirements).
- An assorted range of snacks, including candy, chips, and trail mix.
- Unlimited water and a plentiful supply of non-alcoholic beverages, including sports drink, soda, juice, tea, and coffee.
Rafting Equipment and Dry Bags
In addition to equipping you with all relevant paddling and river safety paraphernalia, most outfitters also provide at least 3 different-sized dry bags to keep your personal belongings safe and dry throughout your trip. Each dry bag set uses an assigned number system to ensure quick and private identification. Specifically, your outfitter will provide the following safety equipment and dry bags:
- A fitted life vest.
- 1 large dry bag for personal belongings, such as dry clothing and personal hygiene products. This dry bag will only be accessible when you are at camp.
- 1 large dry bag for your outfitter provided camping equipment. This dry bag will only be accessible when you are at camp.
- 1 small dry bag for your essential belongings. This bag will be accessible to you at every stage of your trip, including while you’re out on the Colorado River.
Most necessary bedding and sleeping items will be supplied by your outfitter. The main benefit of this inclusion is that it saves you the hassle of packing and carrying around several pounds of bedding for the duration of your trip. Before departing for Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, be sure to check with your outfitter whether a pillow is included as not all outfitters will provide one. In short, your outfitter sleep kit will include the following items:
- Sleeping bag.
- Sleeping sheet.
- Cot or rubber mattress pad.
You won’t have to forego any of your usual camping comforts on Grand Canyon rafting trips. This is because your river guides bring all the camping equipment required for a comfortable camping experience, including but not limited to:
- Cooking facility and kitchen equipment.
- Plates and cutlery.
- Private Groover toilet system and hand wash station.
What Should You Be Packing?
Your packing requirements for a whitewater river trip will be heavily dictated by your season of travel and the weather forecast for your trip. To give your packing list a headstart, we’ve listed some general recommendations for what you should bring along with you on multi-day Grand Canyon rafting trips.
- Sun protection: To ensure that you have adequate sun protection while on the rive, you’ll need to bring a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, a pair of lightweight trousers, and a tube of sunscreen with at least a 30+ SPF rating.
- Weather appropriate clothing: Be sure to pack appropriately for your season of travel. In most cases, it’s a good idea to bring a range of cool clothing options for daytime use and a couple of pairs of warm clothing for cooler nights. In our experience, forgetting to pack at least one set of warm clothes can quickly spoil your Grand Canyon trip.
- Tech: Be mindful that bringing cameras or any other handheld tech with you will expose these devices to an outsized chance of water damage. Remember, while you’re in the Grand Canyon, you will not have access to any cell reception. Given these conditions, it’s worth considering the pros of leaving your phone behind.
- Reading materials: If you enjoy relaxing over a good book, it’s a good idea to pack one or two pieces of reading material for your Grand Canyon trip. There will be plenty of opportunities to sit back, relax, and read during afternoon and evening downtime. Please note, tablet-style e-Readers face the same risk of damage as other electronic devices — bring along these devices at your own risk.
- Alcoholic beverages: Adult passengers over the age of 21 are permitted to bring a modest amount of alcohol on their trip. These beverages can only be consumed in the evening while at camp. Under no circumstances will the consumption of alcohol be permitted while passengers are on the river. Finally, before purchasing alcoholic beverages for your trip, be sure to check if there are any additional alcohol restrictions with your outfitter.