Colorado, Arizona, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-IV (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||9 fpm|
|Max Gradient||35 fpm|
|COLORADO RVR ABV DIAMOND CREEK NR PEACH SPRINGS AZ|
|usgs-09404200||4000 - 48000 cfs||III-IV||02h01m||11500 cfs (running)|
|COLORADO RIVER NEAR GRAND CANYON, AZ|
|usgs-09402500||4000 - 48000 cfs||III-IV||01h16m||11800 cfs (running)|
|COLORADO RIVER AT LEES FERRY, AZ|
|usgs-09380000||4000 - 48000 cfs||III-IV||01h31m||7760 cfs (running)|
The Grand Canyon is one of the seven Wonders of the World. Magnificent views of the geological record are on prominent display throughout a journey through this canyon. Every day that passes reveals new eras of time and new aspects of creation.
The long history and multitude of stories about the Grand Canyon have built the whitewater up to
heroic proportions in the public mind. However, river running knowledge, skill, and equipment
have improved tremendously in the century that boaters have been running this section.
By todays standards the Grand Canyon is a very reasonable adventure. The gradient tells the tale; most of Grand Canyon is flat water. The infamous 1 to 10 rating system does not mean that these rapids are harder than class 6. The hardest rapids on the run were simply given a 10 rating and everything else was rated respectively lower. A Grand Canyon 10 corresponds approximately to a class IV rating on the international scale. The 1 to 10 rating was system developed for heavily loaded large rafts, and a 10 on this scale might not require a single stroke from a kayaker (though perhaps a lot of bracing and rolling if one wanted to try that!). Modern experienced river runners can apply their usual river-running judgment.
The skills required for a kayaker to negotiate Grand Canyon include:
1. A bomber roll. The water is cold and the river is so wide that swimming to shore is often difficult.
2. The ability to turn sideways to a big wave train and paddle out of it.
3. The ability to keep your balance and your cool in sustained funny water (whirlpools and boils occur at the bottom of many rapids and along eddy lines).
4. The ability to scout and choose a big-water line.
The skills required for an oarboatman in the Grand Canyon are in some ways much more difficult. Rafts are typically fully laden and very heavy. It takes a good understanding of the rapids, early decision making and a lot of hard work to get a raft to the right place in a rapid. The risk to a a baggage boat is much greater than for other river runners. A swimmer can flush through the biggest rapids. A kayaker can get flipped and easily roll back up. But if a baggage boat flips, it will take a long time to get it to shore and a lot of manpower to got it flipped back over, upright. A flip can cost hours of effort and important supplies can be lost or ruined.
Boatmen need the:
1. Ability to hang on to the oars in heavy water, the ability to manuver with only one oar if needed and the ability to quickly replace an oar.
2. Ability to maintain or recover a ferry angle in heavy water.
3. Ability to catch eddies at the bottom of rapids and the ability to break out across big eddy lines.
4. Ability to keep rowing when you miss a line, straighten out and push when facing a big hole, and get back in the seat when knocked off.
5. Ability to rig very well and maintain your anchor lines through changing night time water elevations.
Putting together an expedition that meets Park requirements and keeps a group of river runners well fed and happy for 18 or more days is a challenging task.
The primary launch point is Lee's Ferry, which is measured as mile zero on most maps.
Trip participants can arrange to hike in or out at a variety of trails in the mid-section of the run. The most common location to swap participants is Phantom Ranch (mile 89). The allows people to do the upper or lower half of the run even if they do not have the time to do the full trip. Park service fees are about the same whether you do a full or half trip and these arrangements must be planned out before the trip.
The majority of private trips in Grand Canyon travel 226 miles to Diamond Creek, Arizona for their takeout. Diamond Creek is an intermittent stream that doubles as a roughshod road. Other takeouts include Pearce Ferry on Lake Mead (mile 279) which has been rehabilitated and re-opened after being closed due to low lake levels. The next access is South Cove, which is 17 miles farther on the lake.
Diamond Creek access information:
The Hualapai Tribe charges a fee for each person, vehicle and driver that goes to or from Diamond Creek. In 2017, that fee is $65. You can arrange for a shuttle service to pick you up or you can make arrangments with the tribe for shuttle between the river and Peach Springs. The $65 is in addition to any shuttle fee.
Hualapai River Runners
P.O. Box 246
Peach Springs, AZ 86434
(928) 769-2210 / (800) 622-4409
Boaters may also launch at Diamond Creek and travel 54 miles to Pearce Ferry Boat Ramp. The permit for doing this section is much easier to obtain than for launching at Lee's Ferry. Diamond-Down River Trip Application Grand Canyon NP: Diamond down information
Grand Canyon Weather links:
Weather Forecast for Grand Canyon Park
Page, AZ, is just upstream of the put in.
Zone Area Forecast for Marble and Glen Canyons, AZ NOAA
Zone Area Forecast for Grand Canyon Country, AZ NOAA
Phantom Ranch is about half way through.
South Cove, Lake Mead
Other information Sources:
Grand Canyon National Park: river running information
Grand Canyon River - Audio/ Video Podcast Channel
The Grand Canyon is perennially represented among American Whitewater's Top 40 River Issues. Check out AW's articles on the fee demo program and the wilderness and access lawsuit.
Grand Canyon Private Boaters' Organization. They do excellent work for private boaters and have a very informative online discussion forum.
River Runners for Wilderness wiki
Grand Canyon River Guide's Association
Slideshow of rapids
Colorado River NASQAN program
Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center
Time Lapse Videos of beach erosion
Durango Bill's 3D tour
There are many videos on you-tube and at similar video websites. Search for grand canyon, rafting, kayaking, whitewater and similar, or by rapid names.
Interesting Water facts:
Lee's Ferry is the dividing point between the Upper and Lower Colorado Rivers for water rights politics.
Water for the South Rim Village flows through a pipe from near the north rim, down right Angel Canyon, across a bridge and then back up to the south rim. It is all gravity fed. Pumpkin Springs is arsenic.
Reaches of the Colorado River:
01. Hot Sulphur Springs to Hwy 40 bridge (Byers Canyon) (CO, IV)
02. Gore Canyon (CO, IV-V)
03. Pumphouse campground to Rancho Del Rio (Pumphouse) (CO, III)
04. Hanging Lake Exit 125 (I-70) to Shoshone Power Plant Exit 123 (I-70) (Barrel Springs) (CO, IV-V [V+])
05. Shoshone Power Plant, Exit 123 (I-70) to Grizzly Creek, Exit 121 (I-70) (Shoshone) (CO, III-IV)
06. Cameo Dam (Big Sur / Lucky 7) (CO, III)
07. Loma to Westwater (Ruby / Horsethief Canyons) (CO-UT, II)
08. Westwater to Rose Ranch (Westwater Canyon) (UT, I-IV)
09. Cisco (Rose Ranch) to Moab (Professor Valley) (UT, I-III)
10. Moab to Powell Reservoir (Cataract Canyon) (UT, I-IV)
11. Lees Ferry to Lake Mead (Grand Canyon) (AZ, I-IV)
12. Black Canyon (AZ-NV, I)
Permits for the Grand Canyon are required and available through a weighted lottery system in February (additional dates may be distributed throughout the year).
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|11.2||Soap Creek Rapid||III|
|21.0||21 Mile Rapid||III|
|23.0||23 Mile Rapid||III|
|24.0||24 Mile Rapid||III|
|24.5||24 1/2 Mile Rapid||III+|
|25.0||25 Mile Rapid||III|
|29.0||29 Mile Rapid||III|
|43.0||President Harding Rapid||II+|
|61.5||Mouth of the Little Colorado||N/A|
|65.4||Lava Canyon (Chuar) Rapid||III|
|87.8||Bright Angel Canyon and Trail||N/A|
|133.8||Tapeats Creek and Rapid||II+|
|220.7||Granite Springs Rapid||III+|
|225.5||Diamond Creek takeout||N/A|
|280.0||Pearce Ferry Takeout||N/A|
|290.0||Iceberg Canyon Rapid||II|
|296.0||South Cove Take out||N/A|
A large parking area and unloading area is available next to an expansive boat launch area. Commericial groups generally rig on the left side of the ramp while the general public uses teh left side. Toilets, potable water, and a campsite for river runners are all available here. A covered picnic area is available for lunch, but not for any cooking.
An old and a new bridge cross here about 500 feet above the river. The old bridge is now a pedestrian walkway and viewing area. On the north side of the bridge is a parking area, bathrooms and a small visitor center. The view from the bridge is tremendous. The view from below looking up at the bridge is pretty neat also. Keep your eyes open for California Condors.
Badger is the first real rapid with Grand Canyon waves. It is more difficult at lower flows when there are some rocks and holes to avoid.
Soap Creek enters on the right just below the beginning of the rapid. This is a typical rapid with large rocks and holes on either side at the top, but a wide tongue down the middle into standing waves. Decent camping is available above the rapid on river right.
This rapid is named for House Rock Wash. The rapid curves gradually to the right, so the current carries boats towards the left into a number of very big breaking waves. Lurking in the waves at the bottom of the rapid is a boat flipping hole. Avoiding this hole is the first big test.
It is easy for kayakers to go to the right of the hole, or to go through it and roll back up afterwards. Loaded rafts have to pull hard to stay right. If there is enough water, smaller rafts can sneak far right at the top and maneuver their way through shallow rocks.
Start of the "Roaring Twenties", a series of fun and relatively closely spaced rapids.
This rapid is new and formed in 1989.
A BIG hole scout left.
On the left is a giant natural ampitheater carved out of the limestone. It is an easy and very popular stop. It is dark and cool in the back. Sounds carry loudly through the cavern.
A big rock occupies the center of the river. Clean tongues are on either side. At some flows kaaykers can find decent surfing. At high flows, the rock creates a monster hole, but you have plenty of room to avoid it to the left. A campsite is availble on river left.
The Little Colorado enters from the left. During the dry season it will be flowing milky blue and with a few hundred cfs coming from limestone springs just a few miles upstream. During rainy times this river will be muddy with flows from its vast drainage.
A long boulder strewn rapid.
This is the first real ass kicker with big holes. It is one of the longest rapids on the river and the rapid most cluttered with boulders and holes. Boaters must make multiple manuvers throughout the rapid. People typically scout from river left, but you can also scout on river right to better inspect the hero route through the biggest holes on the right. This also gives you a higher vantage point to view the rapid.
Most boaters enter the rapid center right then work left to avoid the biggest holes.
Don't get too far off the big V waves and find yourself smacked around.
A long set of big wave trains.
Only relevant at low flows.
The trails provide access to the rim and Phantom Ranch where a post office and eatery are a popular stop for river runners. Three different trails meet the river here. One to the north rim and two up to the south rim. You can hike a fun loop over the Bright Angel bridge and back over the Kaibab bridge.
Possibly the most difficult and intimidating rapid at lower flows. Dark walls rise raggedly on both sides. A big clean tongue enters the rapid on the right and flows into big breaking waves and finally into a monster wave hole.
One strategy is to enter on the tongue, then get left of the bottom hole. Another route is to enter between two horns at the top left of the rapid, punch some big waves then easily stay left of the bottom hole.
The waves through out the rapid are powerful.
Granite is a long rapid with big waves. The tongue funnels towards the right against the wall, and the waves tend to be largest on that side. It is an easier ride to the left of center.
The biggest free standing waves up to this point on the river.
Crystal became the big one in 1966, after a big flash flood in Crystal Creek dumped big boulders in the river and constricted the main channel to the left. Crystal Hole dominated the center of the river and large diagonal waves surfed rafts towards it.
Over time high flows in the main river have gradually reduced the power of the central hole and made it easier to miss the hole. It still remains a serious rapid. Scout from river right.
More of the "gemstone series"
There is a wonderful short hike up to a pretty swimming hole. It does involve some scrambling. Adventurous climbers can continue scrambling past the main swimming hole and eventually come out above.
Fossil Rapid is a read and run rapid at the start of the Middle Granite Gorge.
The main current runs down the left side of the channel then piles up against a large bedrock midstream island. Half of the current turns sharply to the right of the island and that is the safe route. The other half of the current pushes to the left of the island, then turns sharply right on the downstream side. The left side of the island is a narrow and extremely turbulent chute. The rock walls on both sides are honecombed with potholes carved by the water. Scout from river right and take some time to explore the interesting rock formations there. Bedrock creek is also a nice hike.
This rapid is deceiving. It is big and wide and easy at the top. Once it picks up speed it curves a bit to the right then has large holes scattered through out. With a heavy raft it is easy to blunder into a few of them. If you find yourself in that situation, hold on tight and square up to hit them.
The rapid is a minor rapid, but the creek offers wonderful hiking. Two trails climb the cliffs on either side of the creek then traverse narrow ledges above the gorge. Facing upstream at the mouth, the trail on the left is easier, while the trail on the right requires some scrambling. Tapeats Creek flows year round because it is fed by two major springs: Thunder River and Tapeats Spring. Thunder River is the closer but still requires a couple hours of hiking. The trail past Thunder River, continues on to Surprise Valley and eventually to the north rim or over to Deer Creek.
Kayakers can carry boats up the right side trail so that they can paddle through the narrows. See Tapeats Creek— Thunder River to Colorado River.
Camping is no longer allowed at the mouth of Tapeats Creek.
Deer Creek is spring-fed and flows all year long. Boaters are provided with a dramatic sight where the creek gushes out of a notch in the cliff, then free falls about 170 feet, into a pool next to the main river. A large sand bar seperates the base of the falls from the river. A trail starts at the mouth of Deer Creek and goes all the way to the north rim. A long, but popular day hike from the river, during the cool season, is from Tapeats Creek to Deer Creek via Surprise Valley. The steep hike to the valley above the falls is very nice by itself.
Experienced Canyoneers can travel through the short narrows leading down to the top of Deer Creek Falls. It requires good rock climbing/canyoneering skills. There are several bolted rappels past waterfalls within the narrows, while the final rappel is said to be 180 feet. See canyoneeringusa.com, and Todd's Hiking Guide.
This large rapid makes a gradual right turn against the cliff wall on the left with the debris fan on the right. A very large wave hole lurks in the center of the waves about 2/3 of the way through.
The conservative route is as far right as you can scrape down. An exciting line is available on the left side which avoids the main hole, but requires punching other wave holes that are only somewhat smaller.
Tougher at lower flows. Not sure at what flows the wave holes wash out.
Lava rapid (mile 179) is the most intimidating rapid in the Grand Canyon. Because of another flash flood in Prospect Canyon, the left side of the rapid (which is considered by some to be a sneak) is cluttered with boulders, and more popular with rafters at higher flows (at least 15,000). Center at the top of the rapid is one of the biggest pourover holes you'll ever see, yet you will not be the first to throw some ends there if you try. You can scout from either side, but the impressive scout is to follow a small trail on river right up to an outcrop of lava where you can overlook the maelstrom. It doesn't look good, but you can't see while you're in it. The standard line is to start center right. Rafts commonly punch through the maw of the V-wave, but kayakers can bust through the lateral that feeds it from the left and smooth out their ride.
Granite Springs drainage flashed sometime in 2016. The river was narrowed and many boulders were deposited in the channel. A large boat flipping hole or wave is in the middle of the rapid.
A rough dirt road comes down the side canyon to the river. The eddy is fairly small and Diamond Creek rapid starts immediately downstream. During the monsoon season in July and August, Diamond Creek can flash flood and wash the road out.
This new rapid that is forming at around mile 281 is becoming a class 5 to 6 on the Grand Canyon scale and should be approached with caution as there is a large wrap rock in the center of the channel. The rapid is hard to see as it is on a 90 degree corner. Reservoir silt has filled in the old river channel which ran along the cliffs to the north. The river has cut a new channel to the south, exposing a rock ridge. As the reservoir level dropped the rapid has become bigger and bigger.
Photos of Superimposition Rapid near Pearce Ferry, uncovered by the low lake levels. Photos from February 2008.
Durango Bill's page with excellent photos and explanation of the formation of this rapid.
The satellite view on the map tab gives a good close up view of this new rapid when you zoom in.
When the lake level is around 1105 feet or lower, a rapid appears at the end of Iceburg Canyon. An excellent surfing wave is reported to form there, also. The location and rating are approximate.
While Lake Mead is very low, South Cove is the only viable take out past Diamond Creek.
Scripps Institute has published a study suggesting that Lake Mead could go completely dry by 2021.